Catherine Howard, Henry VIIIís fifth queen, has been portrayed in various ways, and not always in the most sympathetic light. Ericksonís novel The Unfaithful Queen is written from Catherineís perspective, portraying her as a young woman caught up in family obligation. She has no wish to be queen, but her familyís lust for power and King Henryís desire to marry her leave her with no choice.
The novel begins with Catherine witnessing the beheading of her cousin Anne Boleyn. She realizes that the Howard family will not hesitate to turn on one of their own. Catherine is a poor relation, living as a ward of her grandmotherís. She is not the most attractive or marriageable young woman in the Howard family, so she has no reason to be concerned about meeting the same fate as her cousin.
Her deceased mother, Jocasta, had a reputation as an unchaste woman, and it isnít long before Catherine earns the same reputation Ė first with her music teacher, then with her grandmotherís pensioner, Francis Dereham, with whom she becomes handfasted.
She is not some naÔve girl who is coerced into sexual relationships with these men. Erickson portrays Catherine as a willing partneróa teenager longing to explore her blossoming sexuality. But she finds out later that she was tricked by Dereham, who is married to someone else.
When Catherine is summoned to court as a lady-in-waiting to Anna of Cleves, it isnít long before she charms the king. Her family sees the opportunity to regain the power they lost during the fall of Anne Boleyn, and they encourage her to become the kingís mistress.
Catherine, who is now in love with the kingís groom, Tom Culpeper, is hoping that Henry will grow tired of her quickly so that she and Tom can be together. Once the king ends his brief marriage to Anna of Cleves and proposes to Catherine, she has to accept. She can only wish for the ailing king to leave her a widow soon.
Catherine can only endure her relationship with the king so long as Tom is nearby. But here, she is naÔve in thinking that what happened to her cousin Anne Boleyn will not happen to her. Once the king finds out about her love affair with Culpeper and her previous indiscretions, Catherine knows sheís in trouble but feels hopeful that he might just set her aside.
Carolly Ericksonís Catherine Howard is a young woman who only wanted the freedom to love the person of her choice, but family duty and 16th-century conventions didnít allow her that freedom. She took too many risks to be with the person she loved and suffered unhappy consequences that she did not deserve. I felt an instant liking for this Catherine Howard, and her tale riveted me from start to finish.