Title: Katheryn Howard: The Scandalous Queen
Series: Six Tudor Queens #5
Author: Alison Weir
Genre: Adult, Historical Fiction
Published: May 12th, 2020 (Ballantine Books)
Synopsis: In the spring of 1540, Henry VIII, desperate to be rid of his queen, Anna of Kleve, first sets eyes on the enchanting Katheryn Howard. Although the king is now an ailing forty-nine-year-old measuring fifty-four inches around his waist, his amorous gaze lights upon the pretty teenager. Seated near him intentionally by her ambitious Catholic family, Katheryn readily succumbs to the courtship.
Henry is besotted with his bride. He tells the world she is a rose without a thorn, and extols her beauty and her virtue. Katherine delights in the pleasures of being queen and the power she has to do good to others. She comes to love the ailing, obese king and tolerate his nightly attentions. 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.
Henry VIII has tired of his latest queen, Anna, and even as he seeks to be rid of her, nineteen year old Katheryn Howard catches his eye. A poorer relation of the Howard family and the niece of the powerful Duke of Norfolk, Katheryn has been raised by an assortment of relatives while her father endlessly sought royal favour, finally ending up in the household of her step-grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. When she is summoned to court many years later to serve Queen Anna, the family intentionally pushes her forward, hoping to gain the influence they once had when Anne Boleyn was on the throne. But Katheryn’s past holds far too many dangerous secrets and they all threaten to come back to haunt her even as she delights in the pleasures of being Queen of England.
Next to Katherine of Aragón and Anne Boleyn, Katheryn Howard is probably the Tudor Queen I have read the most number of novels about. I was very curious to see how Alison Weir would portray her, and more importantly, if I would find any new information in the pages of this book. I have always viewed Katheryn as a rather unintelligent, foolish and thoroughly reckless girl, and that has not changed with this book – but more than her actions and fate being of her own making, this version presents it more as a result of her lax upbringing and horrible moral influences.
The author paints a portrait of a girl who seems rather frivolous, primarily concerned about her own comfort and pleasure, thoroughly immature, and not very bright either. It was interesting to note that she perhaps had dyslexia, though it was not explored much, but it was a detail I haven’t read in any other books about her. Then again, most of those books only began the story in Katheryn’s later years at Lambeth, shortly before she entered court. I think the best part of this series is getting to know the childhood and early years of these Tudor Queens when they were unburdened by the cares and dangers of royal life and it gives a much better insight into their characters. In Katheryn’s case, well, while her upbringing may have been lacking, I thought that she was still well aware of her position as a Howard, though a poor one, and she really should have known better.
However, what was really sad to see was that once Katheryn attained the dubious distinction of becoming Henry’s queen, those that should have rallied to protect her failed her completely, starting with the Dowager Duchess who gave in to Francis Dereham’s threats and allowed him into Katheryn’s circle again. That they sent her into court woefully uninformed of how things worked there, and did not ensure that she knew how to conduct herself as a lady of her station should did her no favours.
On the other hand, while Katheryn was definitely a pawn in her powerful family’s political games, she was not exactly a naive child. I found it very hard to sympathize with her at all, until the end when her downfall begins. Knowing the fate of her cousin Anne Boleyn, it was ridiculous for her to ever consider that she would get away with her relationship with Thomas Culpeper, especially in a place like the Tudor court where nobody but oneself could really be trusted to hold one’s best interests at heart. She was never particularly discreet in her actions, and it left her wide open to blackmail from multiple avenues, resulting in her eventual undoing.
Something else that was curious to observe was that Anna of Kleve, Henry’s fourth queen and the only one Katheryn ever met, felt like a completely different person to the one we got to know in the previous book. I’ve seen this happen with a couple of the others in this series as well, Anne Boleyn in particular, and it’s always so interesting to see the same person through different eyes and perspectives. Also, it might be just me, but this series seems to be getting easier to read with each book. The narrative flows much better and the latest two books especially, are probably the among the few historical fiction novels I would ever call an easy read. That the page count is dropping with each installment might also be part of it – it makes sense though, there isn’t as much information out there regarding Henry’s later queens as with the first two. Alison Weir has done a fantastic job with Katheryn’s portrayal though, and I was surprised to find that the relationship between Henry and Katheryn was actually quite touching. Her bond with her half-sister Lady Isabel Baynton was also very well depicted.
While this latest installment in the Six Tudor Queens series was not as thought-provoking as the previous ones were, it has all the drama (as expected), and is certainly an entertaining read. Knowing Katheryn’s fate, it is quite something to see the chain of events unfold that ultimately destroy her. This book brings Katheryn Howard to life in the most balanced insight of Henry’s fifth queen that I’ve ever read, and is definitely worth a read! Highly recommended!
Have you read this book? Let me know in the comments below!
Other reviews in this series: