I’ve had a soft spot for Catherine Howard ever since reading Alisa M. Libby’s The King’s Rose. I mean, when you ask someone to name one of Henry VIII’s wives, nine times out of 10, they’re going to name Anne Boleyn.* She was fiery, passionate, dramatic, beautiful, canny and Henry’s equal in everything except power. Catherine Howard...well, if she gets a mention, it’s usually only as The Other Wife Who Got Offed. That’s if she gets a mention.
Read the last Bookshelves of Doom on 'Keeping the Castle.'
Of course, then you run into the 10th person. In this case, it was my Treasured Sister:**
TS: Did you finish Insurgent yet?
Me: No, I got sidetracked by Gilt. It’s a new one about Catherine Howard.
TS: Ooo, nice. She was the young, slutty one.
Me: *huffs* Well, some people think—
TS: Yeah, yeah. Some people say she was just a sweet young doomed thing bred to be a political pawn. But I still say young and slutty. What angle does this book take?
Me: Well, if I have to pick one or the other... she could be described as... kind of... *mumbles* slutty.
TS: HA. I WIN.
Happily, while it’s true that Libby’s vision of Catherine Howard is much more sympathetic—The King’s Rose is written from Catherine’s perspective, which allows for a more immediate intimacy—Katherine Longshore’s depiction of Catherine Howard is quite well-rounded. She’s manipulative, tempestuous (behind closed doors), power-hungry, selfish and short-sighted, but it’s always worth remembering that she’s also 16 years old. She’s married to an ailing, sad old man, and she longs for romance. That she would chafe at her lack of freedom is easily understandable, that her power would occasionally go to her head is easily believable, and the rare glimpses we get of her sadness and her fear are affecting. It’s a darker, more nuanced portrait than the Sexy Nose Hair cover art implies.
Gilt is narrated by Kitty Tylney, who has always lived in Cat’s shadow:
I was the perfect mirror. I helped her refine every performance—echoing and casting back at her all the things I couldn’t be myself. She took me with her everywhere. We complemented each other. Completed each other. I was the Kitty to her Cat.
Kitty eventually accompanies Cat to Henry VIII’s court, where she becomes one of her chamber servants. She knows about Cat’s past romantic indiscretions—after all, they shared a bed for years—and it isn’t long before Kitty knows all about her present one. Not only knows about, but is forced to take an active role in both facilitating and hiding the affair.
The clothes! The jewelry! The pomp! The romance! The bitchy courtiers!***
For anyone even tangentially interested in the period, Gilt will be a lush page-turner, and for everyone else—especially historical fiction junkies—it’s a story that may well bring more readers into the Tudor fold.
*Especially since The Tudors. Yowza.
**Years back, our mother told us we should Treasure Each Other. So, now, we’re always sure to refer to each other as such in public. It’s particularly nice, as it allows us to tease our mother while being sarcastically affectionate to each other, all at the same time.
***Political machinations are present, too, but as Kitty doesn’t have much to do with them, they take place mostly off screen.
Let's be honest. If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is most likely being tragically unproductive due to the shiny lure of Pinterest.