The King’s Rose
by Alisa M. Libby
Catherine Howard is a member of one of the most powerful families in England, but she spent most of her life far from the King’s court in London. At Lambeth Palace she enjoyed more freedom and romantic liaisons, but now that she is fifteen her family has decided that the time has come for Catherine to be useful. She is brought to court to join the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting, but when Henry VIII falls in desperate lust with young Catherine, his fourth wife is quickly brushed aside. One royal wedding later, Catherine Howard is the Queen of England, but her position offers her little comfort or power. Her former acquaintances flock to her, threatening to reveal the indiscretions of the past if Catherine does not provide them with positions at court. Her family continues to control her actions, especially through Jane Rochford and the Duchess of Norfolk. Worst of all, Catherine has fallen in love with Thomas Culpepper, and their flirtation could bring the wrath of the king down on the entire court.
Henry VIII’s fifth queen, who was married to him for less than two years, is given a sympathetic portrayal in Alisa Libby’s novel. Catherine’s biggest fault is that she’s a teenager. She lacks the cleverness to navigate the complicated adult world of Henry’s court, and her inexperience in worldly affairs means that she cannot be a true political power. Her family makes it clear that if Catherine cannot hold the king’s attention, they’ll drop her like a stone…as they did with her cousin, Anne Boleyn.
This reminds me of something I liked about the book. When she is in moments of stress, Catherine is often haunted by the ghost of Anne Boleyn, although whether this phantom is the spirit of Anne or just a hallucination brought on by Catherine’s panic is never quite clear. I thought that Anne’s life would be something that Catherine would naturally fixate on, given the parallel lives the two women led, but this is the first novel about Catherine that really brought that into the narrative. It also highlights Catherine’s uneasiness with her position; while Anne was groomed for her role and motivated by her own vaulting ambitions, Catherine never particularly desired the throne.
Like Anne, Catherine also desperately needed to provide Henry VIII with an heir. Since she was young and healthy, there was no reason she shouldn’t bear a son, but as the months go by and Catherine still isn’t pregnant what little power she possesses begins to slip away. She’s clearly trapped, and even the extreme measures she takes to buy time only serve to condemn her to her ultimate fate. She’s a very tragic figure, this Catherine Howard; by all accounts she was utterly average and didn’t have the intellect, cunning, or ambition to survive the Tudor court. Yet at the end of her brief life, she was able to pull herself together enough to make a ‘good end’ on the scaffold, when more experienced courtiers descended into madness.
I think this is the third or fourth book about Catherine that I’ve read this year, and so far it is my favorite. I think it would appeal really well to a teen audience, since the readers would identify with Catherine’s struggles, but there’s enough drama and intrigue to delight adults too!