Her name was Kathryn Howard. Cousin to Anne Boleyn, the women for whom King Henry VIII changed the world, the orphaned Kathryn grew up a poor relation in a household where discipline was lax. Her youthful indiscretions would have hardly mattered if the eye of the aging King had not fallen on her. But she caught the King’s attention and, a Howard, Kathryn was ambitious. Henry called her his rose without a thorn, and she assumed the role of his untouched child bride, his adored fifth wife. Meanwhile, Kathryn relatives conspired to make sure that the truth was kept from the King. Read an excerpt.
The writing of No Other Will Than His – or at least the selling of it – started five years ago, when apropos very little in a phone call with my editor, Ginjer Buchanan, I found myself disputing her assertion that Kathryn Howard fifth wife of Henry VIII was “just a slut” and not very bright. Eventually my vigorous argument got me a contract to write a book about her.
I confess my opinion in the matter was probably colored by having attended an all girl highschool, where the class slut was also one of the brightest students. But there were more material considerations. Every other of Henry’s wives was smart and accomplished in her own way.
In fact, taken all in all, Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour might have had little else in common, except that every contemporary agreed each one was a very intellectually accomplished female. Oh, certainly, Katherine of Aragon’s mind might run to theology, but she was also an able and accomplished agent for the relationship between England and Spain and proved more than a worthy adversary for Wolsey and all the King’s men. And Anne Boleyn was undisputedly quick of wit and as prompt with song and line as the king himself, if not more so. Jane Seymour, on the other hand, as quiet and domestic as she might have been – or at least played – was adept at managing the not inconsiderable royal household and was friends with her stepdaughter, Mary Tudor, who was herself no mean scholar.
With this in mind, and taking in account that part of what might have given Henry a disgust of Anne of Cleves was her inability to converse nimbly in English, it is highly unlikely he would have chosen a dumb bunny for his fifth wife.
I’m not disputing she was ignorant. The surviving letters from her are certainly pitiful. Though I will maintain you don’t have to be dumb to write near illegible letters. I have known mathematical and musical geniuses who could barely string two words together. On the other hand in her day book learning was not in general favored for women – beyond the king’s daughters themselves. Her step grandmother, too, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, might have kept Kathryn deliberately ignorant so as to make her more pliable – and that’s assuming that she was interested enough at first to care if she learned or not.
However, even though she might have been proffered to the king as a puppet, something in her must have caught the king enough to marry her. Her cousin, Mary Howard, was at one point encouraged to make the king her paramour, but never to attempt to marry him. Kathryn, however, who was still a child in our terms, was told to aspire for the top, and did manage it.
In the hothouse environment of the court, there must have been many other dainty, pretty young damsels to take the king’s eye. But only Kathryn captured him in matrimony and that bespeaks both courage and intelligence – the daring to aim for the top and to achieve it.
Yes, afterwards she might have miscalculated her position and ultimately paid for it with her life. Strategic brilliance cannot be expected of a girl who died before eighteen.
But in a brutal time, she used her looks AND her mind to best effect and even though her romantic heart might have preferred Thomas Culpepper embraced the challenge of capturing the crown.
Her fall was as fast and precipitous as her rise, but with all that, let’s pause for a moment and admire a young woman who has often been much maligned, but who in life must have been a creature of considerable courage, decision and intelligence.
NO WILL BUT HIS by Sarah A. Hoyt is available for purchase from Amazon, Ebay or your favorite booksellers.