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3.8 out of 5 stars
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3.8 out of 5 stars
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on 27 January 2006
This is an excellent well rounded book on Katherine Howard. She is often put to one side with Anne of Cleves as the less important of Henry VIII's wives, but her short life provides very interesting reading.
The author sets the scene, both politically in England as a whole and also the situations within the Howard family itself to set the platform for the reader to understand and empathise with later events.
I found this book much more objective than the author's previous book on Anne Boleyn; in this one she gives the views for and against, providing evidence from contemporary documents as to whether Katherine Howard was knowingly guilty of her premarital escapades or whether it was something that she had very little control over. It is still ultimately up to the reader to which side they take. Interesting points are provided as to whether she was in fact sexually abused and why it was not frowned on in her time etc.
There is a lot of information on the court of Henry VIII and his relationship with Thomas Howard, Duke Of Norfolk(Katherine's uncle), and how this in turn affected the way Katherine was treated.
As always with this era there are 101 plots going on at any one time within the court and the author beautifully presents these in relation to Katherine and how the knife twisted and resulted in her execution rather than just divorce and shame. There are some good amounts of information on the characters of the other women that surrounded Katherine, and their actions...such as Lady Rochford.
A fascinating, enjoyable read!
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on 17 September 2006
As a youngster studying the six wives in school I was often entranced by the story of Katherine Howard. She has gone down in history as being a 'natural born tart' who distracted a sad old king while blantantly cuckolding him. But I always saw in my mind a young girl being faced with an awful death that had come from nowhere. And yet, she seemed brushed over and ignored.

But like Anne Boleyn before her she was the victim of a male-led society where women were feared and reviled, and because of this ultimately abused.

Joanna Denny finally gives Katherine Howard a book of her own. The fact that it has taken so long shows how hard it is for us to let go of the fact that some women 'deserve what they get'.

There are many faults with Ms Denny's book, and the scarcity of documents from the time contribute to some of them. I also feel that it would have been a more intellectually stimulating book if she had delved deeper into the feminist aspect of her story. Katherine was seen then, as now, as an irrelevant harlot. Ms. Denny paints her pretty much as an abused innocent who knew not what she did, but due to her sex and the fact she was married to the King not knowing was no defence.

Ms. Denny goes back to her past to find evidence of abuse and how this would have affected her personality and behaviour. She was the ultimate victime and would probably have been so even if her life had followed a different path.

It is Katherine Howard's main tragedy that unlike her cousin Anne Boleyn, she didn't change the world and in doing so make her mark on history.
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VINE VOICEon 19 July 2008
For much of its duration, this is not really a biography, as not enough details of the subject's earliest life are known. It is really an account of the Howards' relationship with Henry VIII and is interesting for that, but the author's style is a bit journalistic and sometimes repetitive, for example the constant reiteration of the point that Katherine's uncle the Duke of Norfolk was simply using her as a pawn to pursue his dynastic ambitions. The author makes a good point that one's attitude towards Katherine depends in part on her assumed age at the time of her liaisons, about which there is disagreement, but she makes a good case for her birth as being in 1525, making her only 15 at her marriage to the King and probably less than 17 at her execution, thus making her less of the knowing late teenage flirt as which she has often been depicted and more of an abused victim. On the other hand, the author seems to be rather overly uncritical of Ann Boleyn and I feel no desire on this basis to read her biography of that earlier queen. Finally, the referencing is poor - there is a list of sources for each chapter, but no link given between these sources and quotes in the chapter itself; there are also random footnote references in the chapter that relate to nothing. Overall, somewhat disappointing.
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on 12 February 2007
Dont think that because of the title this book is JUST about Katherine Howard as it actually covers all of Henry's wives to a greater or lesser extent. I just finished reading the Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory before I started this book so it was easy to see the difference between the two. Ms Gregory takes artistic licence with her subjects so while details are less accurate she does make everything seem much more alive. Joanna Denny however has strived to make this an accurate and thoroughly researched book. She explains so much of what was going on in this period that at times it can read a little like a text book although a very enjoyable one at that. What this book does achieve is showing just how cruel, self-serving and ruthless the Duke of Norfolk is. He is a character that always seems to be kept on the outskirts as the story will normally focus on Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard or Henry VIII himself, however here he is everpresent and his influence is well demonstrated throughout his time at the Tudor Court.

