This masterful performance of historical fiction centers on Katharine Howard--clever, beautiful, and outspoken--who catches the jaded eye of Henry VIII and becomes his fifth Queen. Corruption and fear pervade the King's court, and the dimly lit corridors vibrate with the intrigues of unscrupulous courtiers hungry for power. Soon Katharine is locked in a vicious battle with Thomas Cromwell, the Lord Privy Seal, as she fights for political and religious change.
Ford saw the past as an integral part of the present experience and understanding, and his sharply etched vision of the court of Henry VIII--first published in 1908--echoes aspects of Edwardian England as it explores the pervading influence of power, lies, fear, and anxiety on people's lives.
"The Fifth Queen is a magnificent bravura piece." --Graham Greene
"The best historical romance of this century." --The Times Literary Supplement
"A noble conception--the swan song of historical romance." --Joseph Conrad
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.24(d)|
About the Author
A. S. Byatt, novelist, short-story writer, and critic, is the author of many books, including Possession, winner of the Man Booker Prize.
Read an Excerpt
Ford / THE FIFTH QUEEN
Magister Nicholas Udal, the Lady Mary’s pedagogue, was very hungry and very cold. He stood undecided in the mud of a lane in the Austin Friars. The quickset hedges on either side were only waist high and did not shelter him. The little houses all round him of white daub with grey corner beams had been part of the old friars’ stables and offices. All that neighbourhood was a maze of dwellings and gardens, with the hedges dry, the orchard trees bare with frost, the arbours wintry and deserted. This congregation of small cottages was like a patch of common that squatters had taken; the great house of the Lord Privy Seal, who had pulled down the monastery to make room for it, was a central mass. Its gilded vanes were in the shape of men at arms, and tore the ragged clouds with the banners on their lances. Nicholas Udal looked at the roof and cursed the porter of it.
‘He could have given me a cup of hypocras,’ he said, and muttered, as a man to whom Latin is more familiar than the vulgar tongue, a hexameter about ‘pocula plena.’
He had reached London before nine in one of the King’s barges that came from Greenwich to take musicians back that night at four. He had breakfasted with the Lady Mary’s women at six off warm small beer and fresh meat, but it was eleven already, and he had spent all his money upon good letters.
He muttered: ‘Pauper sum, pateor, fateor, quod Di dant fero,’ but it did not warm him.
The magister had been put in the Lady Mary’s household by the Lord Privy Seal, and he had a piece of news as to the Lady’s means of treasonable correspondence with the Emperor her uncle. He had imagined that the news—which would hurt no one because it was imaginary—might be worth some crowns to him. But the Lord Privy Seal and all his secretaries had gone to Greenwich before it was light, and there was nothing there for the magister.
‘You might have known as much, a learned man,’ the porter had snarled at him. ‘Isn’t the new Queen at Rochester? Would our lord bide here? Didn’t your magistership pass his barge on the river?’
‘Nay, it was still dark,’ the magister answered. The porter sniffed and slammed to the grating in the wicket. Being of the Old Faith he hated those Lutherans—or those men of the New Learning—that it pleased his master to employ.
Udal hesitated before the closed door; he hesitated in the lane beyond the corner of the house. Perhaps there would be no barges at the steps—no King’s barges. The men of the Earl Marshal’s service, being Papists, would pelt him with mud if he asked for a passage; even the Protestant lords’ men would jeer at him if he had no pence for them—and he had none. He would do best to wait for the musicians’ barge at four.
Then he must eat and shelter—and find a wench. He stood in the mud: long, thin, brown in his doctor’s gown of fur, with his black flapped cap that buttoned well under his chin and let out his brown, lean, shaven and humorous face like a woodpecker’s peering out of a hole in a tree.
The volumes beneath his arms were heavy: they poked out his gown on each side, and the bitter cold pinched his finger ends as if they had been caught in a door. The weight of the books pleased him for there was much good letters there— a book of Tully’s epistles for himself and two volumes of Plautus’ comedies for the Lady Mary. But what among his day’s purchases pleased him most was a medallion in silver he had bought in Cheapside. It showed on the one side Cupid in his sleep and on the other Venus fondling a peacock. It was a heart-compelling gift to any wench or lady of degree.
He puckered up his deprecatory and comical lips as he imagined that that medal would purchase him the right to sigh dolorously in front of whatever stomacher it finally adorned. He could pour out odes in the learned tongue, for the space of a week, a day, or an afternoon according to the rank, the kindness or the patience of the recipient.
Something invisible and harsh touched his cheek. It might have been snow or hail. He turned his thin cunning face to the clouds, and they threatened a downpour. They raced along, like scarves of vapour, so low that you might have thought of touching them if you stood on tiptoe.
