The Queen's Mistake, Diane Haeger
In this offering, author Diane Haeger gives us a new look at Henry VIII's doomed fifth wife Catherine Howard. This book, while covering a queen that there's really not a lot to write about, had potential but this reader felt it fell short. While its not a bad novel, it seems poorly written in some places and the spins on history the author takes just don't work.
**May contain spoilers**
The basic story presented here - Catherine grows up at her grandmother's, leads a promiscuous lifestyle while there, gets sent to court as bait for Henry VIII, becomes his queen, and finally meets a bad end - is correct. The way Haeger stitched it all together did not sit well with me. It seemed almost like a young adult romance dressed up as historical fiction. Most of the characters simply were not believable to me. I felt the author really went out of her way to try to paint Catherine Howard as an innocent who was just used as a pawn and had no idea what she was doing. While she was not as politically savvy and ambitious as her cousin Anne Boleyn, I do not believe that she was in any way innocent or really that unaware of what was going on around her; she just didn't care about what was going on. Haeger goes to great pains to show that Catherine was not technically unfaithful to Henry once they were married, though historical record (I'm fairly certain) shows otherwise. I really felt nothing for Catherine at any point in the novel; I just didn't care what happened to her. None of the other characters were interesting either and some were portrayed in a very unbelievable way. I can't see Henry VIII really asking advice from a groom of the bedchamber (Thomas Culpepper). Jane Rochford comes across as kind and nurturing, only wanting to help Catherine, though everything else you read about Jane paints her as a very jealous, insecure, and selfish woman. At one point we find out that Catherine's uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, wanted her to gain experience on how to please a man while living with her grandmother so that she would be ready to be thrown under the king's nose. Considering the drama over whether Henry's first two wives were virgins or not when they married, I find it hard to believe that Norfolk would risk his neck by trying to pawn off another niece as a virgin. Norfolk was highly ambitious and power hungry but stupid? I don't think so. One character I was intrigued by was Mary Lassells, one of the girls that was with Catherine in her grandmother's home. The little bit we see of Mary's feelings and motivations for her actions towards Catherine are quite interesting. Her story really had some potential and I think the novel would have been much better and more convincing if it had been told through Mary's point of view. We certainly would have gotten a much different look at what happened.
Besides the uninteresting and (sometimes) unbelievable characters, the story itself just wasn't that interesting. It just didn't reach out and pull me in to the lives of the people between the pages. Some of the historical inaccuracies really jumped out at me as well: I'm certain it is recorded in history that Catherine accompanied Henry on his trip to the North (and had some private meetings with Culpepper along the way) and I honestly don't think anyone could ride, on horseback, from York to London in a day. I know that authors are going to take some liberties with history to fit their stories but when an author completely changes or ignores what is in recorded history, that really bugs me. Besides changing known history, another of my big pet peeves with novels is when the author feels the need to repeat something over and over and over; Haeger does this in an abundance that reminds me of Philippa Gregory. I really didn't need to read on every other page how gross the king appeared or how Catherine really didn't think anyone would care what she had done in her early years.
This was a very fast read and as I said at the beginning it is not bad, just not interesting enough for this reader. I would only recommend it for those that aren't that familiar with the time period and want an easy introduction, those that are complete Tudor fanatics and can't get enough of anything that deals with the period, and readers that just want some easy reading. Those that are a bit more particular about their historical fiction may have issues with this one. If you are interested in reading more about Catherine Howard, Philippa Gregory has a book covering this same time period, The Boleyn Inheritance, that is a more interesting take on the story.