Catherine Howard’s powerful family has contrived to put her in the constant gaze of King Henry VIII, relying on her beauty and youth to advance their own positions. When Henry proposes, their goal is accomplished, but what of Catherine? As queen, she is thrown into a complicated political world, well out of her depth, with a husband she hardly knows and a secret love for a man she can now never have. On top of this, many figures from her dissolute youth begin taking advantage of her new position, starting Catherine’s slow spiral down into fear and uncertainty.
This YA novel is gripping. I knew Catherine’s inexorable end, but I found her very easy to care for. I think that while Libby tries to make her sound mature and composed, as if Catherine believed that of herself, there is still a very young girl under there. Catherine is haunted by her inability to get pregnant, by people from her scandalous past, and by the memory of her cousin Anne Boleyn, just like her only on a grander scale. She never really seems to know Henry and even though she tries, genuinely fails at being a comfort to him. It’s clear she knows little of what is required of her as a wife and she is constantly hounded and ruled by her Howard relatives, all of whom distance themselves from her when the facade they created collapses. Catherine does very little as queen but get herself into trouble as a consequence. The impending doom rears its head with her affair as Catherine indulges her youthful love by telling herself that she needs a baby. She seems to know that this is treason, but like any teenager, cannot quite comprehend the magnitude of her crime until it is brought home to her violently.
I also particularly enjoyed the depiction of the Tudor court. As a girl, Catherine herself is very enamored of it and we see the splendors through her eyes. Pageants, dances, costumes, and dresses are all very exciting for her. It provides a wonderful sense of atmosphere and I felt as though I could see the dancing and the costumes.
This is a compelling work of historical fiction on Henry’s fifth queen. It is marketed to a YA audience but is easily enjoyed by adults as well. I recommend it, especially if you are interested in the Tudor period.
Buy The King’s Rose on Amazon.
You can see the fateful letter from Catherine Howard to Thomas Culpepper here. I was excited to be able to read it having had quite a bit of training in doing just that. For those who find these 16th century characters a jumble, you can find her signature, “Katheryn”, on the right side of the page an inch or so up.