Wednesday 28 November 2012

A new biography of Catherine Howard

I have had a few e-mails and messages from people asking me to review or comment on Professor David Loades' new book, Catherine Howard: The adulterous wife of Henry VIII. Professor Loades is Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Wales and an Honorary Fellow of the University of Oxford's History Faculty. His work on the Tudor navy and on the reign of Queen Mary I was ground-breaking. More recently, Professor Loades has turned his attention to more popular biographies for Amberly Press and his contract with them has produced short studies on Henry VIII, the Boleyn family, Mary Tudor (Queen of France) and, now, Catherine Howard. Loades is a respected scholar and a world-renowned expert on Tudor politics. Some regular readers of the blog know that I studied Catherine Howard for my masters dissertation, hence why they asked me to review Professor Loades's new book.

However, since I have researched Catherine myself and I am currently in the process of writing about her, I didn't think it would be fair to critique Professor Loades's work myself. Tudor history is far too full of people who are keen to take pot-shots at others; indeed, history in general has that trait. Any criticism I have of Professor Loades might lead people to assume that I am only doing it to big-up my own work or to massage my ego. Any praise might lead people to think I'm being sycophantic. Neither would be the case. Books from good writers are always to be encouraged.

Thank you for asking me to review this book and good luck to Professor Loades with his new biography! To anyone who purchases it, I hope you enjoy it. Catherine's story is certainly a fascinating one and Professor Loades is a gifted scholar.


  1. Hi Gareth,
    first of all hats off to you for your informative and very well written blog. I bumped into it yesterday, while looking for news about Mathilda of Flanders, and found your post about her extremely interesting and well researched, by far the best I've found so far.
    I'm currently translating a British TV documentary about the Normans and something is not right about the content. That's why I'm now contacting you. I would like to verify this information with you, if it's not too much of a bother. I wanted to send you an email, but unfortunately I couldn't find your address. Is there a way to contact you directly (if you want, of course)?
    Thank you anyway for your attention and good luck with everything.


  2. I've stopped reviewing non-fiction books on Anne Boleyn and the Boleyns for the same reasons, Gareth. I will discuss thoughts I have on historians'/authors' theories in articles but I won't do reviews because some people won't see my review as objective.

  3. Hi Maurizio - if you leave another comment with your e-mail address, I can contact you. The comment won't be published online, but I'll see it.

  4. I read that when Catherine Howard was held in the convent that she had 6 dresses. Do you have a description of these dresses? I have a portion of a dress which is said to have been "brought from the tower by Thomas Shales, butler to HRH King Henry at the time of the execution."

  5. I'm afraid that doesn't sound like it's genuine. There is no record of a Thomas Shales in the king's service, but that's not to say that it's impossible. The biggest giveaway is the "HRH King Henry." "HRH" is a modern piece of royal etiquette. In the sixteenth century, the title used would have been "his Grace" or, increasingly in Henry's reign, "his Majesty." Moreover, even today, "highness" (HRH) is never used for the monarch or a king's wife. Highness is only used for other members of the royal family, like the monarch's children, cousins, siblings, etc. It's also unlikely (although not impossible in that era!) that a royal servant would have referred to the king by his first name; today, for instance, only foreign press tend to refer to the Queen as "Queen Elizabeth." Since it's obvious that there's only one, the Palace, court and British press tend to refer to the sovereign simply as "Her Majesty The Queen" or "The Queen." So on the basis of all that, it's extremely unlikely that the fabric belonged to Catherine Howard or a member of the royal house in the 16th century. That being said, if it is that old, it is still a very precious antique!

  6. I realize that I have misled you with the quotation marks. A letter was written expalaining the history of what it was, how it came to each person and when it was passed down. The last date in the original handwritting was 1870 and was probably written by that person's granddaughter after 1900. There are a couple of more entries by later generations. That being said I am disappointed to hear that a Thomas Shales was not a butler for the queen. If there is a description of those dresses, I would still be interested.

  7. I see! Well, unfortunately there is no direct description of the dresses, except to say that they were plain. One will have been her execution dress, in which case it will have been stripped from her and given to the executioner as part of his payment. Even plain dresses for members of the aristocracy were extremely expensive to make and we know that most of Catherine Howard's dresses were subsequently re-cycled by being cut, styled and re-made for her successor, Katherine Parr - an example of "waste not, want not"!

  8. Gareth, will you write more about the stereotypes (and the falseness/truth in these stereotypes) surrounding Katherine Howard? I know you made a dissertation on her. I'm writing an essay on her as queen and it seems that she DID contribute a good deal (patronizing a book on midwifery, interceding for Wyatt, helping Princess Elizabeth return to court) and perhaps used fashion as a power statement like her cousin Anne Boleyn (this is I got from Conor Byrne's blog). Thank you.

  9. Hi Cecilia. Those are certainly interesting contributions which Catherine made, but most medieval queens made similar contributions. The book on midwifery was dedicated to her, but she didn't help fund its publication or creation, from what we can tell. On the fashion point, Conor Byrne's article pointed out her love of clothes and style quite rightly. Most queens were known for being trend-setters in one way or the other, maybe not to the same extent as Anne Boleyn and certainly nothing on the scale of, say, Marie-Antoinette. Katherine Parr was also something of a clothes-horse, as was Mary Tudor; in Catherine's case, it's difficult to know how much she was using it as a power statement, because the only commentary we have about her taste in clothes comes from Charles de Marillac's correspondence, in which he comments approvingly on the fact that she favoured French fashion. I'd hazard the guess though that she was certainly very keen to use her wardrobe to project an appropriate image of a well-dressed and well-behaved queen consort; Catherine won a lot of praise for her "very delightful appearance," and manners, from men like de Marillac and Chapuys. So certainly I think her clothes choice were part of that image. On the Wyatt point, I'd agree with you that this does possibly suggest some political influence! It's a compelling set of questions, shifting through the past to a very brief and fascinating career!

    1. Thank you very much, Gareth. I'd love to hear more from you. Your blog is a delight to read. I just want to focus on the side of Katherine Howard that people ignore. They just see her as a brat or slut but she had good qualities too. Maybe I feel this connection to her because I'm around her age and have also been abused as a child, but I find her and Anne Boleyn the most interesting among the 6 wives.


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