Book Review: Henry VIII’s “Rose Without a Thorn”

Publication date:  May 2020

Review, short version:  Three out of four roses.

Review, long version:

What’s left to say about Henry Tudor’s six wives?

Katherine, Anne, Jane, Anna, Katheryn, and Katharine?

After all the books – fiction and nonfiction – and feature films, made-for-TV productions, websites, plus blogs devoted to Tudor history…

Is there anything left to say about Henry VIII’s six wives?

Long-time and prolific author Alison Weir thought so. 

Weir’s list of fiction and nonfiction books is impressive:

As her books focus mainly on Tudor and other English royal history, I consider Weir something of an expert and I’ve learned a lot from her books.

So when she launched her six-books fiction series (the sixth is due out in May) about Henry VIII’s wives – one book for each wife – I thought…

Why not?

I’ve now read the first five, most recently Katheryn Howard, The Scandalous Queen.

In Weir’s Author’s Note, she describes the book as a novel based on “the revised and expanded biography…the original version of which was published in my book The Six Wives of Henry VII, in 1991.”  Weir is a meticulous researcher, and relies on sources contemporary to the period as much as possible.  She also sifts and sorts other sources and forms her own perspective, one I’ve consistently found to be credible.

Katheryn and Henry VIII, as portrayed in the British movie “Henry VIII and His Six Wives,” 1972.

With Katheryn Howard, Weir has added dialogue, and characters’ thoughts, motivations and feelings – most of which we can’t know, but again, I think credible.

And at the end – though I knew what was coming – I couldn’t help feeling sorry for Katheryn.  She wasn’t the brightest flower in Henry’s bouquet of brides, but she was used, and disposed of, by ambitious, powerful men she was too naïve and powerless to fight.

If you know Katheryn’s story, I think you’d enjoy Weir’s insights.  If you don’t know Katheryn’s story, this is a good place to start, though I’d actually recommend reading Weir’s “Six Tudor Queens” series in order, starting with Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen.

I don’t always agree with Weir, but I always enjoy her books.

Weir suggests these miniatures “can be identified on good grounds as Katheryn.”  Left:  “Portrait of a Lady, Perhaps Katherine Howard” in the Royal Collection Trust, by Hans Holbein, painted c. 1540.  Right:  “Portrait Miniature of Katherine Howard” by Hans Holbein, painted c. 1540, Buccleuch Collection.

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