Katherine was definitely a pawn in her Uncle Howard (Duke of Norfolk) games at Court while he was striving for power, wealth and influence. Of course Katherine was spoiled and materialistic but Ms Denny also illustrates the innocent side to Katherine and the fact that she was the victim of men throughout her life whether at the hands of her father, her lovers, her Uncle and ultimately her husband.
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on 22 July 2012
Joanna Denny has written an extremely sympathetic account of the life of Henry VIII's fifth queen. Denny asserts that Katherine's age should determine how you view her; that she was only 14 or 15 when she married Henry and therefore largely not to blame for her past and present. Here is the only positive about the book.

The negatives, however, far outweigh the positives. As not much information is known about Katherine until her marriage to Henry, most of the book is dedicated to the the power-hungry Howard's relationship with Henry VII and VIII.

Historical biography covers a wide range of style. Denny's is certainly extremely popular. There is of course nothing wrong in this but to litter the book with unsubstantiated sweeping statements, errors and opinions which it seems are only made to make the reading matter more juicy is unforgivable and highly unprofessional.

The Howards were apparently aiming for the throne because of their descent from Joan, a daughter of King John! This is laughable to say the least. It was not until Henry Howard in 1546, whose mother was the daughter of the Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, executed in 1521, that a Howard was aiming to replace the Tudors due to his descent from Edward III.

She also asserts that Catherine of Aragon lied concerning the consummation of her marriage to Prince Arthur as the Duchess of Norfolk said so in court. There is of course no evidence either way concerning whether this marriage was consummated. She also states that Catherine plotted to overthrow Henry VIII and replace him with her daughter Mary. Again, there is no evidence.

Concerning Anne Boleyn, she believes that 'Henry knew very well that Anne was not guilty' and that 'public opinion swung in Anne's favour' against Jane Seymour who was 'not popular' while being 'sly and acquiescent' in order to replace Anne. Such sweeping statements which have no basis in fact are embarrassingly naive. These beliefs may be true but again there is no evidence.

Denny believes Katherine was an innocent girl highly influenced by the older girls in her dormitory whilst living under the roof of Agnes, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. This is to Denny's credit but not to her credit that Katherine Howard was a victim of child abuse. Here, she makes a classic error by thinking 16th and 20th century morals are identical.

It's a nice read but that's about it. Lacey Baldwin Smith's biography has nothing to worry about!
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VINE VOICEon 20 November 2005
Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived... that's how kids learn the extraordinary marriage history of Henry VIII. Well this is book is about wife No.5, the second to be beheaded.
Katherine Howard has come down in history as the one that deserved her fate on the block as she was "born a tart". Yes indeed, she had lovers before her marriage and properly during the marriage to the king. The last aspect made her technically a traitor and therefore she deserved her punishment. Well, if this would be all this excellent book is about it would be properly a very boring one. However, Joanna Denny does not stop there.
First of all she put things into perspective, tell the reader much about the treatment of women at that very time. Females were mainly "flawed" human beings, to be controlled and rules by men by all means, married off at the highest price. And this in the highest circles... only few manages to live an independent life, being there own masters, achieving this often only through an early widowhood. But as more women died in childbed this was rather the exception. Katherine was no exception, neither particularly strong willed or clever or even deep. She was however attractive for men.
At an very early age she was properly sexually abused - at least we would describe it so today and Joanna Denny points this out quite clearly - which was later hold against her and she labelled a "born tart". Hardly justified I may say. Her family, especially her uncle the Duke of Norfolk, used her in the power game and tangled her before the disgustingly fat and sickly king. Well he took her ... suppose she had no choice. However, she was not clever enough to fulfil her position of queen consort. Whether she really committed adultery remains in the end unproven. I feel at least she would not have been convicted before a court of modern times. It seems likely that she did but Mrs. Denny points the reader to the fact that is was denied by all. She might have been in love with Thomas Culpepper but as well in a physical sense... well, in the end it did not matter as the hurt king would have shown no mercy... one has to love him!
I enjoyed reading Mrs. Denny's biography on the 5th wife and getting a new perspective of Katherine Howard and learn a lot about the lives of females in Tudor times. However, I feel that Mrs. Denny should have given a bit more attention to details as some facts given are contradicted elsewhere in the book. However, these are minor details compared to the all important basic message. Worthwhile reading!
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VINE VOICEon 12 March 2007
Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived... that's how kids learn the extraordinary marriage history of Henry VIII. Well this is book is about wife No.5, the second to be beheaded.

