Not long ago, Ken and I went to see "The Other Boleyn Girl" at the cheap theater. It was OK, not especially historic, but a dollar's worth of fun. I mean, didn't King Henry have red hair, and wasn't he already getting a bit paunchy during his affair with Anne Boleyn? And Mary Boleyn had two children by Henry before he dumped her for her sister Anne. And the sex wasn't all that hot, either. Anne reported that Henry was lousy in the hay. But never mind. Shut up and eat your popcorn.
I was only vaguely aware of the Phillippa Gregory novel on which the movie was based. So I surprised myself by impulsively snatching up "The Boleyn Inheritance," the sequel to "The Other Boleyn Girl," when I saw it in paperback at the bookstore on my lunchbreak. I was even more surprised when I took it home and gobbled it up in one sitting! "The Boleyn Inheritance" concerns poor Katharine Howard, Henry's fifth unfortunate teenage wife, cousin of Anne Boleyn, who also ended up on the chopping block at age seventeen or so (there's quite a lot of disagreement on her age).
Gregory has a fresh take on all the Boleyn girls and Katharine Howard -- she sees them as pawns of the powerful Howard family and especially the evil and conniving Duke of Norfolk, Katharine's uncle. Henry comes across as a smelly combination of Idi Amin and Bill Clinton in Tudor costume. He became a madman, surrounded by fawning courtiers who were afraid to cross him, but only too willing to attempt to control him by means of his codpiece.
After I read "The Boleyn Inheritance" I found a new biography of Katharine Howard in the Gregory's bibliography (I love bibliographies) -- "Katharine Howard: A Tudor Conspiracy," by Joanna Denny. A few clicks on Amazon.com and I found it "used" for practically nothing plus shipping, new in the wrapper and it was in my hands in a week. ( I love Amazon!). In past bios, Katharine Howard has been portrayed as a stupid hussy, flipping up her bumroll for just about any chap in tights. Denny's new book, however, shows Katharine as a pitiful victim of child sexual abuse at eleven, waved under Henry's nose to further the Duke of Norfollk's schemes. Gregory used Denny's new take on the Howard saga in her novel, to good effect.
The Phillippa Gregory book was a fun read and I took it to McKay's, but the new biography is a keeper.