Monday, November 22, 2010

Catherine Howard by Michael Glenne

Portrait of Catherine

Tudor history and biography have long been passions of mine, and this represents my first biography of the fifth wife of Henry VIII. Catherine Howard, cousin to Anne Boleyn, was the one wife I knew virtually nothing about. After seeing the depiction of this young girl on the Showtime cable series, The Tudors, I knew I needed to get some facts about her short reign as Henry’s queen.

Her Coat of Arms

The book has three distinct characteristics:

First, excessive detail, particularly in listing names of attendees at parties, coronations, and official progresses of the court around England. Without any explanation of the who and the why, these lists became tedious, and when confronted with a half a page of names, I began skipping to the end.

Second, excessively detailed conversations among the various players in this tragic drama of what, to me, is the singularly most interesting period of English history. The extent and detail of these frequently private conversations can only come from Glenne’s imagination.

Third, obviously historical information that overlaps what I know about the period and some of the other players in Henry’s Court. This part made the search most worthwhile. The intrigue, the maneuvers, the deals whispered in corridors, the treachery, the treason, the love, hate, and fawning courtiers are all here. Until I find something better, this will have to fill in the gap of my collection.

Tamzin Merchant as Catherine in The Tudors

Glenne can’t decide whether he is writing history or historical fiction. Perhaps the lack of direct information about Catherine required this additional information so that he could publish more than a pamphlet. However, even the abridged version of the massive collection of The Lisle Letters, which runs to almost 4,000 pages in six volumes, has quite a bit of information on Katherine. (I one day hope to own the full set, but that is way out of my budget right now.)

The Great King, Henry VIII

So, how do I rate this book? Should I take of 1-2/3 stars for each of the annoying portions? Well, I did notice the name of my maternal grandfather in Catherine’s household, so I think I will remit 1/3 of a star and rate this as Two Stars.

--Chiron, 11/21/10

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