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Book Review - Katheryn Howard, The Scandalous Queen

Well, other than working from home for the bank, I have been reading a lot more. Things outside of this have been shaky and utterly destructive and I feel that it is time for some positive things. It is not to ignore what is happening and to not appreciate differences and right the wrong. It is an awful thing that has happened. But one author must support another and history is a passion of mine, even if it is fiction that I read.

As deducted from the picture, I have read the fifth installment of Alison Weir's "Six Wives" series, concerning the wives of King Henry VIII of England. To be honest, I was surprised by the portrayal of this wife, Katheryn Howard. Her character is so different than what history generally tells us. In addition, much like with Ms. Weir's books, fiction or nonfiction, the first chapter sucks you right in. It is not just the way she writes, but the subject matter that she is passionate about. Nobody can ignore this plight.

Everybody seems to know about little Katheryn Howard. She is young and naive. She catches the king's interests and becomes his fifth wife after he discarded the supposedly ugly Anna of Cleves. She hardly has relations with his eldest daughter, Mary, and dotes on his youngest children, Edward and Elizabeth. Eventually, she cheats on Henry with a younger man and loses her head for adultery.

But it is more than that. Past the myth, Katheryn is a much more complex character than anyone has ever realized and the behind-the-scenes actions the reader does not see are reflected in each chapter. Despite this lack of knowledge, Ms. Weir makes her come alive in a novel that could not be put down. And that is the magic of her work.

We first meet Katheryn in a very tragic part of her young life. Her mother had just died after the birth of a daughter and her father sends her (as well her siblings) away, to live with other relations. Saddened, Katheryn is sent to an aunt and uncle. Even though it was common at the time, as a reader, you feel as if this was not meant for Katheryn and her world is coming to an end. This was the worst thing that could have happened to her. Even the departure of her sister, Isabel, was hard on her.

Then, everything begins to calm down and Katheryn adjusts to her new life. Even though she is not with Isabel, and hardly sees her father or other brothers and sisters, Katheryn is happy in her new home until tragedy struck again. She is sent back to live with her father, only to be given to another relation for keeping after he is sent to Calais. This time, she is transferred to the custody of her step-grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk.

While taking in the poorer relations and others under her roof, the Dowager Duchess does not seem interested in Katheryn much unless she is punished for seeing men or being "frivolous". But by then, under the influence of the other women within the household, Katheryn does not seem to understand the implications of life and is left to devices that should have been guided and corrected. For her, life should be enjoyed and full of happiness, not conventional. Love is one emotion that Katheryn did not grasp.

For Katheryn, love is the giddiness and hope of marriage and it has morphed a new sense of the definition with her relations with men. She believes in the romance, but never what it truly means because it was never defined to her clearly and has been used in a perverse way. She has been carted away like chattel and never shown the care she needs as a girl used to nothing. She is viewed as a physical goddess and not seen for the beauty she holds within herself. This shapes her relationships, from the music teacher Henry Mannox to even Thomas Culpepper, her cousin.

Then, the reader finally sees her glittering chance to have an exiting life. As with some highborn girls, she is sent to court. What happened there is the tragedy of Katheryn Howard and how we understand her today.

We have to remember, she was first a maid to Anna of Cleves. While many historical views claim that the German princess as the ugly one, her coming is highly anticipated and much rumored about, even after her unusual arrival. For Katheryn, though, it is a snooze. Ms. Weir captures her initial boredom and distaste with waiting and attending the most mundane tasks after Anna's marriage to Henry. Then, when it turns to singing and dancing, we see Katheryn in her prime. She is adored and applauded.

It is when the king falls for her that we all know that the beginning of the end is near. Used by her ambitious family, Katheryn is positioned to seduce Henry. She is horribly conflicted throughout the process of courting, even as she prances, plays and manipulates without knowing the consequences or the politics behind her smiles. Her romances, especially to Thomas Culpepper force her to realize the conflict between what she felt was duty and what she felt her heart should enact. She has to accept the king, though. Henry will not seek another answer and her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, will not tolerate her disobedience.

After Anna of Cleves is settled and the divorce is finalized, Katheryn finds herself the lucky bride. Her marriage to King Henry brings her some excitement, but not as much as she thought. It is a joy to be Queen, but the insecurities, secrets and conflicts of her past catch up to her and she is trapped in silencing those who knew her. She has nowhere to turn and nobody who she can trust. She is plagued with guilt.

It is a wonder why we view this charming young girl to be a wanton and worse. She has not deserved any of those titles. Ms. Weir creates a more human Katheryn Howard. This Queen is not just interested in the vanities of the court. She is kind, thoughtful, brave and considerate. Even thinking of the love she bears for Henry and those outside of her marriage shows the reader that she has a conscience. Unfortunately, she could not quibble for long, finding herself in the same situation as her cousin, Anne Boleyn.

For that is what this second beheaded Queen of Henry VIII has to face: the shadow of Anne Boleyn. Her fate, as well as the fortunes of the Howard family, rise and fall again. For it is not always the fault of women, though. Ms. Weir does place some into Katheryn's hands. However, Ms. Weir showed that even Katheryn could not control the appetite of the English court. She was only a victim.

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