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.
A NAIVE YOUNG WOMAN AT THE MERCY OF HER AMBITIOUS FAMILY.
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 Nicola Tallis’ unpublished DPhil thesis, All the Queen’s Jewels, 1445 – 1548, and a number of biographies of Katheryn Howard.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.