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

Written with an exciting combination of narrative flair and historical authority, this interpretation of the tragic life of Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII, breaks new ground in our understanding of the very young woman who became queen at a time of unprecedented social and political tension and whose terrible errors in judgment quickly led her to the executioner’s block.

On the morning of July 28, 1540, as King Henry’s VIII’s former confidante Thomas Cromwell was being led to his execution, a teenager named Catherine Howard began her reign as queen of a country simmering with rebellion and terrifying uncertainty. Sixteen months later, the king’s fifth wife 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 accounts of her life, which portray her as a naïve victim of an ambitious family, this compelling and authoritative biography will shed new light on Catherine Howard’s rise and downfall by reexamining her motives and showing her in her context, a milieu that goes beyond her family and the influential men of the court to include 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 worlds as well as societal tensions beyond the palace walls, the author 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—from diplomatic pressure and international politics to the long-festering resentments against the queen’s household at court.

Including a forgotten text of Catherine’s confession in her own words, color illustrations, family tree, map, and extensive notes, Young and Damned and Fair changes our understanding of one of history’s most famous women while telling the compelling and very human story of complex individuals attempting to survive in a dangerous age.

Catherine Howard was probably still a teenager when she put her head down on the executioner’s block and so she has gone in history as the foolish teen Queen. A cousin of Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife, who also lost her head, Catherine Howard is a tragic figure. She was born into nobility as the daughter of Lord Edmund Howard, son of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk and Joyce Culpepper. Catherine was orphaned in 1539, but much earlier, at the age of five, she was sent to live in in the household of her father’s stepmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, where supervision was apparently quite lax. It was in the Dowager Duchess’ household that Catherine began a sexual relationship with Henry Mannox. She was then moved to another household run by the Dowager Duchess, where she was pursued by Francis Dereham.

Catherine found a place at court in the household of Anne of Cleves, Henry’s fourth wife. Their marriage was annulled, and Catherine married the King on  28 July 1540. It is unclear whether her relationship with Thomas Culpeper was sexual, but it would be her downfall nonetheless. She was executed on 13 February 1542.

Gareth Russell has managed to put together a book which puts Catherine in an objective light. The book contains convenient family trees and illustrations, making it a complete overview of the turbulent times Catherine ended up in. I really enjoyed the flow of the book, and I kept wanting to read more, despite knowing the inevitable ending.

Young and Damned and Fair: The Life of Catherine Howard, Fifth Wife of King Henry VIII by Gareth Russell is available now both the UK and the US.

About Moniek Bloks 2087 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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