New Kid on the Block….?

Exclusive interview with Gareth Russell, author of a new book focusing on the life of Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII

by Gabrielle Pantera

“I wanted to show Catherine as a woman in the context of a society in a state of flux, crippled by religious and political tensions, and also to show her as a daughter of the nobility, born and trained in that way,” says Young and Damned and Fair author Gareth Russell. “I was studying for my masters in Medieval History at Queen’s University, Belfast, where I wanted to specialize in the Queen’s Household in Tudor England. I decided to look at it during Catherine Howard’s tenure as queen. And the more research I did, the more I realized that the story we think we know of her life is incomplete and, often, flat out wrong.”

On July 28, 1540, Catherine Howard became Queen. At the same time, Thomas Cromwell, formerly a favorite of King Henry, is executed. Sixteen months later, she will follow her cousin Anne Boleyn to her death. Both were executed after being convicted of adultery and high treason.

Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII, was young and trusting. The book gives details of her life, life at court and her families grasp for power. Includes a forgotten text from Catherine’s confession. The book features color illustrations, family tree, map, and extensive notes.

“I wanted to restore a sense of a fully-contextualized life and strip away the benefit of hindsight,” says Russell. “The title comes from a beautiful poem by Stevie Smith, Die Lorelei. I had considered writing a biography of Catherine on and off for years, but now I felt there was actually a need to do so.”

“On the advice of a wonderful professor called Catherine Clinton, author of Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom, I began to turn my research into a full-length biography of Catherine’s extraordinary life,” says Russell. “During researching this book, I managed to successfully solve a 500-year old sex and theft scandal from Eton College. A headmaster and his student were accused of an affair. The student was almost certainly robbing the school, yet both were acquitted by a high-ranking member of Henry VIII’s government. I managed to use my research to prove that this was because of a connection the accused men had to Queen Catherine’s entourage.”

Russell did exhaustive research, spent a great deal of time translating all the original records, including the interrogations of Catherine and her servants, that are kept at the National Archives of the United Kingdom.

In the summer of 2015, Russell traveled through the north of England, re-tracing the steps of Catherine’s own journey there in the summer of 1541. “I only stayed in 16th or 17th century inns en route and attended services in the churches where she prayed, including the spectacular, magnificent wonder that is Lincoln Cathedral.”

Russell is currently writing, The Darksome Bounds of a Failing World, about the sinking of the Titanic and the end of the Edwardian Era. “I’ve been captivated by the story of the Titanic since childhood,” says Russell, “ever since my late great-grandfather, who saw it being built in Belfast in 1911 to 1912, told me stories about it while I sat on his knee.”

Russell was born and still lives in Belfast. He divides his time between there and New York. Russell is on Facebook, Twitter as @garethrussell1, and Instagram as garethrussell.


Young and Damned and Fair: The Life of Catherine Howard, Fifth Wife of King Henry VIII by Gareth Russell. Hardcover: 464 pages, Publisher: Simon & Schuster (April 4, 2017), Language: English. ISBN: 9781501108631 $30.00