YOUNG AND DAMNED AND FAIR by Gareth Russell

YOUNG AND DAMNED AND FAIR

The Life of Catherine Howard, Fifth Wife of King Henry VIII
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KIRKUS REVIEW

An intimate biography of Henry VIII’s fifth queen: vivacious young woman who only wanted to have fun or a tragic victim of abusive elders?

In his largely sympathetic portrait of Catherine Howard (1523-1542), whose youthful flirtations spelled her downfall, Irish playwright and historian Russell (The Emperors: How Europe's Rulers Were Destroyed by the First World War, 2014, etc.) renders a fully fleshed portrait of Howard based around the details of her household and intimates. Indeed, the author’s study is so intricately woven in contextual detail that he often fails to see the forest for the trees—e.g., what were Catherine’s true motivations; was she just a flimsy bystander to her own fate? Her pampered upbringing as a noblewoman (granddaughter to Thomas Howard, the 2nd Duke of Norfolk) and sense of natural entitlement did not shield her from her father’s habitual indebtedness, and she received little in the way of formal education. Catherine was a ward of her rich aunt Agnes, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, and her teenage years were dotted with infatuations—e.g., with her music teacher, Henry Manox, and her aunt’s secretary, Francis Dereham. Russell sifts carefully through the evidence and dismisses the explanation of sexual abuse, as clearly Catherine was in love, especially with Dereham and later, as queen, with Thomas Culpeper, a handsome favorite of her husband. Her 16-month stint as queen revealed “the Henrician court in its twilight, a glittering but pernicious sunset,” when Henry had just divorced Anne of Cleves because he disliked her and impulsively married the charming Catherine on the day Thomas Cromwell was executed, July 28, 1540. Perhaps the marriage was engineered by her uncle Norfolk, who had grown jealous and suspicious of the former Protestant chief minister. Russell’s portrait effectively underscores the machinations of this volatile court, the treachery of sycophants, and the importance of the all-seeing servants.

Dense with material and flavor of the epoch.

Pub Date: April 4th, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-5011-0863-1
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2017




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