If he went to Westminster Hall to find Judge Combers, he would get his belly well filled, but his back wet to the bone. At the corner of the next hedge was the wicket gate of old Master Grocer Badge. There the magister would find at least a piece of bread, some salt and warmed mead. Judge Combers’ wife was easy and bounteous: but old John Badge’s daughter was a fair and dainty morsel.
He licked his full lips, leered to one side, muttered, ‘A curse on all lords’ porters,’ and made for John Badge’s wicket. Badge’s dwelling had been part of the monastery’s curing house. It had some good rooms and two low storeys—but the tall garden wall of the Lord Privy Seal had been built against its side windows. It had been done without word or warning. Suddenly workmen had pulled down old Badge’s pigeon house, set it up twenty yards further in, marked out a line and set up this high wall that pressed so hard against the house end that there was barely room for a man to squeeze between. The wall ran for half a mile, and had swallowed the ground of twenty small householders. But never a word of complaint had reached the ears of the Privy Seal other than through his spies. It was, however, old Badge’s ceaseless grief. He had talked of it without interlude for two years.
The Badges’ room—their houseplace—was fair sized, but so low ceiled that it appeared long, dark and mysterious in the winter light. There was a tall press of dark wood with a face minutely carved and fretted to represent the portal of Amiens Cathedral, and a long black table, littered with large sheets of printed matter in heavy black type, that diffused into the cold room a faint smell of ink. The old man sat quavering in the ingle. The light of the low fire glimmered on his silver hair, on his black square cap two generations old; and, in his old eyes that had seen three generations of changes, it twinkled starrily as if they were spinning round. In the cock forward of his shaven chin, and the settling down of his head into his shoulders, there was a suggestion of sinister and sardonic malice. He was muttering at his son:
‘A stiff neck that knows no bending, God shall break one day.’
His son, square, dark, with his sleeves rolled up showing immense muscles developed at the levers of his presses, bent his black beard and frowned his heavy brows above his printings.
‘Doubtless God shall break His engine when its work is done,’ he muttered.
‘You call Privy Seal God’s engine?’ the old man quavered ironically. ‘Thomas Cromwell is a brewer’s drunken son. I know them that have seen him in the stocks at Putney not thirty years ago.’
The printer set two proofs side by side on the table and frowningly compared them, shaking his head.
‘He is the flail of the monks,’ he said abstractedly. ‘They would have burned me and thousands more but for him.’
‘Aye, and he has put up a fine wall where my arbour stood.’
The printer took a chalk from behind his ear and made a score down his page.
‘A wall,’ he muttered; ‘my Lord Privy Seal hath set up a wall against priestcraft all round these kingdoms——’
‘Therefore you would have him welcome to forty feet of my garden?’ the old man drawled. ‘He pulls down other folks’ crucifixes and sets up his own walls with other folks’ blood for mortar.’
The printer said darkly:
The old man pulled his nose and glanced down.
‘We were all Papists in my day. I have made the pilgrimage to Compostella, for all you mock me now.’
He turned his head to see Magister Udal entering the door furtively and with eyes that leered round the room. Both the Badges fell into sudden, and as if guilty, silence.
‘Domus parva, quies magna,’ the magister tittered, and swept across the rushes in his furs to rub his hands before the fire. ‘When shall I teach your Margot the learned tongues?’
‘When the sun sets in the East,’ the printer muttered.
Udal sent to him over his shoulder, as words of consolation:
‘The new Queen is come to Rochester.’
The printer heaved an immense sigh:
‘God be praised!’
Udal snickered, still over his shoulder:
‘You see, neither have the men of the Old Faith put venom in her food, nor have the Emperor’s galleys taken her between Calais and Sandwich.’
‘Yet she comes ten days late.’
‘Oh moody and suspicious artificer. Afflavit deus! The wind hath blown dead against Calais shore this ten days.’
The old man pulled his long white nose:
‘In my day we could pray to St Leonard for a fair wind.’
He was too old to care whether the magister reported his words to Thomas Cromwell, the terrible Lord Privy Seal, and too sardonic to keep silence for long about the inferiority of his present day.
‘When shall I teach the fair Margot the learned tongue?’ Udal asked again.
‘When wolves teach conies how to play on pipes,’ the master printer snarled from his chest.
‘The Lord Privy Seal never stood higher,’ Udal said. ‘The match with the Cleves Lady hath gained him great honour.’
‘God cement it!’ the printer said fervently.
The old man pulled at his nose and gazed at nothing.
‘I am tired with this chatter of the woman from Cleves,’ he croaked, like a malevolent raven. ‘An Anne she is, and a Lutheran. I mind we had an Anne and a Lutheran for Queen before. She played the whore and lost her head.’
‘Where’s your niece Margot?’ Udal asked the printer.
‘You owe me nine crowns,’ the old man said.
‘I will give your Margot ten crowns’ worth of lessons in Latin.’
