I make no secret of my fascination with Tudor England. I’ve watched Showtime’s The Tudors more times than I care to admit. There are several fabulous authors who’ve chronicled the lives of the ill-fated wives of King Henry VIII. The most famous is probably Phillippa Gregory, author of The Other Boleyn Girl. That one was turned into a movie. Although I loved the book, which centers on Mary Boleyn, I can’t watch the movie. It’s difficult for me to imagine anyone but Natalie Dormer playing Anne Boleyn. http://www.sho.com/the-tudors In any case, this novel I’m reviewing today centers on Anne’s cousin, Catherine Howard, and I’d say it’s more appealing to the Young Adult crowd. Since my tastes vary so widely, I thoroughly enjoyed it too. And I haven’t been a young adult in so long that I am now the mother of young adults.
You’d think Catherine Howard would’ve known better than to get anywhere near King Henry VIII, much less commit adultery as his fifth wife. Being Anne’s cousin, she should’ve expected to lose her head. In fact, a lot of people, male or female, who ever got close to the King ended up on the chopping block, even his best friends.
But, Catherine was just a teenager when she caught the fat, middle-aged king’s eye and, like a lot of teens, was self-absorbed and completely out of touch with her own mortality. Not to mention boy-crazy. She’s been portrayed different ways in film and in historical fiction, but this is the most believable for those of us familiar with teenagers.
This seems like as good a time as any to mention…
She had sex with an old fart. Poor thing.
Although the real King Henry VIII was a hottie in his youth, he was no where near the debonair older gentleman Jonathan Rhys Meyers portrays in The Tudors.
Sorry to burst that bubble. It was hard on me too.
This version of Catherine Howard’s story is told from the point of view of one her BFFs, Kitty Tylney. It’s extremely well done and reminds me of Nefertiti by Michelle Moran, which is told from Nefertiti’s sister’s point of view.
The story starts with Kitty following Catherine around on a childish excursion, rifling through the luxurious belongings of their benefactress, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. Kitty and Catherine are just two of many children cast off for failing to be convenient to their parents.
Catherine is not a bastard, but she is about the 10th child of an impoverished younger son and a girl. That’s almost as bad. Almost. Because of her pedigree, Catherine had certain prospects an illegitimate child would not. One of those prospects was the possibility of marrying well above her own station.
The Dowager Duchess is hardly a hands-on granny and the kids run wild. Kat explains it this way: “We’re a host of servants she never has to pay. Not to mention the wardships and perhaps even a percentage of a dowry when we’re sold into marriage.”
Cat is the prettiest, most popular girl in school, you know, the head cheerleader, the one desperate for male attention because she mistakes it for the love she so desperately needs but never got because her parents couldn’t be bothered with her. It was only a matter of time before she ended up in a ditch, poor thing.
As Kitty and Cat advance through puberty, the key to the maidens’ chamber is often stolen and Kitty remains one of the few real virgins left. Cat carries on with her music teacher and goes all the way with Francis Dereham.
Until the Duchess finds out. In the 1500s it was much harder to sell off a deflowered fillie, you know.
Cat could’ve claimed she and Francis promised to marry, making their relationship something of a legal one according to the custom of the day. But, she wanted a better, more prestigious, more wealthy match. And so did the Duchess. So Cat insists there is no marriage pre-contract and Francis disappears.
Then, Cat’s dream comes true. She’s sent to court as lady-in-waiting to King Henry VIII’s fourth wife, the German princess Anne of Cleves. At last, she can wear pretty clothes, dance, carry on with handsome young men, and snag an earl or something. She promises to find a way for Kitty to join her. Months pass and Kitty assumes her BFF has forgotten her. Hey, it’s not like they could text. iPhones were still five centuries away.
Kitty passes time with her own gentleman caller, but the relationship proceeds much slower than Cat’s many conquests. Hey, the girl’s got trust issues. She’s desperate for love too, but she knows better than to throw herself headlong into anything remotely resembling it. Smart girl. She also has a realistic, even pessimistic, assessment of her own good looks and marriage prospects. She spends her time cultivating a talent for fine lace-making. The chicks couldn’t just run down to Walmart for new clothes back then, you know.
Finally, Cat comes galloping back into town, because the King is on progress and due to visit Lambeth House. The whole place is in an uproar getting ready for him and Cat arrives as part of his traveling court. She’s the center of attention among her old friends and she tells Kitty she’s not forgotten her promise.
The King arrives and its quickly made clear that Kat has set her sites much higher than an earl. She behaves as if the fat, sore-festering old fart is the most handsome, most dashing young man in the country. And he’s quite taken with her.
Anne of Cleves is kicked to the curb. Divorced. Actually, poor Thomas Cromwell is forced to provide evidence that he manipulated the King into marrying her and also that she had a marriage pre-contract with another dude. And then he gets his head hacked off. That’s the Tudor approach to problem-solving, you know.
I think Anne of Cleves was the smart one and she’s my favorite of the six. After she was sent packing, she had the freedom and finances few women of the day enjoyed. Go, Anne.
So, finally Kitty comes to court too, but not as Cat’s equal. She’s there to serve as lady-in-waiting, a servant to the new Queen, which is Cat. She quickly learns Cat needs her there as an ally. A lot of the ladies assigned to serve her can’t really stand her. Go figure, huh? Cat’s caught up in a deadly game of political intrigue she’s much too young to comprehend.
Practical Kitty does comprehend the danger Cat is in. It’s like Cat realizes this about Kitty and keeps her close, even though her own brain cells don’t quite pull it together.
Cat is swept up in the glitz and glamor of being Queen of England, the parties, the adulation. She wants that attention, all that she’s really understood to be love. But, the King is old and fat and has a stinky, festering sore on his leg. He’s not exactly able to satisfy her in bed. And he’s busy, you know, being king, putting down rebellions, taking off heads. She realizes on some level that this isn’t love after all. But, instead of stepping back for an objective assessment, she latches on to another man.
Cat tries to set Kitty up with her own male distraction, but Kitty still pines for her old boyfriend. Also, Kitty’s falling under an atmosphere of impending doom with Cat and it’s terrifying for her to realize that Cat seems to be digging her own grave.
It’s no wonder to us modern folks why Catherine Howard would want to bang a handsome young studmuffin like Thomas Culpepper instead of an ugly old grump. But, it is also very sad to realize she probably was truly in love. Sad, because Culpepper had raped another woman and got away with it. He was hardly worth of any female’s dying devotion, much less the Queen of England.
Fate cinches around Cat’s neck tighter and tighter and we know what happens to her historically. It was more scary for me to follow Kitty and wonder if she was going to escape a terrible end too. This is not a Romance novel, after all. You are not promised a happy ending. And by The End, I really wanted Kitty to find her way out of the web of intrigue and her own way in life.
Gilt is one in a series of Historical fiction set in Tudor England.
Tarnish and Brazen by Katherine Longshore center on Anne Boleyn and Mary Howard who was betrothed to Henry Fitzroy, the illegitimate son of Henry VIII.
I look forward to reading and reviewing them too. Learn more at her site- http://katherinelongshore.com/books.php