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Young and Damned and Fair: The Life of Catherine Howard, Fifth Wife of King Henry VIII by Gareth Russell: A Book Review

Young and Damned and Fair: The Life of Catherine Howard, Fifth Wife of King Henry VIII
Author: Gareth Russell
Genre: History, Nonfiction, Biography
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: 2017
Pages: 465
Source: Edelweiss/Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: On the morning of July 28, 1540, a teenager named Catherine Howard began her reign as queen of an England simmering with rebellion and terrifying uncertainty. Sixteen months later, she would follow her cousin Anne Boleyn to the scaffold, having been convicted of adultery and high treason.

     The broad outlines of Catherine’s career might be familiar, but her story up until now has been incomplete. Unlike previous biographies, which portray her as a naïve victim of an ambitious family, Gareth Russell’s “excellent account puts the oft-ignored Catherine in her proper historical context” (Daily Mail, London) and sheds new light on her rise and downfall by showing her in her context, a milieu that includes the aristocrats and, most critically, the servants who surrounded her and who, in the end, conspired against her. By illuminating Catherine’s entwined upstairs/downstairs world as well as societal tensions beyond the palace walls, Russell offers a fascinating portrayal of court life in the sixteenth century and a fresh analysis of the forces beyond Catherine’s control that led to her execution.

    My Review: Catherine Howard is one of history’s most tragic queens. She became Henry VIII’s fifth wife. She had an affair with the handsome Thomas Culpepper and died as a teenager on the scaffold. In this biography, Gareth Russell retells the story of the ill-fated queen. According to Mr. Russell, Catherine was doomed from the very beginning when she stayed in the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk’s household. Catherine was a young girl who was never meant to be a queen. She was unprepared for the role and had a dark past that haunted her. In the end, it was her childhood past that sent her to the executioner’s block.

    There was not very much in the way of new information about Catherine Howard in this book. Most of it was well-known, especially her affairs with Henry Mannox, Francis Dereham, and Thomas Culpepper. However, I did like how Mr. Russell examined Catherine’s queenship. He claims that as a queen, Catherine was mostly practical. She took her duties as queen seriously and strove to be perfect. However, Catherine had a past that she tried to keep secret. No matter how much she tried to cover it up, it spiraled out of control and her past was revealed. She realized that the court was dangerous, for there were courtiers that wanted to destroy her.

    Overall, this biography gave us a sympathetic and complex look at Catherine Howard. The story is mostly well-known. Most of the book was focused on Henry VIII and his courtiers rather than on Catherine. However, Young & Damned & Fair is compulsively readable. It reads like a soap opera or a Shakespearean tragedy. It has danger, scandal, and courtly intrigue. This biography is a must read for Tudor fans. Young & Damned & Fair sheds light on a young and naive queen that, because of her past, was never a suitable wife for a king and lost her life tragically early.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This is a video of the author talking about his book: Young and Damned and Fair: The Life of Catherine Howard, Fifth Wife of King Henry VIII:

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