Book Review: The King’s Rose

The King’s Rose
Alisa M. Libby
Historical
Grade 8 and up
320 pages

In Tudor England, 15-year-old Catherine Howard catches the eye of King Henry VIII. Or should I say, beautiful Catherine is paraded before the king any chance her scheming family can get. Those in the court know how disappointed Henry is with his new German wife, Anne of Cleves. And the Howard family, who had first tried for power with Anne Boleyn, see a new opportunity for wealth and position through Anne’s cousin Catherine.

No matter that Catherine is not a virgin and the king wants a beautiful virgin bride. They remake Catherine’s image, telling her that her past no longer exists. All that matters is that she please the king. Despite her misgivings, Catherine obeys and before long is married to Henry the VIII.

When I began this book, I knew very little of Catherine Howard’s tale. In fact, I kept Henry’s wives straight with the common rhyme—”divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived.” Once I realized that Catherine was number five and therefore another one to lose her head, I was bummed. After all, I knew the ending, right? How good could the book be?

Well, I’ll tell you the answer. Very good. Author Alisa Libby has drawn a compelling portrait of a young girl who is a pawn to her family’s machinations. She shows Catherine to be politically naïve and unable to share her thoughts with anyone as she fulfills her duty. This sense of isolation while being what others expect pervades the novel. In a scene early in the story, Catherine has taken off her cream silk betrothal gown after alterations:

I pull a linen nightdress over my head and plop heavily onto the bed.  The silk gown lies beside me, unfolded like the petals of a rose.  In my nightdress I feel smaller, diminished.  I am merely the model upon which the gown was held, the gown’s mode of travel.  I can only hope to play my part well and live up to the gown’s expectations of the girl I must become.

Catherine does her best to make King Henry happy. And she seems to succeed. Henry calls her his “rose without a thorn” and even shows affection for her in public. In the midst of this success, she struggles to fight her romantic dreams of being with Thomas Culpeper, her cousin and the young man she fell in love with just as she caught the king’s interest.

As Catherine navigates life with an aging king—he is nearing 50 when they marry—she does not become pregnant. It is the one thing that can assure her position and keep everyone pleased. After months of this, her grandmother, the dowager Duchess of Norfolk, tells her to take Thomas to her bed in order to become pregnant.  Catherine is both shocked and scared, but complies. Thus begins a brief period where she is living out her romantic dreams. And still, no pregnancy.

It all falls apart, of course. In Libby’s deft hands, Catherine is a sympathetic character, even with her faults. I found myself wishing the novel were not based on a real person so there could be a miraculous escape. But no. It is Catherine Howard’s story and well worth the read.

Be sure to check back this week. We’ll have a contest to give away a copy of The King’s Rose and an interview with Alisa Libby.

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13 Responses to Book Review: The King’s Rose

  1. Kate says:

    Hm…interesting. I think I would be hardpressed to like her after watching The Tudors. She was a horrid little annoying baby in the show. Naive, certainly, but foolish too.
    I may pick it up and take a gander. ^_^

  2. Tricia says:

    Yes, but that is a TV show. Of course they have to make it as dramatic as possible. I believe historical accounts differ on Catherine’s real personality.

    However, since I knew nothing, I really enjoyed this fictional account. 😀

  3. Kate says:

    I’m curious. Now I want to go look up the history, and this book, and then compare the three. ^_^

  4. Jennifer says:

    I have had this book sitting on my night stand for a YEAR! I don’t have enough hours in the day to read everything on my shelf! GRRR! I will get to it though 😀 As soon as I stop requesting library books that have to read (so I don’t pay a late fee!) 🙂

  5. Loven says:

    Thank you for the review – it is a book I had not heard of before, I must read it. I had come to Catherines’s story via another route – through her dress. Last year I was asked to make a gown for display at a hall that Catherine had visited with Henry as part of his Northern Progress, and looked at archival and portrait evidence to see what that might look like. based on that I made the gown in cloth-of-silver. Just last week we filmed a sequence about Catherine and Henry’s visit and had to cast an actress to fit the dress. Having read the book, I wonder what you think of our choice? http://periodwardrobe.wordpress.com/

    • I have to chime in here – that gown is so, so beautiful! It looks so much more authentic than anything on The Tudors – so luxurious, so regal. I can imagine Catherine wearing it during the Northern Progress. Thank you for sharing; I’ve just bookmarked your site!

      :)Alisa

  6. Tricia says:

    That dress is gorgeous, Pauline. Wow! I love the close-up of the French hood and how you matched the jewels. Just lovely. How heavy is a dress like that?

  7. Loven says:

    I’m not sure – it would be interesting to weigh it all, but probably less than the orginals would have done taking into account the weight of real fur and the amount of metal woven into fabrics that was used. It did however, tire our lovely young actress out, so it must be pretty heavy!

  8. Daphne says:

    This is one of my favorite books on Catherine Howard – I thought it was very well done.

  9. Maddi says:

    I just came across this book while searching for some information on a King Henry VIII project, thanks to this I will go out and read it. 🙂

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