The latest First Reads Goodreads giveaway that this pedometer geek reader read was a nonfiction book written by Gareth Russell. Entitled Young and Damned and Fair: The Life of Catherine Howard, Fifth Wife of King Henry VIII, it is a biography. This is the extended review.
Young and Damned and Fair
By Gareth Russell
Published by Simon & Schuster, 2017
As background, this pedometer geek reader became entranced with the lives of Henry VIII’s wives ever since seeing the movie, Anne of the Thousand Days, when it was first in the theater at the Southland Mall in 1969. If I recall correctly, this movie was the inaugural movie for this theater, or at least, it was the first movie that two of my school friends and I saw there, but I digress. Starring Richard Burton and Genevieve Bujold, the movie told the story of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII.
From then on, this reader looked for books about any of his queens as well as watched the PBS Masterpiece series aired in the early 1970s and PBS’s more recent offerings. Suffice it to say, between the fiction and the nonfiction consumed over the years, a fair bit of knowledge has been acquired about these six women.
Still, there is always more knowledge to acquire especially since much of the reading material was historical fiction (Jean Plaidy and Philippa Gregory were among those that were read); thus, it was with great pleasure that Russell’s book was received.
As stated earlier, Gareth Russell’s book is nonfiction. This well-researched book (over 55 pages of Notes and 20 pages of Bibliography sources) about the life of the fifth wife of Henry VIII, Catherine Howard, discusses her life (and tragic end) basically as seen through her peers, compatriots, servants, and the wider world of European diplomats in the 1500s-1550s. Basically, the book shows how her household shaped her and her career.
From her time as a child through her early teens, living as a ward of her wealthiest female relative, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, Catherine is described as beautiful, carefree, and vivacious. She is also described as being vain, quick-tempered, egotistical, reckless, and at times, rude (p.334) Her date of birth is debated (from 1517 to 1527), and no likeness has ever been definitely identified as Catherine Howard in all the paintings of the period.
Although Henry VIII was captivated by Catherine, choosing her to be his wife and queen even as he was divorcing Anne of Cleves (and having Thomas Cromwell beheaded for his part in suggesting Anne), he is always behind the scenes in this biography. When allegations of adultery and treason come to his notice, he is the mover and shaker behind her death, but he allows his minions (Archbishop Cranmer, the Duke of Norfolk, Jane Rochford*) to find the evidence of her treason.
Her family and friends were many of the sources for the evidence brought forward about the two men, Thomas Culpepper and Francis Dereham, who were found guilty of treason against the king. These people also paid a price for hiding the treasonous actions (misprision of treason) with many of them locked away after the fact.
Comparisons between her cousin, Anne Boleyn, and Catherine are not as clear cut as people presume, Russell asserts over and over. Often using modern language and phrases (plea bargain, for example), Russell attempts to make his material relevant to contemporary readers.
The author includes a hand-drawn map of England, Scotland, and Wales, which includes places mentioned in the text. There is also a list of the illustrations and family trees for the significant players. There is also a time line of events of Catherine Howard’s fall and a listing of all the ladies of her household.
Overall, it is a well-researched book with plenty of new details about Catherine Howard’s life. Lots of details are given including the text of one of her confessions. Complex language (misprision and uxoricide were just two of the words that were looked up during the reading) throughout the book was seen.
* These three people also played a part in Anne Boleyn’s death, and in some ways, played similar roles in both deaths except Jane Rochford also paid the ultimate price as well.