Henry VIII’s True Daughter – Catherine Carey, A Tudor Life: Nonfiction Review


Review by Stacey O’Carroll

Author: Wendy J Dunn

Publisher Pen & Sword Books

RRP: $70.00AU

Release Date: 30 November 2023

“Many close to court suspected that Mary Boleyn’s two oldest children were fathered by not her husband but the king.”

With multiple books, movies and television shows, one could be forgiven for thinking they know everything there is to know about the Tudors. However, Wendy J Dunn’s first non-fiction book, Henry VIII’s True Daughter – Catherine Carey, A Tudor Life, will challenge what you think you know about the Boleyn family and Henry VIII.

“Elizabeth clearly loved her older cousin. She may have known by this time that Catherine was in fact her half-sister.”

Wendy J Dunn is a historical fiction writer whose previous works include The Light in the Labyrinth and Dear Heart, How Like You This?, which imagines the Anne Boleyn story through the eyes of Sir Thomas Wyatt, the elder. In Henry VIII’s True Daughter, Dunn shines a light on the lesser-known Catherine Carey (later Knollys), Mary Boleyn’s daughter. Dunn’s extensive research explores the possibility of Catherine Carey being King Henry VIII’s daughter rather than William Carey’s. Throughout the book, Dunn explores Carey’s close relationship with Elizabeth I, who could have been her younger cousin. As Dunn pieces together Catherine Carey’s life, the reader begins to see a fascinating woman who was much loved and potentially had more power than most women of her era.

From the first page, the reader can sense Dunn’s passion for telling Catherine Carey’s lesser-known life story. Carey, a woman who was the possible daughter of Henry VIII, was clearly more than just a wife, mother or woman of the bedchamber. She was intelligent, powerful and loved by many. Dunn seamlessly pulls the reader into Catherine Carey’s Tudor world by peppering excerpts from her Catherine Carey novels with broadly researched facts.

“Catherine was so little-known, historians confused her with other Catherines or only mentioned her in relation to her husband Francis Knollys, an important and trusted privy councillor of Elizabeth I.”

I found Henry VIII’s True Daughter an interesting exploration of Catherine Carey that made me question what I knew about Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. How much of Elizabeth’s life was shaped by this intriguing and intelligent woman? Those on the sidelines of history perhaps deserve more credit.

Whilst I would have liked a few more details about Catherine’s thoughts, it is hard to find information about Tudor women when the era prioritised male history and records that are centuries old are damaged or destroyed. However, Dunn has found some real gems. I was particularly fascinated by Catherine’s funeral roll and epitaph. If only there were more records of this fascinating woman.

Dunn’s skill for writing historical fiction novels works well in her first non-fiction work. Her blending of historical fiction and fact allows her to utilise narrative techniques to craft a highly informative and enjoyable book. Lovers of Tudor history will find Dunn’s book hard to put down. Henry’s True Daughter is a captivating read about an early Tudor woman who deserves to be more widely known.



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