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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 23 May 2013
Read this novel some months ago. I found it very interesting to view history from a different angle than usual. Katherine Howard is always described as being just a stupid young girl interested only in balls and new gowns. This novel describes her point of view, and that is very refreshing.
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on 11 August 2013
Biased and full of faults. More of a novel than a biography.
A real disappointment. I read this book after having read Baldwin Smith's Catherine Howard, which is much better.
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on 29 April 2013
Another book I absolutely loved. Managed to read well within a week. Thoroughly enjoyed and was quite upset when finished.
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