‘Hold and enough,’ the printer muttered heavily. ‘Tags from Seneca in a wench’s mouth are rose garlands on a cow’s horns.’
‘The best ladies in the land learn of me,’ Udal answered.
‘Aye, but my niece shall keep her virtue intact.’
‘You defame the Lady Mary of England,’ Udal snickered.
The old man said vigorously, ‘God save her highness, and send us her for Queen. Have you begged her to get me redress in the matter of that wall?’
‘Why, Providence was kind to her when it sent her me for her master,’ Udal said. ‘I never had apter pupil saving only one.’
‘Shall Thomas Cromwell redress?’ the old man asked.
‘If good learning can make a good queen, trust me to render her one,’ Udal avoided the question. ‘But alas! being declared bastard—for very excellent reasons—she may not——’
‘You owe me nine crowns,’ old Badge threatened him. He picked irritably at the fur on his gown and gazed at the carved leg of the table. ‘If you will not induce Privy Seal to pull down his wall I will set the tipstaves on you.’
Reading Group Guide
1. How does Ford use physical traits and outward demeanor to create a sense of character as he introduces each figure? Discuss, for example, the initial descriptions of Cromwell (pp. 26-27); Thomas Culpepper (p. 34); the Duke of Norfolk (p. 39-40); Henry VIII (pp. 38, 47); Lady Mary (p. 58); and Katharine herself (pp. 43, 49, 53).
2. Is Cromwell primarily driven by religious convictions, patriotism, or personal ambition? What missteps lead to his downfall? To what extent is his ruin attributable to his flawed assumptions about England and its position in the world, to the treachery of others, to faults in his character?
3. Throckmorton proclaims his allegiance to—and even love for—Katharine on several occasions (pp. 146-155, 224-231, 350-351, for example). Why is winning Katharine’s trust and reestablishing the Roman Catholic Church in England so important to him? What is the significance of Katharine’s refusal to expose Throckmorton’s plot to Cromwell although “with her woman’s instinct she felt that the man about to die [Cromwell] was a better man, though he was her foe” (p. 305)?
4. How fully does Katharine understand the political implications of the religious upheavals in England? How does her family history influence her opinions? Does Cromwell’s fall deepen her awareness of what is at stake?
5. At what points does Katharine assert her independence? What enables her to stand up for her choices? How do the classic writings of Greece and Rome, as well as Church teachings, shape her thinking and sense of morality?
6. In what respects is The Fifth Queen a traditional love story? Does the attraction between Henry and Katharine develop in a realistic way? How do Henry’s reaction to Katharine’s performance as Persephone (pp. 140-142); their conversations in Lady Mary’s room (pp.200-202) and at the stables (p. 236); and other encounters lay the groundwork for Henry’s proposal (p. 344)? Why does Katharine insist on talking to Anne of Cleves before they marry—and why does Henry does he consent to it (pp. 338-339)? In what ways do the issues of gender and power the couple contends with mirror the patterns of romantic relationships in general (pp. 448, 457-458)? Do you think they feel genuine love for each other?
7. Katharine declares “I am not made for courts . . . I will get me gone to Calais . . . and then to nunnery. I am not for this world” (pp. 232-233). After Henry’s proposal, she acknowledges that “she itched to be Queen—on the morrow or the next day; she desired to have the king for her own, to wear fair gowns and a crown; to be beloved of the poor people and beloved of the saints” (pp. 351-352). What do these contradictory statements reveal about Katharine? Do her mixed feelings reflect not only her unique situation, but also common adolescent emotions?
8. Katharine is ultimately undone by rumors about her past, particularly her history with Thomas Culpepper, her handsome, impulsive cousin. Do Culpepper’s behavior (pp. 50, 112, 335-336, 545-549) and Katharine’s thoughts and actions regarding him (pp. 53, 352, 417), as well as her description of her childhood (p. 502), give credence to the gossip? Katharine’s enemies Norfolk and Lascelles, her companion Margot Poins, and Mary Hall, a friend from childhood, are among those who help to tarnish her reputation. Are Norfolk and Lascelles acting for the good of their country or are they motivated by greed and self-interest? Are Margot’s and Mary’s betrayals in any way more forgivable?
9. Refusing to retract her confession despite the king’s pleadings, Katharine says, “[T]oday you would save me; to-morrow a foul speech of one mine enemy shall gird you again to slay me . . . I am not one to let my name be bandied about for many days in the mouths of men. I had rather be called a sinner, adjudged and dead and forgotten” (pp. 603-604). How do her words amplify the fervor, the confidence, and perhaps the foolhardiness Katharine demonstrates throughout the story?
10. What role does Magister Udal play in the novels? Does his lecherous nature make him a figure of fun and an object of mockery—or do his expert skills as a Latinist and writer evoke respect and admiration?
