The latest novel in Carolly Erickson’s series of “historical entertainments” tells the story of the teenage girl who became the wife of Henry VIII in his declining years. Pretty, vivacious, auburn-haired Catherine Howard had the fortune (or misfortune, depending on how you look at it) to catch the ailing, impotent monarch’s jaded eye. But, we learn, it was not just Catherine’s beauty and personality that attracted Henry’s fickle attention, but her strong resemblance to her mother, Jocasta, the beloved mistress of Henry’s youth who died in childbirth.
Unbeknownst to Henry, Catherine hadn’t led a very chaste life. By the time Henry’s eye lighted on her, she had already been involved with three men—her music master, Henry Manox, a handsome young adventurer and her handfasted husband, Francis Dereham, and her cousin, the true love of her life, Thomas Culpepper, whom she planned to marry after the King died.
When Catherine fails to conceive, she resumes her affair with Culpepper, hoping by this desperate, deceitful measure to provide a spare heir to share the royal nursery with the ailing Edward VI. But, of course, the truth comes out, and Catherine and her lovers, past and present, find themselves facing a rendezvous with the headsman, just like Catherine’s late cousin, Queen Anne Boleyn, and her alleged lovers.