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The Unfaithful Queen: A Novel of Henry VIII's Fifth Wife by Carolly Erickson: A Book Review

The Unfaithful Queen: A Novel of Henry VIII's Fifth Wife

Author: Carolly Erickson

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Release Date: 2012

Pages: 302

Source: My State Public Library 

Synopsis: From New York Times bestselling author of The Last Wife of Henry VIII, a novel about Catherine Howard, wife of Henry's later years.


     Amid the turbulent, faction-ridden late reign of the fearsome Henry, eager high-spirited Catherine Howard caught the king's eye—but not before she had been the sensual plaything of at least three other men. Ignorant of her past, seeing only her youthful exuberance and believing that she could make him happy, he married her—only to discover, too late, that her heart belonged to his gentleman usher Tom Culpeper. 


     As the net of court intrigue tightens around her, and with the Tudor succession yet again in peril because of Prince Edward's severe illness, Queen Catherine struggles to give the angry, bloated and impotent king a son. But when her relations turn against her, she finds herself doomed, just as her cousin Anne Boleyn was, to face the executioner.


     The Unfaithful Queen lays bare the dark underbelly of the Tudor court, with its sugared rivalries and bitter struggles for power, where a girl of noble family could find herself sent to labor among the turnspits in the kitchens or—should fortune favor her—be exalted to the throne.


     My Review: Catherine Howard was the fifth Queen of Henry VIII. She had an affair with Thomas Culpepper and was executed for treason. In this novel, Catherine catches the eye of King Henry VIII. However, her heart belongs to Tom Culpepper. Once Catherine becomes queen, she is plagued with many troubles. She struggles to give the king a healthy son. Yet, Queen Catherine tries to hide her dark past that threatens to be revealed to the king.


     I really like Queen Catherine Howard. I found her to be a tragic and sympathetic character. She was a pawn to be used by her powerful uncle. Yet, when she was in trouble her uncle abandoned her. I also found it sad that her life was not her own. She wanted to marry for love, but was forced by her family and her love to marry the king. Queen Catherine also had many enemies who eagerly awaited her downfall. Therefore, Queen Catherine was a naive and trusting person. However, I like how Mrs. Erickson portrayed Catherine’s marriage to Henry. Queen Catherine had to give Henry another prince. Because of her failure, the king began to tire of her. Queen Catherine becomes insecure and desperate. She hopes that by having a son will secure her position even if the son is not her husband’s. Thus, Queen Catherine makes many foolish choices that lead her to the execution block. I wished that Queen Catherine would have made better decisions so that her ending would have been different.


     Overall, this novel is about choices, power, and love. I found all of the characters to be very flawed but realistic. I especially enjoyed the rivalry between Queen Anne of Cleves and Queen Catherine Howard. I also liked how it begins with Queen Catherine’s cousin, Queen Anne Boleyn’s execution. This seemed to foreshadow Queen Catherine’s fate! There were a few things I did not like about this book. There were some inaccuracies and some of the scenes seemed far-fetched. Nevertheless, I was enthralled by The Unfaithful Queen from the first page. It was very suspenseful! It also reads like a soap opera! It had danger, romance, and political and courtly intrigue! I believe this is Mrs. Erickson’s best historical fiction novel that she has written! I recommend this for fans of A Rose Without a Thorn, Katheryn Howard: The Scandalous Queen, and The King’s Rose!


Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


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