Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Unfaithful Wife: A Novel of Kenry VIII's Fifth Wife

If you know me, I know a lot about the Tudors.  I have ready exhaustively about them, but I'm always up for a different viewpoint on someone.  This book caught my eye and so I gave it a go.  This book focuses in on King Henry VIII's fifth wife, Catherine Howard.  She was raised with her step-Grandmother Agnes, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk.  She had an aristocratic pedigree because of her parents, her father being a Howard and being cousins with Anne Boleyn.  She was raised by her step-grandmother because of having so many siblings and her father not being wealthy.  Her mother had died when she was young, also complicating things.  Catherine's step-grandmother was apparently lax in having so many charges at her homes in Lambeth and Chesworth House, so this is where Catherine's beginnings came about.  She had a music teacher, Henry Manox, that taught her on the piano.  It wasn't long before he talked her into doing other things.  This was very common at the house; the older girls would bribe their nurse to give them the keys to an adjoining chamber, where they would invite men in to play cards and flirt.

As Henry became more demanding, Catherine asked her Grandmother to send him away and she did.  She met a Francis Dereham next, and they soon fell in love and pledged marriage to each other as well as their troth.  They also exchanged rings, which in the old laws of hand fasting they were now considered man and wife.  Katherine slept with Francis and was often companions in that chamber with her friend Joan and her boy.  Grandmother Agnes was mostly oblivious or blind to what was going on, and this continued for some time.  Catherine tried to help her father when she could, as he had lots of debts and no good positions.  She was left with no funds or good clothing either.  That soon changed when King Henry asked Thomas Norfolk, her uncle, to bring several lovely ladies to court for him to meet.  Catherine was one of the woman chosen, and they had dresses hastily made and were sent to court to meet the King.  He was quite taken with Catherine early on, singling her out for attention and some words.  Apparently he had taken her mother as a lover when she was married to her first husband, and saw a likeness in Catherine. 

The King was working on remarrying, following the death of Jane Seymour who gave him a son Edward.  Thomas Cromwell, his secretary, was trying to get him to marry Anna of Cleves for the alliance.  When Catherine returned with the ladies, her Grandmother and Thomas Howard began singling her out for attention.  They had noticed the King's affection towards her, and wanted her to work that to her advantage.  Francis said he was fine sharing her, because it could be beneficial for him as well.  That hurt Catherine's feelings, and she wasn't quite sure how she felt.  The King invited her several more times, and invited her to view his palace of Non such being built.  Many dresses were ordered to be made for her, and she was suddenly treated very well by everyone in the household.  Henry Manox, in vengeance, left a note that Catherine was sleeping with Francis and that they were betrothed.  Her Grandmother found them together in the chamber, and sent Francis away immediately.  She whipped, beat and left Catherine locked up for several days to starve.  She finally let her out when Catherine begged for forgiveness.  Her Grandmother was very worried as was Norfolk.  The King liked his woman innocent and unsullied.  Her cousin Anne Boleyn had been beheaded, a Queen, for treason against the King. 

With this example before her, Catherine was worried.  But Francis apparently was married with children, and had left for Ireland.  She felt betrayed and very sad, and also starved and tired.  While the King continued to see her, he was finally forced to agree to marry this Anne of Cleves.  Disappointed but searching for the best outcome regardless, she was sent to serve as one of her ladies in waiting to still be near the King.  Even a mistress would provide great benefits to her family.  Her father passed away during this time also, and Catherine was even more mournful.  She was now an orphan with an uncertain future.  She watched as Anna married King Henry, much to his consternation at finally meeting her and seeing her face.  She was very tall, broad shouldered, and her face was pockmarked and her voice deep.  It wasn't long after the wedding though that King Henry was seeking for an annulment.  Catherine had become the King's mistress, and he found comfort in her company.  His leg sore often ailed him and made him irritable, and his heavy bulk was certainly not appealing to her.  She did as she was bid, and Anne of Cleves became the King's sister and was granted a mansion and servants nearby court. 

It wasn't long before Catherine was married to the King, all of it down hastily.  At this time she met a Thomas Culpepper, one of the King's courtiers.  They were attracted to each other and started meeting in secret.  Lady Rochford, widow of George Boleyn, was helpful to her in planning these meetings.  Over the course of less than a few years, Catherine was unable to produce a child.  She pretended a few pregnancies and miscarriages, and the King grew angry with her.  His son Edward was often sick and was only three years old.  His son by Bessie Blount had died young also, so his fear was constant for a living male heir.  Francis Dereham returned to court and demanded she appoint him as her secretary.  He had information against her which would keep her quiet.  Catherine was in a very precarious position- having an affair with Culpepper, while trying to conceive the King's child and unable to.  At the same time Francis and Joan Bulmer were from her childhood in Lambeth and had many secrets against her.  It wasn't long before the truth came out about her adultery and sullied past, and many of her Howard relations were imprisoned in the Tower.  Catherine was stripped of her title as Queen, her many lands and incomes and jewels and clothing.  She was ultimately beheaded along with Lady Rochford, although in the book it doesn't mention Rochford's death.

My Thoughts:  I knew of Catherine's fate, which was much like Anne her cousin.  Catherine Howard has been portrayed as stupid in other books, which does make sense considering the risks she took to have an affair with Culpepper.  I think she believed King Henry would die soon, leaving her able to marry Culpepper.  Her relationships with Manox and Dereham are more understandable, but also costly to her to have a past like that when married to a King.  And a jealous one at that.  Besides her affair, Catherine was also unable to produce a child for the King.  This led to her downfall the fastest and led to her being charged with treason against the King and the crown.   Parliament passed a bill of attainder that made it treason, and punishable by death, for a queen to fail to disclose her sexual history to the king within twenty days of their marriage, or to incite someone to commit adultery with her.  This solved the matter of Catherine's supposed precontract and made her unequivocally guilty.  Culpepper was beheaded and Dereham was hung, drawn and quartered.  I find a lot of her story sad, because of her upbringing and not having parents around.  I think it made sense her beginnings of wantonness because of the other girls around her and the laxity of her Grandmother.  Once a girl is bade to become the King's mistress of queen, she really has no choice.  I think she found true love in Tom Culpepper, and abandoned all common sense or fear.  Even if she hadn't had an affair, she would have likely been done away with anyway because of not producing a child for the King.  Of course it was the woman's fault, not the man's back then.  I enjoyed the book and the author's viewpoints.  I don't know if Catherine's mother had really been the King's mistress or not, but it explained why he became attracted to her.  Anna of Cleves was friends with the King until his death, maintaining the title of the King's Sister.  Perhaps she was one of the most fortunate of his wives.

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