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Katherine Howard: A New History by Conor Byrne: A Book Review

Katherine Howard: A New History 
Author: Conor Byrne
Genre: History, Nonfiction, Biography
Publisher: MadeGlobal Publishing
Release Date: 2014
Pages: 266
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Synopsis: In this new full-length biography of Katherine Howard, Henry VIII's fifth wife, Conor Byrne reconsiders Katherine’s brief reign and the circumstances of her life, striping away the complex layers of myths and misconceptions to reveal a credible portrait of this tragic queen.

    By reinterpreting her life in the context of cultural customs and expectations surrounding sexuality, fertility and family honour, Byrne exposes the limitations of conceptualising Katherine as either ‘whore’ or ‘victim’. His more rounded view of the circumstances in which she found herself and the expectations of her society allows the historical Katherine to emerge.

   Katherine has long been condemned by historians for being a promiscuous and frivolous consort who partied away her days and revelled in male attention, but Byrne's reassessment conveys the mature and thoughtful ways in which Katherine approached her queenship. It was a tragedy that her life was controlled by predators seeking to advance themselves at her expense, whatever the cost.
  
    My Review: Katherine Howard was Henry VIII’s teenage bride. Everyone knows that while she was married to Henry VIII, she had an affair with the young, handsome, and attractive Thomas Culpepper. When the truth of the liaison was discovered, the court knew of Catherine’s previous relationships with Henry Mannox and Francis Dereham before she married the king. However, in this biography of Katherine Howard, Connor Byrne states that Katherine was not the promiscuous and frivolous woman that history has portrayed. Instead, he argues that Katherine was sexually abused in the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk’s household.

     Mr. Byrne makes many absurd conjectures about Katherine Howard’s life. He claims that Katherine was raped by both Henry Mannox and Francis Dereham. Katherine being raped by both men during her adolescence really suspends belief. While Mr. Byrne tries to make Katherine out to be innocent, I don’t think Katherine was that weak and naive to let her attractive male servants rape her. It is more convincing that it was consensual. The basis of Mr. Byrne’s claim is due to Katherine’s false confession. However, Mr. Russell already explained that Katherine’s confession should not be taken as fact because she was trying to save her life.

   Another absurd speculation that Mr. Byrne makes is that the reason why Katherine was sent to the scaffold was because she did not produce an heir. While this makes sense in Anne Boleyn’s case, it does not in Katherine Howard’s case. Henry VIII was very pleased with Katherine. He called her “A Rose Without a Thorn.” He was very heart-broken when he learned of Katherine’s dalliance with Thomas Culpepper and wished that it wasn’t true. Therefore, the fact that Katherine went to the executioner’s block was not because she did not produce an heir, but that she had committed adultery with Thomas Culpepper and for her previous relationships. 

   The author also states that Thomas Culpepper and Katherine Howard did not have an affair. He argues that Katherine was repulsed with the sexual relationships that she had in her adolescence. Again, this goes with his theory that Katherine was raped in her childhood. He tries to excuse Katherine’s actions by making her innocent. While Mr. Byrne claims that there is no clear evidence of Katherine’s relationship with Thomas Culpepper, it is clear through eyewitness’ testimonies that their relationship was not platonic.

   Overall, Katherine Howard: A New History is a very unreliable and inaccurate biography of Henry VIII’s fifth wife. The author tries to excuse all of Katherine’s actions. It seems that this book is more based on the author’s imagination rather than real history. Most of the biography’s claims are conjectures that are backed up with no evidence. This book does not even deserve the term “biography” because it is not historically researched and is full of the author’s misguided assumptions. While I do find Katherine to be a very sympathetic figure, I do not believe that she was entirely innocent of her actions. Therefore, I have to admit that this “biography” is very misleading. There are better and more accurate biographies of Katherine Howard out there. I would not recommend this book to anyone, not even to the most ardent Tudor fan. However, if you are still interested in reading this book anyway, I suggest that you read other biographies of Katherine Howard such as those written by Gareth Russell, Josephine Wilkinson, and Joanna Denny first. Katherine Howard: A New History is a book that should not be read for factual information, but solely for entertainment.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars


   

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