Catherine Howard has grown up in the country, a relatively insignificant member of an incredibly powerful family. After the death of her cousin Anne Boleyn, the Howard family fortunes fell to some extent, but in 1540, things are about to change. Catherine’s uncle, the duke of Norfolk, brings her to court at age seventeen, when she is at her most beautiful, white-washing her reputation and placing her before the king. Catherine is no innocent but King Henry VIII falls in love with her, convinced that she is his rose without a thorn. When the members of her past come to court intent on blackmail, Catherine’s road to tragedy is assured.
This story is a familiar one for many Tudor enthusiasts, and clearly I’m no exception. I was looking forward to reading Haeger’s portrayal of this young queen. Considering Catherine probably slept with a variety of men, I would think it would be difficult for her to be a sympathetic character, but Haeger makes it look easy. She creates a Catherine that readers will wish had a different ending. Despite her sexual experience, Catherine does seem innocent and naive at times, completely a pawn for her powerful uncle and the Howard family strategy to gain favor. Once she’s gained the eye of the king, there is no looking back for this girl. Her downfall is indeed tragic because Haeger’s Catherine wishes in every instance for something different. When she finally settles into her role as queen and begins to hope she can be good for Henry and for the country, that hope is snatched away from her by her past.
While most of the third person narrative is focused on Catherine, we do occasionally get glimpses into the other characters’ heads, particularly that of Thomas Culpeper. The other characters are not quite so well-defined, but each of them feel intriguing and real, and this is a Tudor world that feels largely authentic and familiar. I enjoyed the rich descriptions, especially of Catherine’s dresses, and felt I could picture all of the players moving about the court, ambitions intact. The plot unfolds in a sensible way; virtually everyone who is interested in Tudor history will know that Catherine was beheaded by Henry VIII, so the book opens on the night before the execution. It then returns to the time when everything began to change for Catherine and the author can explain how she got to that point in her own way. It’s very well done and the book is a pleasure to read. Perhaps my only qualm with it is that Catherine never seems bothered by the fact that she sleeps with every man who looks at her twice. She does it out of boredom, but surely she must worry about pregnancy at the very least. No one seems to lament the loss of her virginity except as it pertains to the king, which did seem strange to me since surely any other nobleman would like his wife to be a virgin, but it’s only a minor part of the story.
Overall, I would recommend The Queen’s Mistake to Tudor enthusiasts and other fans of historical fiction. It’s a well-written peek into the past, with sympathetic characters and an engaging sense of history.
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I received this book from the publisher for review. I’m an Amazon Associate.