My Thoughts on ‘Young & Damned & Fair: The Life and Tragedy of Catherine Howard at the Court of Henry VIII’ by Gareth Russell

“Why do we need another book on Henry VIII’s fifth wife?”, I hear you cry! “Surely we already know everything that there is to know about the Tudors?”


‘Young & Damned & Fair: The Life and Tragedy of Catherine Howard at the Court of Henry VIII’ by Gareth Russell 

Well, that question also crossed my mind before I read Gareth Russell’s latest book. Yet I have to say, that Russell has completely and utterly demolished the argument that there is nothing new to discover about those ‘Terrible Tudors’. I would even go so far as to say that ‘Young & Damned & Fair’ is groundbreaking, simply because it takes everything that you thought you new about Catherine Howard and transforms your perception entirely!

What first comes to mind when you think about Henry VIII’s fifth wife Catherine Howard? Do you think about her youth, her frivolity, her adulterous love life, or her bloody execution upon the scaffold? All of these things are often associated with Catherine Howard today, and is an opinion shared by both historians and the media alike.


Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Kathryn Howard (c.1520-1542).

Catherine Howard was Henry’s teenage queen, (perhaps no older than 21 when she died)! She captured the King’s attentions after his disastrous marriage to Anne of Cleves. Henry was nearing 50 years of age by the time he married Catherine Howard and absolutely adored her. However, he was left devastated when Catherine’s colourful past was unearthed. Her relationships with Henry Manox, Francis Dereham and later Thomas Culpepper, were all brought to light and consequently signed her death warrant. Catherine’s tragically short story, ended with her losing her head upon the executioner’s block. Her tale shared many shocking similarities to that of her royal cousin, Henry VIII’s second wife Anne Boleyn.

In ‘Young & Damned & Fair’, Russell is not afraid to confront long-established ‘facts’ surrounding Catherine Howard and completely turn them on their heads. For example, Russell declares that Catherine may not have been called Henry’s ‘Rose without a Thorn’, nor was she as naive as originally believed.

Russell also annihilates the 2D image we have of Henry’s teenage queen. Instead, he introduces us to a young woman who had strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately someone who we could relate to today. Catherine is re-emerged as a women who was daring, confident, alluring, sophisticated, anxious, reckless and prone to teenage tantrums. Readers come away from the book, feeling like they almost know Catherine personally. Russell portrays a woman who sought to be loved; who captivated her friends; who fought for herself once her family abandoned her, and who worked tirelessly in order to impress her powerful husband. Russell’s portrait of Catherine Howard isn’t entirely flattering either. He is willing to admit that his heroine wasn’t as influential as Henry’s other wives, namely Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. Nor is Russell wholly sympathetic to Catherine’s plight. He realises that – tragic though her demise is – her fate could have been avoided.


Gareth Russell

In this book, Russell sheds fascinating light upon the intimate details of Catherine’s relationships with Manoz, Dereham and Culpepper. By using surviving records, he recounts how Catherine endured petty squabbles with her lovers, how she found herself in the middle of a love-triangle, and also when she enjoyed beautifully romantic moments with them during the height of their relationship. These insights into Catherine’s private life – where we eavesdrop into her private conversations – make Catherine even more relatable to a 21st century audience, (perhaps even more so than Henry’s other wives)?

There were many other little additions in ‘Young & Damned & Fair’ that I loved, such as glimpses into the workings of Henry VIII’s court and the relationships that caused conflicts within it. I also appreciated Russell’s Appendix, which focused on the debate of Catherine Howard’s portraits. Are there are surviving portraits of Catherine Howard? Will we ever discover what Henry’s fifth queen looked like? This debate I found absolutely fascinating and brought much clarity to this complex discussion.

“Why do we need another book on Henry VIII’s fifth wife?” Well, in ‘Young & Damned & Fair’ Gareth Russell has proved that we absolutely do! He highlights that all Tudor Lovers out there, should never feel assured that they know everything that there is to know about the 16th century – especially when it comes to Henry VIII’s wives! I’m sure that many people’s perceptions of Henry’s tragic teenage queen will be transformed after reading this book. Not only will they gain a greater understanding of the everyday workings of Henry VIII’s court, but they will also be able to relate to Catherine Howard more on a personal level. If everyone read this book, then Catherine will no longer be remembered purely for her adulterous love-life or brutal execution. She will be remembered for her all-too-human qualities and impressive achievements, which she gained throughout her short lifetime.

This is undoubtedly THE biography on Catherine Howard! It is a magnificent, honest and much-needed tribute to Henry VIII’s fifth wife – one with this Queen truly deserves. In fact, I have no hesitation in saying that ‘Young & Damned & Fair’ should be placed in the same category as Eric Ives’ biography on ‘Anne Boleyn’, and Antonia Fraser’s work on ‘Mary Queen of Scots’. You simply could not get a more detailed, emotive or persuasive biography of Catherine Howard anywhere else!



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