11. From Anne of Cleves to Cicely Elliott and Margot Poins, the novels present a diverse array of female characters who affect the fates of the major characters. To what extent are the lives of women—from queens to servingwomen—defined by social tradition and the limitations imposed on them by men? What examples are there of women using their intelligence, cunning, or sexual power to influence events?
12. One of the most interesting relationships in the novels is the one between Lady Mary and Katharine. Is Mary’s anger and implacability justified by the horror of her mother’s fate and her own situation in the aftermath (p. 60)? What does her treatment of her maids (p. 116), her reaction to Henry’s conciliatory overtures (pp. 194-195), and her antipathy toward Edward (p. 460) demonstrate about her character? Is she to some extent responsible for her own unhappiness and isolation?
13. In what ways are Mary and Katharine similar? How important is religious faith and family loyalty in their lives? How much do their fates depend on the whims of the king? Does Mary have a better sense of Henry’s powers and vulnerabilities than Katharine does?
14. The novels take place during a time of political unrest, religious upheavals, and sweeping social change. How did the English Reformation (England’s break with the Roman Catholic Church) alter the traditional class structure and the balance of power and prestige that had existed earlier? In what ways does this period represent the movement of England and Europe away from the romantic, chivalrous past into the modern era? How does Ford incorporate intellectual and political trends and historical developments (the printing press and the translation of the Bible into English, for example) to capture the immensity and the complexities of the transformation?
15. The Fifth Queen trilogy re-creates the many conspiracies surrounding Henry VIII, including the convoluted plots of Thomas Cromwell, Thockmorton, Bishop Gardiner and Archbishop Cranmer, and their followers. What insights do the dissention and antagonisms depicted provide into the impact of religious and political movements on national and international affairs? Are there parallels to our own times?
16. Discuss the balance of historical accuracy and authorial invention in The Fifth Queen. What expectations does the reader have about the reliability of the representations of characters and events in historical fiction? Do Ford’s portraits of Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell, and the other historical figures differ from impressions you have from other works about the period? Why do you think Ford chose to deviate from the customary view of Katharine?
17. Present-day readers, as well as Ford’s early-twentieth-century audience, particularly Americans, may not be familiar with the historical setting of The Fifth Queen trilogy. What techniques does Ford use to help clarify the politics, structure of society, and the complex relationships among rulers covered in the novels? How do his language, touches of humor, and vivid descriptions of everything from fashions to palace decor to the countryside contribute to the reader’s comprehension and appreciation of time and place?
18. In the introduction A. S. Byatt cites Ford’s admiration for “Stendahl, Maupassant, and above all Flaubert” (p. viii). If you are familiar with these writers, what parallels do you see between their works and The Fifth Queen?
(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Katherine Howard, armed only with education, wit and honesty, becomes the Fifth Queen, Henry VIII's fifth wife in this amazing historical trilogy. The plot-ridden court comes to vivid life as everyone from high to low maneuvers for advantage. Everyone except Katherine Howard, whose unwillingness to scheme will make her queen and defenseless at the same moment. Even knowing the general story this is a fascinating and occasionally shocking novel, with a stunning ending.
Katherine Howard, an impoverished gentlewoman, knocks the plans of a talented group of plotters askew when she arrives in London. The King, his chancellor, the chancellor's spy and the archbishop all want to put her in play in their political chess game but Katherine wants simply to live a moral life. The future of England and Protestantism, are at stake and any player can pay for a miscalculation with their life. Passionate characters, subtle action and high tension distinguish this first book in the trilogy, also called the Fifth Queen. Set in a world of high culture and looming violence, sophisticated and clever as any traditional spy story, this is a fabulous novel, and a fabulous way to start a trilogy.
This novel, aptly described by William Gass as "slow, intense, pictorial, and operatic," is a seriously literary historical novel of a sort not much seen anymore (indeed Joseph Conrad, writing of it in 1908, called it "the swan song of Historical Romance"). In it Ford gives us an intriguingly idiosyncratic portrait of Katharine Howard, the ill-fated fifth wife Of Henry VIII (and I use the word "portrait" deliberately, as Ford's prose style is very painterly). Certainly this is not the woman we may think we know from BBC costume dramas or "The Tudors!" It may not be the woman known to historians or her contemporaries either, as Ford I think is less interested in historically accurate depictions of his characters than in fleshing out philosophical and moral arguments about the nature of history itself. Nevertheless, the narrative is dense with period detail, the Tudor language and Latin references are authentically daunting, and the whole enterprise is carried off with masterly skill.The other novels this most puts me in mind of are Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy and Jane Smiley's Greenlanders .... if you enjoyed those, you might well find The Fifth Queen a rewarding reading experience.
I didn't care for the way the book was written. It didn't strike true, although the novel approach to Katharine Howard provided an interesting way to look at her character. And, based on what is known of Henry VIII, it might be a more accurate picture of her than what has been commonly believed.