Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Book: Catherine and Culpepper by Beck Robertson

Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived.

Any child in the UK could likely tell you of the fates of Henry VIII's wives, but what of the stories behind their fates? Catherine and Culpepper is the story of the romance between Henry's fifth wife, Catherine Howard, and his groomsman, Thomas Culpepper, a romance that led to both of their executions. Being married to a man that is old enough to be her grandfather isn't easy for Catherine, and when she first meets Culpepper there is an instant connection, both emotional and physical. Despite the dangers to them both, they embark on a secret relationship under the very nose of Catherine's husband, a man who killed on of his wives for less. It all culminates in a plan to escape and put court life behind them, but nothing can change history, and these ill fated lovers paid the price.

Link to Goodreads
Link to amazon

Firstly I'd like to ask you please not to be put off by the cover, or by the amazon strap line. Yes there is sex in the story, and yes it is explicit sex, but that is not all that Catherine and Culpepper has to offer. And in fact, if it wasn't marketed as erotic I think it could do much much better, partly because most of the story wasn't actually sex, and the sex that was had was in a loving relationship.

Most of the time, when I have read books about Catherine Howard that is, I end up feeling sorry for her because she is young and naive and forced into marriage with someone with a really bad track record of marriage (including to one of her cousins) and who is old enough to be her grandfather. Catherine and Culpepper was different, not because I didn't feel sorry for Catherine, because it is almost impossible not to feel sorry for the teenage life cut short for one, fairly minor mistake, but because this was a very different Catherine than the one normally presented in fiction. In general Catherine is portrayed as a vain, silly girl who's only real interests are money and possessions, in contrast this Catherine sees her love for Tom as more important and was willing to live on nothing just to be with him. Ultimately Catherine had much more depth than her normal counterparts, and I liked reading about a thoughtful woman as opposed to a silly girl.

Similarly, the Thomas Culpepper portrayed was much different from his normal portrayal. In general his character seems to have a mean streak, and the main reason that he wants Catherine is because she is out of bounds and the wife of the King. But in Catherine and Culpepper, Tom seems to be much more caring, and actually loves Catherine and will do anything for her, even run away. Again it was refreshing to see him portrayed in a different way, even though ultimately we will never know which Culpepper or which Catherine the real one was most like.

I must admit that I had to bring myself down from hoping that they'd make their escape, I was really hoping they'd get away, which is kind of ridiculous because, as I mentioned above, I'm English and have known the rhyme at the top for as long as I can remember (I can't remember when we first started learning about the Tudors in school, but there were portraits of Henry VIII's wives round the classroom) so I knew what was going to happen. This is one of the potential issues I have with historical fiction, particularly if it is based on prominent figures, you already know what will happen, and yet you still get so invested in the characters that you want history to change.

For anyone that likes fiction set in the Tudor age, I would suggest that you go for this book, even including the erotic parts, this is a very different take on an incredibly tragic story.