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Publisher Description

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 flirtatious, 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 hereven 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.

Fiction & Literature
May 12
Random House Publishing Group
Penguin Random House LLC

Customer Reviews

Halkidyounger ,

Multi-Dimensional Katheryn = Tudor Page Turner

Note: The publisher gave me early access to this novel in exchange for writing an impartial review.

Like any devotee of Tudor fiction, I have dutifully read Alison Weir’s series of lengthy historical novels SIX TUDOR QUEENS as each has become available. This one is #5 and I look forward to the final one about Katherine Parr. Taken together, they are an impressive achievement - not even considering all those remarkable non-fiction works Weir is so famous for.

Weir's Katheryn is fully fleshed out. She’s attractive, fun-loving, immature, irresponsible, flighty, and passionate. And NOT very bright. She lives superficially, caring primarily about her own pleasure and comfort, repeatedly succumbing to male attention — even when the man’s reputation is known to be questionable. She makes blunder after blunder, always naively confident there will be no long-term consequences. She has little loyalty, lies easily, and is quick to blame others. Only when she is finally cornered does she seriously begin to contemplate her own responsibility for her own actions.

The book begins with Katheryn as a young girl just before her mother’s death. Katheryn is then separated from most of her siblings and moved around from relative to relative, until she is deposited in the home of her remote step-grandmother (the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk) — where she winds up getting into lots of trouble. The details and instability of her early home life (including the absence of her father) helps make Katheryn a sympathetic figure and, to my mind, provides a reason for her becoming so susceptible to the attentions of older men. Of course NOW, those early attentions of Henry Mannox, and perhaps even Francis Dereham, would more likely be construed as child abuse, with the men being held more accountable than the victim.

The attraction between Katheryn and her cousin Thomas Culpepper is established early and it felt believable to me that they would have likely married, if Katheryn had not caught the eye of the King and fallen victim to her ambitious family.

Throughout the novel, Weir remains committed to keeping the reader true to Katheryn’s perspective, a decision I appreciated. Weir explains in the Afterword that she used her extensive research, including the original testimony from the Privy Council investigation into Katheryn’s misdeeds, to piece together this narrative — but, like Katheryn, readers are kept in the dark. Finding out about events (like the fate of the "other" men in her life) only when Katheryn does.

And finally, the author also does a skillful job of describing — quite convincingly — what was likely going through Katheryn’s mind as her downfall began. Her desperation rings true -- complete with frantic second-guessing, emotional hysterics, and panicked shifting between hope and fear.

Not surprisingly, there were moments when I felt Weir’s background in non-fiction and commitment to historical detail went overboard — making for some awkwardly inserted tangents and contrived dialog. Like when a boatman casually recounts the history of Syon Abbey where Katheryn is about to be imprisoned. Really? Hardly a conversation a mere boatman would likely have had with a condemned Queen.

But of course, I recommend the book to all lovers of Tudor history. Oddly enough, and somewhat surprising, King Henry VIII comes off as quite a nice guy. That turned out to be a nice change of pace.

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