Book Review: “Young and Damned and Fair: The Life and Tragedy of Catherine Howard at the Court of Henry VIII” by Gareth Russell

55728291._SY475_Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded, survived. For those who study Tudor history, we have heard this unimaginative rhyme to refer to the wives of Henry VIII for the longest time. We all know the stories of the queens, especially Anne Boleyn, but the fifth wife and the second one to be beheaded tend to be cast aside for some of the more intriguing tales. Her name was Catherine Howard, Henry’s youngest bride. Her story is full of rumors and myths, just like her cousin Anne Boleyn. Most know of her romantic dalliances that, in the end, led to her demise, but what was her reign like as queen? What was the court of Henry VIII like during his fifth marriage as his health was failing? In Gareth Russell’s brilliant biography, “Young and Damned and Fair: The Life and Tragedy of Catherine Howard at the Court of Henry VIII”, he dives deep into the archives to shine a light on the life of this tragic and young queen.

I would like to thank everyone who has recommended that I read this biography for years now. I have heard the praises about this book and I have enjoyed reading posts by Gareth Russell so I decided that it was about time that I read the book that put him on the map for so many Tudor history fans.

Russell begins his exploration into Catherine’s life with an execution and a wedding. The person being executed on July 28, 1540, was Henry VIII’s former right-hand man Thomas Cromwell and the bride is Catherine Howard. The duality of this first chapter is stunning, showing how favor in Henry VIII’s court was like a wheel constantly turning. A person’s fate was always in the hands of the king. To understand how Catherine caught the roving eye of the ailing king, Russell takes his readers on a journey into her past to show how this young lady made it into the glamorous Tudor court. We all have an idea of what life must have been like for Catherine in her grandmother’s, Agnes Tilney dowager Duchess of Norfolk, household. However, as Russell explains, Catherine’s life and her early romances with Henry Manox and Francis Dereham were not like how it has been portrayed in novels about her life.

Catherine’s life took a dramatic turn when she is chosen to be one of the ladies in waiting for Henry VIII’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. This relationship does not last long and Henry casts his eyes upon Catherine and she becomes his fifth wife. However, while at court, Catherine falls in love with the charming Thomas Culpepper. Russell goes further than any other author has in the past to explore the different aspects of Catherine’s reign as queen consort. He explores her household, how she viewed religious issues and political issues that impacted Tudor England during this time. Finally, Russell explores the downfall, the trial, and the execution of Catherine Howard and how her foolish decisions cost her everything.

The way Russell combined his easy to read style of writing with scrupulous attention to detail to create such a vivid account of Catherine Howard’s tragic life is magnificent. It felt as if you could visualize the events as they happened in the Henrician court. Before I read this account, I felt no sympathy for Catherine’s demise, but this beautiful biography changed my view on her life. If you want a hauntingly beautiful biography about the life of Henry VIII’s fifth wife Catherine Howard, you must read, “Young and Damned and Fair: The Life and Tragedy of Catherine Howard at the Court of Henry VIII” by Gareth Russell.

Book Review: “Katheryn Howard: The Scandalous Queen” by Alison Weir

52802802._SX318_SY475_The year is 1540 and King Henry VIII has grown tired of his fourth wife from Germany, Anne of Cleves. The aging king longs for another heir to make sure that his dynasty is secure, which means he is searching for his fifth wife. Henry’s wandering eye lands on a young girl who happens to be a cousin of his second wife of Anne Boleyn. The young woman’s name who caught the king’s attention is Katheryn Howard. Henry believes that his new bride is virtuous as well as being very beautiful, but what secrets does this young queen hide? In her latest installment of the Six Tudor Queens series “Katheryn Howard: The Scandalous Queen”, Alison Weir takes a look into the life of this young woman and the men who loved her.

As a fan of Alison Weir’s other books, I knew that I wanted to read this title. I have been enjoying the Six Tudor Queens series so far, even though I don’t necessarily agree with how she has characterized certain historical figures. I have not read any books with Katheryn Howard as the protagonist, so I was intrigued to see how it would go.

We begin our adventure with Katheryn Howard’s childhood and how she entered the household of her grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. This is where Katheryn fell in love with men like Henry Mannox and Francis Dereham. I enjoyed seeing how Weir fleshed out these two relationships and how drastically different they were in Katheryn’s eyes. We see Katheryn try to keep the secrets of her past relationships as she works hard to capture the heart of the aging king, Henry VIII. Katheryn’s relationship with Henry is a bit one-sided at first, but it develops into love on both sides, but not like the love that Katheryn has known before. I found myself feeling sorry for Henry and Katheryn as they suffered a few miscarriages. But none of her other relationships are like her connection with Thomas Culpeper.

I think one of my problems with this particular book is how she viewed certain characters, like Katheryn Howard and Jane Boleyn, the wife of the late George Boleyn. To me, it felt like Weir was repeating the traditional view about these two women. Katheryn Howard has been seen as a young and naïve girl who was used as a pawn by her family to manipulate the King. Jane Boleyn has been viewed as a manipulator who despised her husband and suffered from mental trauma in the end. I think that there is so much more to their stories than how they have been portrayed in fictional representations of their lives. We see Weir try to go a bit further into their personalities, but for the most part, she stays along these lines.

Just because I don’t agree with how these two characters were represented does not mean that I thought the book was bad. I think the story itself was intriguing and Weir’s writing style is engaging like her other books. I think it is a fine novel that shows Katheryn Howard’s rise and fall from power and how dangerous love can be, especially for a young queen. If you want a great escape with a novel about Henry VIII’s fifth wife, check out Alison Weir’s, “Katheryn Howard: The Scandalous Queen”.