Katherine Howard has come down in history as the one that deserved her fate on the block as she was "born a tart". Yes indeed, she had lovers before her marriage and properly during the marriage to the king. The last aspect made her technically a traitor and therefore she deserved her punishment. Well, if this would be all this excellent book is about it would be properly a very boring one. However, Joanna Denny does not stop there.

First of all she put things into perspective, tell the reader much about the treatment of women at that very time. Females were mainly "flawed" human beings, to be controlled and rules by men by all means, married off at the highest price. And this in the highest circles... only few manages to live an independent life, being there own masters, achieving this often only through an early widowhood. But as more women died in childbed this was rather the exception. Katherine was no exception, neither particularly strong willed or clever or even deep. She was however attractive for men.

At an very early age she was properly sexually abused - at least we would describe it so today and Joanna Denny points this out quite clearly - which was later hold against her and she labelled a "born tart". Hardly justified I may say. Her family, especially her uncle the Duke of Norfolk, used her in the power game and tangled her before the disgustingly fat and sickly king. Well he took her ... suppose she had no choice. However, she was not clever enough to fulfil her position of queen consort. Whether she really committed adultery remains in the end unproven. I feel at least she would not have been convicted before a court of modern times. It seems likely that she did but Mrs. Denny points the reader to the fact that is was denied by all. She might have been in love with Thomas Culpepper but as well in a physical sense... well, in the end it did not matter as the hurt king would have shown no mercy... one has to love him!

I enjoyed reading Mrs. Denny's biography on the 5th wife and getting a new perspective of Katherine Howard and learn a lot about the lives of females in Tudor times. However, I feel that Mrs. Denny should have given a bit more attention to details as some facts given are contradicted elsewhere in the book. However, these are minor details compared to the all important basic message. Worthwhile reading!
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on 6 February 2016
Although informative and full of facts, I had real trouble getting over the obvious prejudice towards Katherine of Aragon and Jane Seymour. Denny was especially vicious towards the latter. There were some errors I spotted but overall an interesting read. Would receive a better review if the author's opinions hadn't leapt off the page.
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on 27 November 2012
I was thoroughly impressed with this portrayal of Katherine Howard. Given the relatively scant primary contemporary information available, it is abundantly clear that Denny made full use of the sources available to her, in order to shed light on Katherine's character, motives and behaviour by for instance, exploring the characters of; her powerful uncle, the Duke of Norfolk and his son, Henry, the Earl of Surrey; her beleagured and weak father, who seems to have ventured through life believing that everyone else owed him a living; the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk whose household was frequently out of control as her charges continually took every opportunity to exploit this; as well as her other uncle, Lord William Howard - who may have helped the Duchess cover up Katherine's indiscretions in order to protect their and Katherine's reputations.
Denny also attempts to explore the characters of the many who would soon be caught up in the scandal and tragedy which would one day return to haunt Katherine, such as, Joan Bulmer, Malena and Katherine Tylney, Alice Restwold - all of whom would remind Katherine of secrets shared and bear testimony to her activities - Mary Lascelles, Henry Manox, Francis Dereham and Thomas Culpepper - whose relationships with Katherine are explored in vivid detail.

In scrutinising the pivotal characters of Katherine's story as well as that of her wider immediate family such as Mary Howard and Margaret Douglas, Denny is able to infer a great deal more from the story than would otherwise have been the case had she have just stuck to the few scant facts reported about Katherine.
In particular, what was highly interesting about Denny's depiction for instance, was the discussion of domestic and European political events which would help catapult her to the King's bed. The constant and incessant squabbling between the Catholic factions headed by Gardiner and Norfolk and that of the reform party headed by Cromwell would result in Cromwell's demise and Denny very convincingly argues that Norfolk sought to advance either one of his three nieces to Queenship so that the Howard clan could help stop the pace of reform, and gain a foothold on the reins of power.

