“The older I grow, the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.”
— H. L. Mencken —
I confess. In all the reading, research and writing I have done through the years, whether fiction or non-fiction, I never gave Queen Katherine Howard a thought. In my mind, she was a mere dalliance, a pretty “air-headed” teenager with a past, attractive bait to gain favor to a family whilst insuring with certainty the death and damnation of a “base-born Earl”. In short, I found her historically insignificant, a mere pawn in the game of court survival.
After reading Conor Byrne’s biography, Katherine Howard, A New History, I still don’t find Queen Katherine Howard a great Tudor Era historical figure worthy of the adulation of queen consorts such as Catalina de Aragón or Catherine Parr. Instead, however, I gained excellent insight into the plight of abuse towards girls and women in 16th century English History and also a new found respect for King Henry VIII’s fifth wife. Queen Katherine Howard is no longer invisible to me. For that Conor Byrne receives full credit.
Katherine Howard, A New History is a comparatively short biography, appropriate given this queen’s tragically short life. The master of meaningful brevity, Conor Byrne does an excellent job using contemporary sources to detail engagingly the childhood and teenage years of Katherine Howard. Not only does Conor shed new light upon her short queenship, his insights and conclusions relative to Katherine Howard’s relationships with Henry Mannox, Francis Dereham, Thomas Culpepper and King Henry VIII set within the religious belief system, cultural mores and societal views of women in the 16th century are particularly impressive. A excellent review of possible Queen Kathrine Howard portraiture is also highlighted, with intriguing and thought provoking conclusions offered.
In the forward of the book, the highly respected Claire Ridgway, British writer of excellent Tudor Era history books and administrator and founder of the outstanding website The Anne Boleyn Files, tells the reader that Conor Byrne is not only highly credible in his knowledge of Queen Katherine Howard, but also Tudor History in general. I wholeheartedly agree. Beyond this observation, Claire notes that Conor’s historical conclusions are sometimes controversial. This heightened my curiosity.
Just how controversial is Conor Byrne in his historical conclusions in Katherine Howard, A New History? Well, let’s just say this. Conor is a young man who is not afraid to state opinions in disagreement with those of highly esteemed historians, and he clearly articulates his reasons based on known history. I found this very refreshing.
Here is a brilliant young man with his own ideas, original to his independent thinking. I do not always agree with Conor Byrne — the falls of Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell being the two prime examples — but I was left scratching my head thinking, “What if he is right?” I was also left wondering if I spoke with Conor about those events in history, if he could convince me to his point of view. I actually think he might “pull it off”.
Katherine Howard, A New History is a great first biography from a young man with an incredibly promising future. Queen Anne Boleyn Historical Writers recommends this unique and well researched and annotated look at history to anyone who would enjoy learning more about King Henry VIII’s 5th queen.
Conor Byrne is an undergraduate student at Exeter University. This brilliant and enlightened young man has an acute interest in late medieval and early modern European history and focuses his research on ruling, women, gender, social history, sexuality and rebellion. Although Conor enjoys a keen interest in the queenships of Elizabeth Woodville, Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard, Mary Tudor and Elizabeth Tudor, he also enjoys the social aspects of history, such as the lives of the common, rebellion and revolt, and the societal dynamics of royal courts.
Conor Byrne’s historical interests also include witchcraft persecutions in the 16th and 17th century and modern history, most keenly the Victorian Era of Great Britain. Are you curious about learning more of Conor and his historical insights? Well, visit his two outstanding blogs at:
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