The Fifth Queen and How She Came to Court - published 1906
Privy Seal: His Last Venture - published 1907
The Fifth Queen Crowned - published 1908
Barely three months ago she [Katharine Howard] had come to the palace of Greenwich riding upon a mule. Now accident, or maybe the design of the dear saints, had set her so high in the King’s esteem that she might well try a fall with Privy Seal. She sat there dressed, awaiting the summons to go to him. She wore a long dress of red velvet, worked around the breast-lines with little silver anchors and hearts, and her hood was of black lawn and fell near to her hips behind. And she had read and learned by heart passages from Plutarch, from Tacitus, from Diodorus Siculus, from Seneca and from Tully, each one inculcating how salutary a thing in a man was the love of justice. Therefore she felt herself well prepared to try a fall with the chief enemy of her faith, and awaited with impatience his summons to speak with him.
observations: When I did a list of books about the Tudors recently, Roger Allen came into the comments and said ‘Given your admiration for Ford Madox Ford, I'm surprised you haven't mentioned his Fifth Queen Trilogy about Katharine Howard.’ The excellent reason for not mentioning it was that I’d never heard of it. TracyK then said she knew of it too, though hadn’t read it, so it was definitely essential for me to get hold of it. (BTW, there is no set spelling for her first name, so different authors refer to her as Katherine, Catherine, Katharine – I’m going to refer to her as Katharine here, to match up with Ford.)
So your first thought is, how is he going to fill three books about Katharine Howard, when so little is known about her, and she slides into history for a very very short time before dying? Your second thought (once you start) is: oh dear, is he going to keep up this weird cod-Tudor language all the way through? Regrettably, he is.
Privy Seal had such eyes that it was delicate work lying to him…‘Knighton, that the Queen’s breath should turn the King’s stomach against you!’Thomas Cromwell is, off-puttingly, referred to as Privy Seal for most of the book (Hilary Mantel and her pronouns not looking so bad now, hey?) ‘She might well try a fall with Privy Seal’, in the extract above, is one of the stranger phrases.
However, my complaints about language show all I know, because AS Byatt has written an introduction to the book, which is most helpful, but says
He uses Tudor language with vitality – a pleasure in accuracy and sharpness, not a distant strangeness. His heroes and heroines tend to be excellent Latinists – Katharine Howard is related to Valentine Wannop in Parade’s End. Ford’s prose has the flexibility and elegance of a good Latinist and the roughness and brilliance of a writer interested in the quiddities of the vernacular.So that’s me told. But given that I am a huge fan of Ford’s, and have a great interest in the era, and still found it difficult reading, anyone else should probably be warned. The plot of the first book revolves round several secret letters, and who has read what, and who really intended this letter to fall into the wrong hands, and who knows that. It is dull and repetitious and hardly worth keeping track.
But all that said, it was well worth pushing through. It is at least a very different picture of Howard – who is normally portrayed as a small, pretty, silly young girl, quite uneducated. For example, Philippa Gregory’s The Boleyn Inheritance is very good and puts an intriguing slant on Anne of Cleves and Howard, but the younger girl does come over as a 16th century Bridget Jones, counting her gowns. Ford is having none of it: his Katharine is clever, tall and speaks Latin.
Ford did find plenty to write about: there’ll be at least one more post on the trilogy, and one linking it with Wolf Hall…
Pictures of the Tudor Queens are often disputed and muddled. These are two believed to be of Katharine Howard.