Denny presents a largely sympathetic portrayal of Katherine Howard, arguing that she was essentially a pawn in the game of politics. Indeed, given Katherine's age, her level of education and what is known of some of her Howard relatives, particularly the Duke of Norfolk, I am inclined to agree with this assessment. Despite an arguably different perspective on child abuse in the sixteenth century, I found Denny's focus on Katherine as a victim of child abuse very informative and poignant, for in the rush to condemn her behaviour by other scholars, it has been forgotten that Katherine was very young (particularly if we accept the birth date of c. 1525 advanced by Denny) and surrounded by predatory men and not altogether wise older women when living in the Dowager's household - all of whom either seemed to have encouraged her activities or took advantage of them. Denny is also mindful that such mitigating circumstances as demonstrated by contemporary sources, would not have procured any such empathy for Katherine nevertheless it becomes a poignant reminder to the modern reader of Katherine's frailty and vulnerability.

Denny's portrayal also sheds light on other aspects of Katherine's character, for instance, the fact that she chose to intervene (somewhat more successfully than her predecessor, Jane Seymour) to save Sir Edmund Knyvett and Sir Thomas Wyatt suggests a compassionate and perhaps more shrewd individual than previously thought. Other interesting information uncovered by Denny suggests that her marriage to the irascible and unpredictable Henry was less secure than had previously been thought - even for some time prior to evidence of her extra marital activities having been uncovered, with Denny suggesting interestingly, although quite unsubstantively, that her desire to maintain her position by possibly conceiving an illegitimate child by Culpepper may have been the prime motivation for their affair, with he, being possibly swayed by the thought of future marriage with a potential queen regent.

A few criticisms I had to level at this book were due to a few unsubstantiated accounts such as; Denny's report of Jocasta Culpepper having died in childbirth after having given birth to Katherine; Denny's acceptance as fact of Katherine and Henry Carey having been acknowledged as Henry's biological children (which would have contradicted another element to her assertion that Norfolk had tried to ply the King with either Katherine Howard, Mary Norris or Katherine Carey); the notion that she was chosen to enter the Dowager's household in 1533; Denny's assertion that Anne Boleyn's marriage was dissolved on the basis of an earlier precontract with Henry Percy; there is no evidence that Katherine and Mary plotted to overthrow Henry (indeed, the contrary seems to have been the case); her depiction of Jane Parker's last statement at her execution is likely incorrect; Denny did not explore whether it was the elder as opposed to the younger Thomas Culpepper who had been responsible for past misdemeanours which included an assault and murder, and; her supposition that the Dean of Lichfield was the son of Jane Parker and George Boleyn, when this is unverified.

However, critiques aside, I found this portrayal of Katherine Howard to be compelling and impressive. As stated previously, Denny made full use of the sources available to her and came up with many interesting theories and hypotheses not previously explored by other scholars - one of which was the suggestion that the Duke of Richmond may have been poisoned by the King - which were either directly relevant or ancillary to the overall portrayal of her subject.
I would recommend this book to anyone wishing to gain a better understanding of Henry's fifth queen.
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on 17 July 2012
This book is a marked improvement over Danny's other book on Anne Boleyn. This one manages to make the reader regard Katherine Howard in a different light. She's no longer seen as a pretty but dimwitted girl but rather as a victim of predatory males, whether they were the King of England or her uncle the Duke of Norfolk, a violent and thoroughly despicable character. Denny sheds light on the deplorable Tudor marriage practises where girls who were barely out of childhood were married off to men who were old enough to be their fathers or even in some cases, their grandfathers. Katherine Howard was a surplus female in the very large Howard clan, shipped off to her grandmother's, to be ignored and neglected in terms of education and morality. There she was initiated into sex at the age of 11 by her music tutor. Denny rightly calls this child abuse and Katherine should have been out of the running for consideration as a royal bride, but her family kept the scandal quiet. Historians including Denny are now in agreement that Katherine was 15, perhaps even younger when Henry VIII first showed any interest in her. Katherine simply wanted to please her family, and later her husband, as any Tudor girl of the time would have done. She did not have a malicious bone in her body but showed great courage in providing clothes for the imprisoned Margaret de la Pole when no one else dared lift a finger. In the end, the very qualities of her extreme youth which had attracted the King to her in the first place proved to be her undoing. A very tragic tale indeed and very well done by Denny!
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