It’s said that well behaved women rarely make history and that is certainly true when it comes to the Tudor dynasty. King Henry VIII had six different wives, but it was the two most scandalous Queens – Anne Boleyn and Katheryn (Catherine) Howard that we remember the most.
Katheryn Howard, The Scandalous Queen is narrated by Katheryn, Henry’s fifth wife and the second Queen (after Anne Boleyn) to be executed for adultery. She was just a teenager when she met Henry, who was nearly three decades older than she and in poor health. He quickly became enamored with her youthful beauty and called her his ‘rose without a thorn.’ Unbeknownst to him, however, Katheryn had led a less than reputable life before becoming his queen.
Is it easy for history to paint Katheryn as a lively adolescent who got involved with too many young gentlemen but that’s what I love about historical fiction – it can create a much more detailed story with emotional depth and complexity. The book presents Katheryn as a lonely child being passed from relative to relative until staying with her step-grandmother, The Dowager Duchess of Norfolk.
With no mother and an absentee father, Katheryn has an innate desire to be noticed and loved. This is what most likely makes her vulnerable to the advances of her first romantic partner – her older music teacher. The Dowager Duchess pays little mind to Kathryn’s supervision and the young girl is left to run wild. Several men take advantage of this and soon she is indulging in late night parties and other nefarious activities. She is later sent to court to serve the fourth Queen, Anne of Cleves, and that’s where she catches Henry’s eye.
Women of the Tudor period had little say in their own marriages and once Henry set his sights on marrying Katheryn, she couldn’t very well refuse. Her true desire, however, was for a young man named Thomas Culpeper, the King’s own gentleman to the royal privy chamber.
Author and historian Alison Weir started her career as a biographer of British royal families and although Katheryn Howard, The Scandalous Queen is historical fiction, it is based on years of research. Weir even intertwines her own fictional narrative with snippets of real love letters written between Katheryn and Thomas. To date Weir has written about all of the wives of Henry VIII as well as other prominent women of that time including: Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots and Lady Jane Grey. Her next novel, Katharine Parr: The Sixth Wife, tells the story of Henry’s last Queen and is set to be released in spring 2021.
— Lesley L.