Six Queens: Katheryn Howard the Tainted Queen by Alison Weir

Headline Review| 20 August 2020| 479 pages| Review copy| 2*

I wanted to read this book because I knew very little about Henry VIII’s 5th wife, except that she was beheaded on the grounds that she had committed adultery and treason.



At just nineteen, Katheryn Howard is quick to trust and fall in love.

She comes to court. She sings, she dances. She captures the heart of the King.

But Henry knows nothing of Katheryn’s past – one that comes back increasingly to haunt her. For those who share her secrets are waiting in the shadows, whispering words of love… and blackmail.

Having read it, I don’t think I know much more, except that Katheryn Howard comes across as a very shallow character, obsessed with sex, with luxury in all its forms, naive and easily manipulated. Alison Weir excels in her descriptive writing, bringing the Tudor court to life in all of its settings, locations, clothes and jewellery.

It has glowing reviews on Amazon full of praise and it is based on extensive research. Clearly other people love this book, but I didn’t. For me it came across as a romance novel, primarily focused on Katheryn’s imagined thoughts, emotions, and sexual encounters. It is simply written, but with too many cliches and modernised text.

Alison Weir’s Author’s Note is much more interesting than her novel, in which she acknowledges her sources, including Dr. Nicola Tallis’ unpublished DPhil thesis, All the Queen’s Jewels, 1445 – 1548, and a number of biographies of Katheryn Howard. She refers to original sources she used as the basis of the book – contemporary writers and wills, portraits showing her rich clothes and jewellery – jewels that have been tentatively identified in Katheryn Howard’s inventory.

She used these sources for the narrative of the book, weaving them into the dialogue and modernising the speech ‘where Tudor English looks out of place in a modern text.’ She states that ‘apart from fictionalising the historical record’ she has invented very little.’ There is also a Dramatis Personae, usefully indicating which characters are fictional and a Timeline, which is also very useful.

I think the Author’s Note is the best part of the book. There is rather too much of ‘fictionalising the historical record’ for me in the novel. I don’t like writing about a book I didn’t enjoy when I know so much work has gone into it and clearly other people have loved it. But this is just my opinion, for what it is worth.

With thanks to NetGalley and to the publishers for my review copy.

13 thoughts on “Six Queens: Katheryn Howard the Tainted Queen by Alison Weir

    1. I’ve only read the first two books in the Six Queens series – about Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn -and liked them much more than this one. I did enjoy her book, The Princes in the Tower years ago!

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  1. I’m sorry to hear that this one didn’t work better for you, Margaret. It’s good to hear that the descriptions of the time and place are done well; that can add a lot to a story. But you’re right; if you don’t feel the depth of character, and the complexity of the story, it’s really hard to feel drawn into the book.

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  2. Thanks for this review. I had been thinking of trying this series, because I am interested in the six queens of Henry VIII, but I don’t want too much fictionalizing. So I will look for something else.

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      1. That is good to know. I would be especially interested in the one about Katherine of Aragon.


  3. Thank you Margaret for such an honest and frank review, written so tactfully and thoughtfully. I have recently been considering coming away from NetGalley because I have had a run of proofs I did not enjoy and I hate giving ‘negative’ reviews. You have handled this one beautifully.

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    1. Thank you Liz, it was hard to write! I still have several books on my NetGalley shelf left to read, but I am trying to be more careful about what I request – it’s not always easy to judge from the synopses!

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  4. I know that I was disappointed with one of her historical fiction books in the past, I seem to remember that I preferred her non-fiction.


  5. I became entranced by Henry VIII and his wives at 10 when I watched the BBC/PBS miniseries with my mother. I wound up majoring in 16th century History and Literature. I own a couple books by Weir but have never really enjoyed them as much as I expected.


  6. I stalled midway through book number 1 in the series. I didn’t dislike but put it down to read something for a book club and never picked it up again. I know Weir does extensive research for her novels so I wonder whether the lack of substance in this book reflects a lack of historical info?


  7. In her Author’s Note Weir states she has used numerous sources, most of them contemporary to the Tudor period and goes into detail about her historical research, which as you say is extensive. It’s her fictionalising of the historical record that I didn’t like – I’m probably in the minority as many others have given this book 5 stars – 80% on Amazon UK for example.


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