Katheryn Howard, The Scandalous Queen
Katheryn Howard, The Scandalous Queen: A Novel (Six Tudor Queens Book 5)
Bestselling author and acclaimed historian Alison Weir tells the tragic story of Henry VIII’s fifth wife, a nineteen-year-old beauty with a hidden past, in this fifth novel in the sweeping Six Tudor Queens series.
“A vivid re-creation of a Tudor tragedy.”—Kirkus Reviews
In the spring of 1540, Henry VIII is desperate to be rid of his unappealing German queen, Anna of Kleve. A prematurely aged and ailing forty-nine, with an ever-growing waistline, he casts an amorous eye on a pretty nineteen-year-old brunette, Katheryn Howard. Like her cousin Anne Boleyn, Katheryn is a niece of the Duke of Norfolk, England’s premier Catholic peer, who is scheming to replace Anna of Kleve with a good Catholic queen. A fun-loving, eager participant in the life of the royal court, Katheryn readily succumbs to the king’s attentions when she is intentionally pushed into his path by her ambitious family.
Henry quickly becomes besotted and is soon laying siege to Katheryn’s virtue. But as instructed by her relations, she holds out for marriage and the wedding takes place a mere fortnight after the king’s union to Anna is annulled. Henry tells the world his new bride is a rose without a thorn, and extols her beauty and her virtue, while Katheryn delights in the pleasures of being queen and the rich gifts her adoring husband showers upon her: the gorgeous gowns, the exquisite jewels, and the darling lap-dogs. She comes to love the ailing, obese king, enduring his nightly embraces with fortitude and kindness. If she can bear him a son, her triumph will be complete. But Katheryn has a past of which Henry knows nothing, and which comes back increasingly to haunt her—even as she courts danger yet again. What happens next to this naïve and much-wronged girl is one of the saddest chapters in English history.
I feel like this might have been the most honest portrayal of Katheryn Howard that I've read.
I've consumed a lot of media about the Tudors. I find them fascinating - the personalities, political machinations, court intrigue - it is endlessly compelling. But I've always felt that certain people have gotten the short end of the stick. They call out to me, Mary Tudor, Lady Jane Grey, and Katheryn Howard.
Katheryn in particular, because no one seems to know what to do with her. I've seen her portrayed as an idiot, a nymphomaniac, a naive child. But how much of that is true? When history is written by those opposed to who you are (a mere girl from a family they disapproved of, in Katheryn's case) it will often show you in a bad light. Yes, she was very young. But youth doesn't have to equate to stupid or childlike.
Weir, however, seeks to give us a Katheryn who was aware of what she did. She had agency. Sure, she was in a situation where she had very little choice. Yet she still takes the reins. She knows that her choices have consequences. However, she is very young and uneducated and easily influenced by others. Whether it was the girls at Lambeth who she looked up to (leading her to begin relationships with Mannox and Dereham), or Jane Rochford egging her on to meet with Culpepper. She grew up in Anne Boleyn's shadow. What happened to Anne hung over her like a cloud. She knew what happened to Henry's queens.
What struck me in this novel, was that her downfall came at the hands of those who should have protected her. Her grandmother, the Dowager Duchess, knew what a danger Francis Dereham could be. Yet she still gave in to his threats and sent him to Katheryn to give him a place in her household. If the adults in the room had stepped in - you can't tell me a powerful family like the Howards didn't have the ability to silence someone like Dereham - Katheryn might have lived. They were all aware that Katheryn had been in relationships with me prior to the King, yet they lied to his face and called her a virtuous virgin. But that's the story of most girls of this period (and throughout history, for that matter). They were pawns in a game of powerful men seeking more power and privilege.
I enjoyed Weir's take on Katheryn Howard, though overall I felt it was a little on the dense side. It was very heavy with facts and names, particularly in the first half before Katheryn even comes to court. This made the reading rather slow (it took me a full month to read this book and it was only 457 pages). But even so, I enjoyed the story. I appreciate that Weir's historical fiction is heavy on history.
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