Softback. White title on image of Catherine Howard.
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During one of the hottest summers on record the court of Henry VIII is embroiled, once again, in political scandal. The King’s marriage to Anne of Cleves has failed, his closest adviser Thomas Cromwell is to be executed for treason and, in the countryside, an aristocratic teenager named Catherine Howard prepares to become fifth wife to the increasingly irascible, unpredictable monarch. Her story is both a very dark fairy tale and a gripping thriller. Born into nobility and married into the royal family, Catherine was attended every waking hour by servants and companions. Secrets were impossible to keep. Based on his research into Catherine’s household, Gareth Russell’s history unfurls as if in real time to explain how the queen’s career ended with one of the great scandals of Henry VIII’s reign. More than a traditional biography, this is a very human tale of some terrible decisions made by a young woman, and of complex individuals attempting to survive in a dangerous hothouse where the odds were stacked against them. By illuminating Catherine’s entwined upstairs–downstairs worlds and bringing the reader into her daily milieu, the author retells her story in an exciting and engaging way that has surprisingly modern resonances. Young and Damned and Fair is a riveting account of Catherine Howard’s tragic marriage to one of history’s most powerful rulers. It is a grand tale of the Henrician court in its twilight, a glittering but pernicious sunset during which the king’s unstable behaviour and his courtiers’ labyrinthine deceptions proved fatal to many, not just to Catherine Howard.
Review: Having recently finished the Wolf Hall trilogy, I was craving some more Tudor history and turned from fiction, to fact. This begins where that, fictional, work, finished, with the execution of Cromwell (incidentally, the same day that Henry married Catherine) and, as such, continued the narrative in my mind. Indeed, this book is every bit as gripping, especially as I knew much less about Catherine Howard, the fifth wife of Henry VIII. After the death of Jane Seymour, mother of his son, Edward, Henry VIII had a short lived marriage with Anne of Cleves. It was a disaster, and Henry, as was his way, cast around for a way to rid himself of what he saw as a distasteful union. Having done so and packed her off, to live comfortably out of sight, he already had his sights on young Catherine. The details of their courtship are quite bare, but, at some point, she had caught his eye – young, slim and pretty – and he quickly made her his next Queen. The Howards were, apparently, rightly concerned about the King’s new infatuation, for Catherine had a past. Having lived with the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, she had what the author suggests was a teenage infatuation with her music master and then a more serious relationship with Francis Dereham, a member of her grandmother’s household. In a similar way to Anne Boleyn, with Henry Percy, this was seen as serious enough to be considered a pre-contract. Although the author considers suggestions that Catherine was a victim, who fell prey to older, this is discounted – certainly in the case of Dereham – and the author argues that there is enough evidence to imply that the relationships were consensual. Catherine was, it must be remembered, very young at this time and still a teenager when she married Henry. She began an intrigue with Thomas Culpeper, aided by Lady Rochester, the widow of George Boleyn. Although Russell does not accept that she was a victim, he is sympathetic to her plight, as a very young woman, who was indiscreet and immature. Sadly, this indiscretion was dangerous, especially with a volatile and insecure Henry. It is apparent that Henry was already viewed as a ‘monster,’ by many and that his behaviour could quickly turn from love to hatred. Undoubtedly, this book does make Catherine come alive. A young woman who, despite her rash behaviour, seemed to be kind and thoughtful. Despite her age, she was keen to meet Henry’s children and to mend bridges with Mary, with whom she had an, initially, difficult relationship. When Anne of Cleves visited the Court, both Anne and Catherine were overly polite, warm and effusive to each other – although the author also debunks myths about her accepting her fate willingly, suggesting that she was open to a reunion with Henry after Catherine’s arrest.. Catherine could have taken joy in her success at winning the king from her, and made Anne feel her failure, but she pressed gifts onto her and tried to put her at ease. She was young, but foolish, rather than wilful or spiteful. Henry, though, was not a forgiving man. Overall, a really fascinating, well written and gripping biography and I am glad I read it and learnt more than this young, and so often overlooked, Queen.
Portrait miniature by Hans Holbein the Younger
thought to depict Howard
Catherine Howard (c. 1523 – 13 February 1542), also spelled Katheryn Howard, was Queen of England from 1540 until 1541 as the fifth wife of King Henry VIII. She was the daughter of Lord Edmund Howard and Joyce Culpeper, a cousin to Anne Boleyn (the second wife of Henry VIII), and the niece of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. Thomas Howard was a prominent politician at Henry’s court, and he secured her a place in the household of Henry’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, where she caught the King’s interest. She married him on 28 July 1540 at Oatlands Palace in Surrey, just 19 days after the annulment of his marriage to Anne. He was 49, and she was between 15 and 21 years old.
Catherine was stripped of her title as queen in November 1541 and beheaded three months later on the grounds of treason for committing adultery with her distant cousin, Thomas Culpeper.
Catherine of Aragon
Anne of Cleves
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