The King's Rose by Alisa M Libby
|The King's Rose by Alisa M Libby|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: The lightly-fictionalised story of the fifth wife of Henry VIII gives a good sense of the Tudor court and the times.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: March 2009|
|Publisher: Dutton Books|
Henry VIII is a man remembered from history lessons mainly because of the numbers – the eighth Henry, who split the church in two and had six wives and three children. Two of the children were daughters and just the one was the longed-for son, but he was sickly. Two of the six wives were beheaded and whilst most will remember Anne Boleyn, the story of his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, is less well-known. It's possible that she was only sixteen years old when she was beheaded.
She was just fifteen when she caught the eye of the king and her story is told in her own words. Now, this isn't an easy trick to pull off, particularly when you're writing as a teenager caught up in some momentous affairs, some five hundred years ago, but Libby carries it off in style. She catches perfectly the invidious position in which Catherine found herself. Following the execution of her cousin, Anne Boleyn, the Howard family had suffered financially and another young girl to catch they eye of the king was what they needed.
The fact that Catherine was hardly the virginal bride she presented herself as was beside the point, as was the fact that her affections were engaged elsewhere. The King was not taken with his wife, Anne of Cleves, and young Catherine had caught his eye. What the King wanted, the King got. There was pressure from the family too: Catherine had to ensnare the king, marry him and then, most important of all, produce a male heir. Their fortunes would then be sealed. Catherine's past was whitewashed and she was married to the ailing monarch old enough to be her father if not her grandfather. Producing an heir was not going to be simple though, with the king frequently ailing, or absent and in desperation Catherine risked all to ensure her and her family's future.
Libby's great skill is her ability to convey history without appearing to do so. There's little in the way of exposition, yet she brings to life the Tudor court and sixteenth century England, a time when a fifteen year old girl was considered marriageable. Catherine is perfectly portrayed as part child and part queen. It would have been easy too to have sunk into mawkish sentimentality, particularly as Catherine's fate became obvious, but she has the child go to her death with a quiet dignity which left me in tears.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
For another, more light-hearted story set in the same period we can recommend The Lady in the Tower by Marie-Louise Jensen.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.