Joanna Denny's biography Katherine Howard: A Tudor Conspiracy (& since I cannot stand Catherine spelt with a K that's the last time you'll see me do it & I don't care if there's have an actual copy of Catherine Howard's siggy where she spells it "Katheryn") is about Henry VIIIs 5th unfortunate queen. In perusing this, I can see why Denny's Anne Boleyn bio (which I've not yet read) received a lukewarm reception.
Don't get me wrong, Denny writes well & hurls out some interesting stuff that makes you go hmmmm so it wasn't that it was necessarily a bad read....the problem is, you get neck strain snapping your head around going WHAT DID SHE JUST SAY?
The woman does NOT footnote & some of the stuff she says is absolutely outrageous & I for one would like to know what her sources were for some of it, but alas, she cites none. There is a section at the end where she notes what books etc she used for penning each chapter, but she doesn't specifically cite things as she says them. I am amazed she hasn't been drummed outta the historians' clubhouse for that cardinal sin alone LOL
Denny starts in classic Dickensian fashion from I AM BORN LOL only thankfully not in 1st person as it's a biography, not a novel. Edmund Howard was considered the loser of the sprawling Howard family, didn't even have property of his own being so far down the line of umpteen children, but was too good to set his lily-white hands to work for a living, so he dragged his wife & children (& he sired umpteen himself) from relative to relative sponging until they'd worn out their welcome. Jocasta (whom I've usually seen called Joyce) Culpeper apparently suffered Jane Seymour's fate & died a few weeks after Catherine's birth of an infection, & Edmund remarried with indecent haste to get a mother for his ten children (& beget even more).
Denny likes 1525-6 as Catherine's birthdate. That makes her no more than 16-17 at the time of her execution & barely 15 when she came to Henry's attention. He was 48 at the time. And getting mighty hefty & lame as well; rumor had it he had to be assisted into bed (they were higher then, with little sets of stairs to climb into them) by his privy gentlemen. Imagine the fun for Catherine when the king, acccompanied by his Yeomen of the Guard & chief privy gentlemen, marched thru palace passages to the queen's apartments to get his spare heir on her, & then had to be heaved into bed upon arrival by none other than the allegedly handsome Thomas Culpeper, the chief gentleman of the bedchamber. Picturing the marked contrast between who Catherine was getting & who was helping her to get it LOL One can see why her eye might wander past the king's bulk to the hot guy behind him.
Catherine was sloughed off by age 7 or so on the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, Agnes Tylney Howard, who was Edmund's stepmother. Denny's gone the poor wee motherless neglected abused waif route with Catherine, placing her sexual involvement with Henry Manox at around age 11 or so, & stating Catherine just desperately wanted to "fit in" with the older girls of the duchess's household & be loved by someone.
I'm not sure if Denny's pick for DOB is solid because Catherine would've obviously had to have reached puberty by this point & girls generally didn't get their periods so young in that era, unless Manox was so much of a sleaze that he liked molesting little girls with no bosoms. Even tho the relationship supposedly was never completely consummated, um, yuck factor there.
Denny proposes Henry VIII had his 17 year old illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond, killed because he was brewing rebellion & was one of the ringleaders of the Pilgrimage of Grace! Naught to do with Catherine, just thrown in while briefly chronicling Henry's marital history. Denny says Richmond was gathering troops at his manor of Colleyweston during the PiG in late 1536. Um, Richmond died 2 months nearly to the day after Anne Boleyn's May 19, 1536 execution, in mid-July of 1536, while Henry bruited it about that AB had had his son poisoned because the boy's death was unexpected & sudden. The PiG began in October 1536. If Richmond was dumb enough to ally himself with a rebellion against his father at a time when he still had a very good shot at being legitimicized & made the heir to the throne, it couldn't have been much more than very early plotting stages, so where Denny thinks she's coming from with this I am sure I don't know.
She does hate Jane Rochford with a passion, clearly not subscribing to Julia Fox's revisionist views, but she also blithely accepts that BOTH of Mary Boleyn's Carey children were Henry's. I'm fairly sure Catherine Carey was the elder, born circa 1525 or so, & the date most historians agree on for the start of her affair with Henry is circa 1520. If she kept his interest THAT long, why didn't he marry HER, then? I recall maybe circa 1528 for Henry Carey's birth. That would be well into his courtship of Anne Boleyn.....what, was Thomas Boleyn so evil that while Anne was keeping her legs closed, Mary was keeping the king satisfied?
Back to the main subject....Denny does seem to think Catherine wasn't QUITE as stupid as history has made her out to be, merely under-educated & naive. When one thinks of the sort of grueling educational regime gone through by Mary, Elizabeth, & Jane Grey, yes, I reckon Catherine didn't get much of an education under Duchess Agnes's roof. It leaned more to the traditional "girly" type of education most young women of her class received, which was basically fancy stitchery, dancing, singing, playing an instrument, a soupcon of French, handling servants, not learning Greek, Latin, or advanced mathematics & sciences as males & the royal princesses did.
Denny states Joan Bulmer (one of the older maids of honor in the household) had previously been intimate with Francis Dereham (a minor gentleman of the household) & ratted Catherine's later involvement with him out to the duchess, who in turn had her son Lord William Howard give the girl a stern talking-to about her position in life etc & how Dereham was beneath her notice. With all the people who allegedly knew Catherine was a "lightskirt", I don't know HOW this never came up BEFORE she married Henry VIII.
Denny also thinks Catherine & Thomas Culpeper never had the opportunity (despite Jane Rochford's pandering) to consummate their relationship, although she says it was headed in that direction according to what was gotten out of TC on torture. I'm thinking TC was hoping his friendship with Henry might spare him (I reckon he wasn't paying much attention when other male favorites like Henry Norreys, Edward Neville, & Nicholas Carew lost heads) & decided to toss out that bone instead of admitting he'd swived the queen, which would've been signing his own death warrant. He did try to put it all off on Catherine, claiming she approached him 1st & attempted to seduce him; Catherine in turn threw Jane Rochford under the bus for shoving TC forward.
Catherine just seemed to have a talent for choosing the wrong man (in this day & age we'd prolly call her an "arsehole magnet" LOL), as Denny says Culpeper, tho still young (she pegs him about 10 yrs Catherine's senior), had a most unsavory reputation & had already gotten away with rape & murder prior to becoming involved with the queen.
Denny also tosses in the apocryphal tale of Catherine screaming down the Hampton Court gallery while Henry was at Mass, being kept away from him by orders of Thomas Wriothesley (new chief advisor to the king), & of Henry's brokenhearted sobbing over his wife's duplicitousness as well. Catherine, who was confined at Syon House a good 3 months before her execution, was also said to have been dragged kicking & screaming to the Tower, having thought Henry would be content to merely divorce her for the premarital indiscretions (not having confessed to doing TC, just Dereham & Manox). After throwing in all this historical gossip, Denny then refuses to buy the story of Catherine practicing "to make a good end" by calling for the block to lay her head on the night before.
It was a well-written, fairly absorbing book, with a lot of interesting stuff in it, so I'd recommend it for that; just be prepared to have your eyes bug out now & then at some of what Denny purports to be "the truth of the matter" yet has no sources to back it up. And she never really gets into why the word "conspiracy" is in her title! I thought it was going to be something about why Catherine was sold out & eliminated, not just the same old gossip about Norfolk shoving a 3rd niece at the king in his endless jockeying for power.