The Fifth Queen is a trilogy of three novels rolled into one, detailing Katherine's rise and fall in a manner which authentically conveys the era. Ford contends that that Katherine, as a Catholic, was trying to get Henry VIII to reconcile with the Church of Rome. She was close to succeeding; the reformers did not want that to happen. Having been raised in a motherless and unprotected environment, Katherine's adolescence could not bear close scrutiny and she was easily framed. Her male friends were tortured until they admitted to dallying with her before marriage and after her marriage. Her servants were tormented as well. Getting other people to agree with the testimony of the tortured men and serving maids was no difficult feat. And so Katherine was condemned as a slut and whore.
Ford alludes to the fact that while Katherine may have been violated in some way as a young girl. In The Fifth Queen it is clear that Henry is aware that she has a Past but does not care. Ford's Katherine is about eighteen years although Alison Weir in The Sixth Wives of Henry VIII says she may actually have been only fifteen. Ford portrays her as witty and bright, which makes sense since Henry was not generally attracted to stupid women; he enjoyed the repartee with a lively, clever damsel, especially over theological matters. Katherine had the charm of her cousin Anne Boleyn, with a great deal more sweetness; she also had the magnificent red-gold hair of the Plantagenets. Henry was repeatedly drawn to women with such hair, such as all three of his Katherines.
Ford brings Katherine to life as no one else - engaging, impulsive, and valiant. This portrayal coincides with what Alison Weir writes about her efforts to help imprisoned Catholics, especially Henry's cousin Blessed Margaret Pole. Katherine is loving to her much older husband, to whom she becomes deeply attached, in Ford's novel. As her tragedy unfolds, she is ready to immolate herself for what she sees as a higher cause. Henry's heartbreak when he sees he must lose her is captured by Ford in a very moving manner. Henry does not believe the charges of adultery (Katherine was never officially found guilty of breaking her marriage vows). The King hopes to annul his marriage to her so that at least she can live as his mistress. Katherine must choose either dishonor in life or dishonor in death.
There seem to be few if any portraits of the fifth queen; what portraits still exist are dubious. Those who destroyed her also tried to destroy all evidence that she had lived, even as the altars of the old religion were being broken and defaced. However, Katherine lives in Ford's amazing trilogy, which is as vivid a work of art as any painting.
Katherine Howard by Hans Holbein the Younger Share