The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory

published 2006

March 1541

Let me see, what do I have?

My winter gowns are all completed, though I have some more for spring in the making but they are of no use, for the season of Lent is coming and I cannot wear them.

I have my Christmas and New Year gifts from the king, that is, amongst other things that I have already forgotten or given away to my women, I have two pendants made of 26 table diamonds and 27 ordinary diamonds, so heavy that I can hardly hold up my head when they are around my neck. I have a rope of pearls with 200 pearls as big as strawberries. I have the lovely horse from my dear Anne. I call her Anne now and she still calls me Kitty when we are alone. But the jewels make no difference for those too have to be put aside for Lent.

observations: Lent is more than halfway through, so now we can start planning our Easter dresses. 

This is Philippa Gregory imagining the voice of Katherine Howard, the fifth of Henry VIII’s wives. The Anne she refers to is number 4, who was (lucky enough to be) put aside by Henry to make way for Katherine.

Poor girl – so little is known of her own feelings, though the disastrous, fatal details of her story can be traced in the official documents. She was probably 16, at most 17, when she was executed for treason – in this case adultery. She probably did do what she was accused of, but it is hard to think she deserved her fate, and horrible to contemplate the whole story.

She is generally agreed to have been very beautiful, but it’s always difficult to see that in these paintings – if you look at Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour too, none of them look particularly beautiful and they also look much older than any of them ever became – birthdates are unsure, but Seymour seems to have not made 30, while Boleyn was probably in her mid-30s when she died. In this picture Katherine Howard is wearing the same jewels as Jane Seymour in the earlier entry – a Royal parure, or set of matched jewels.

The book tells the story through the voices of Katherine, her predecessor Anne of Cleves, and the sinister Jane Rochford – who was something of a Linda Tripp figure, with her role in the downfall of three different queens. Authors and historians do their best to explain her motives and feelings but she is hard to credit by any standards: her Wikipedia entry is well worth a look.

The picture is by Hans Holbein: nearly all the portraits of the important women of the Tudor reigns have doubtful attributions, but the jewels shared by this portrait and the Jane Seymour one suggest they are the correct pictures of the right queens.


  1. Moira - What an interesting point of view from which to tell a story. And I often have wondered what the women at the heart of Henry VIII's life were really like. This sounds like a good historical fiction read.


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