Poor, foolish Catherine Howard: she is my favorite of Henry VIII’s queens. Much fuss is made of Madame Boleyn, but the difference between Anne B. and Catherine H. is the difference between fire and water.
Anne’s passionate and tumultuous reign managed to immolate just about everything she touched: her brother, her family name, the unfortunates who paid court, and of course herself.
Catherine was under water, in way over her head before she even knew it, and was soon washed away for Henry’s final wife, Catherine Parr. Catherine’s greatest crime is that she was young, foolish and in love.
Take a young girl, raised in lax circumstances, and raise her to the highest lady in the land. Then surround her with courtiers and confessors and advisors who would rather see her fall. Add a mercurial, jealous king, old and ailing. Drama, in any setting, let alone the Tudor court where the penalty for refusing the king anything is treason.
Should you be equally enamored with this era, you will be enchanted by Alisa Libby’s novel, The King’s Rose. Written from the point of view of young Catherine, it sweeps you into Catherine’s dizzying ascent through the Tudor court.
Catherine’s primary assets are her notable beauty and willingness to be dangled in front of the king as a dazzling lure by her family, the Howard clan. She loves the magnificent gowns and jewels: “I am like a dream of me.”
Only later does she realize the true cost of all these luxuries: complete and total compliance to a king old enough to be her grandfather. Libby does a masterful job of portraying the fascinating yet creepy courtship of Catherine by Henry and the willful blindness of the court to the inappropriateness of the match.
Predictably, this glorious wealth’s appeal starts to wane as she is thrown together more often with Thomas Culpepper, a handsome courtier. The pursuit of this love affair, as crazy as it might be, seems all the more inevitable and poignant in the way it is portrayed by Libby.
Through the eyes of Catherine, you see the dread as the coils tighten, you hear the pound of distant drums; she is surrounded by people who know too much of her past, as she walks the steps to the end that history has taken her.
The King’s Rose is quite well-paced and all the little delicious period details are tossed in with effortless flair. One of the greatest challenges of historical fiction is immersing the reader in the era without distracting them with all the things they must learn to understand the people of the time.
Fans of Philippa Gregory and of the Tudor era will devour The King’s Rose.
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