Young and Damned and Fair

  • by Gareth Russell
  • Narrated by Jenny Funnell
  • 15 hrs and 57 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

England, July 1540: it is one of the hottest summers on record, and the court of Henry VIII is embroiled once again in political scandal. Anne Cleves is out. Thomas Cromwell is to be executed and, in the countryside, an aristocratic teenager named Catherine Howard prepares to become fifth wife to the increasingly unpredictable monarch.
In the five centuries since her death, Catherine Howard has been dismissed as 'a wanton', 'inconsequential' and a naïve victim of her ambitious family, but the story of her rise and fall offers not only a terrifying and compelling story of an attractive, vivacious young woman thrown onto the shores of history thanks to a king's infatuation but an intense portrait of Tudor monarchy in microcosm: how royal favour was won, granted, exercised, displayed, celebrated and, at last, betrayed and lost.
The story of Catherine Howard is both a very dark fairy tale and a gripping political scandal. Born into the nobility and married into the royal family, during her short life Catherine was almost never alone. Attended every waking hour by servants or companions, secrets were impossible to keep. With his research focus on Catherine's household, Gareth Russell has written a narrative that unfurls as if in real time to explain how the queen's career ended with one of the great scandals of Henry VIII's reign. More than a traditional biography, this is a very human tale of some terrible decisions made by a young woman and of complex individuals attempting to survive in a dangerous hothouse where the odds were stacked against nearly all of them.
By illuminating Catherine's entwined upstairs/downstairs worlds and bringing the listener into her daily milieu, the author retells her story in an exciting and engaging way that has surprisingly modern resonances and offers a fresh perspective on Henry's fifth wife.
Young and Damned and Fair is a riveting account of Catherine Howard's tragic marriage to one of history's most powerful rulers. It is a grand tale of the Henrician court in its twilight, a glittering but pernicious sunset during which the king's unstable behaviour and his courtiers' labyrinthine deceptions proved fatal to many, not just to Catherine Howard.

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What the Critics Say

"This fascinating and ultimately heartbreaking account of Henry VIII's doomed fifth wife brings to life the cruel, gossip-fueled, backstabbing world of the court in which Catherine Howard rose and fell. The uncommonly talented Gareth Russell has produced a masterly work of Tudor history that is engrossing, sympathetic, suspenseful, and illuminating." (Charlotte Gordon, author of Romantic Outlaws, winner of the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Young and Damned and Fair

Did Jenny Funnell do a good job differentiating each of the characters? How?

She does an okay job, although she loses her way sometimes with the punctuation and pronunciation, but not really enough to be off-putting.


Any additional comments?

I enjoyed this book very much, but at the end of the day, we hardly know anything about Catherine Howard (nice to have a Tudor we don't know everything about!) and so if you're reading/listening to this to learn more about Catherine, then I think you'd be disappointed. But what is interesting are the politics around her and the machinations of the families, which is always interesting, and vaguely horrific when you realise how people were moved around like pawns on a chess board to help their families improve their political clout. Henry VIII remains an odious beast (and odorous by this point of course) with vaguely perverted tastes when it comes to a fresh young thing like Catherine, and I still believe that his reaction to her (possible) adultery and (possible) pre-contract was that of an old man who can't believe that anybody could ever prefer anybody over him. He, who was the young god of the courts, in effect usurped by other, younger men in positions of much less power. Interesting for the questions it brings up more than for its supposed subject, perhaps.

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- Alison

Short Lived Queen Consort

Always interested in the complex and colourful history of King Henry VIII's
court, I was drawn to this biography of Henry's fifth wife, Catherine Howard
as it was a work focusing on one of the perhaps less well known wives. So
much has been written about Anne Boleyn, Henry's most notorious wife that it
was a refreshing change to find a book like this

This is my first experience of Gareth Russell as an author and on the whole
it is a very good impression I am left with after reading this work. Russell
has skilfully and in often painstaking detail described the events, people
and places surrounding Catherine Howard. It is a rich and often complex
history that tells of the rise and fall of one of the lesser understood
wives. For anyone interested in the reign of Henry VIII, this work is an
enthralling and informative read.

This book is also my first experience of Jenny Funnell as narrator and I am
pleased to say that she is both highly competent in her reading as well as
having the perfect voice to render such a story. I noticed a couple of minor
editing errors in the book. One was a tiny glitch and I am not even certain
if this was a stutter in the streaming method of listening I use. The other
was where a sentence was begun, then started again. Neither of these I
hasten to add detracted from the overall quality of this book.

The key reason I have given this book just 4 stars overall is that this book
is really much broader a story than the title might suggest. Perhaps it has
been expanded because there is simply not enough historical material to
warrant an entire biography of its own for this short lived queen consort.
The author did preface this biography by stating that he wanted to include
the closest people to Catherine in order to understand the immediate world
in which she lived but I felt that the scope of this went far beyond her
inner circle at times which can often leave one somewhat confused when a
long and sprawling group of people are discussed in detail. Many of which
have no direct relationship or bearing on Catherine herself. Having said
that, the added scope does paint a more general history of the period but it
tends to feel as if Catherine and her place in it was a relatively small
part of the telling of her story as a whole.

This work is both comprehensive and well researched and credit must go to
the author for his diligent work not only in the gathering of available
evidence but also not to interpret inconclusive evidence in any definitive
view. best guesses or most likely scenarios are postulated but it is made
clear that these are just that and not hard conclusions which is the mark of
a good historian / biographer I feel.

This book was a fascinating insight into Tudor England at the time of Henry
VIII's reign and will provide the reader with a fuller picture of the brief
life of Catherine Howard. I look forward to more from this author in the
future.
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- S. Morris

Book Details

  • Release Date: 12-01-2017
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Limited