Rating: 4 Stars
This one was on par with exactly what I expect from the "In a Nutshell" series. For those figures in history who still intrigue us across the centuries, yet not a lot in the way of concrete evidence is known, these short gems are just what we need. While it may be tempting to try to fill 300 pages with "must haves" and "probablies", that really does not give us any more than a book like this would. Of course we would always love to know more, but in some instances, it is simply not possible. Catherine Carey is just such a figure. We know some, given her close proximity to key figures of the time, but not nearly as much as we would like - including a definitive answer to the is she/is she not Henry VIII's illegitimate daughter.
So, let's get that bit out of the way right off, shall we? Basically, there is just as much evidence one way as the other. I doubt we will every find a document that gives the nod to either - nor do I see any DNA testing being authorized for this purpose. Given the technology we have today, it seems like as good a use as any, considering how long historians have been debating this. But alas, perhaps it is something destined to remain unknown, so what I can say is that I appreciate the author addressing both sides, then leaving it alone and addressing other aspects of Carey's life. Sometimes authors and historians like to harp on a single controversial point, but that does not happen here. While I personally do not believe Catherine's brother Henry was a child of Henry VIII (why would he not claim him, as he did his son by Bessie Blount? Especially if the affair was carrying on BEFORE Henry then set his sights on Anne?) Anyway, the point is, I can be persuaded either way, as there is evidence for both, which the author provides, then leaves the reader to draw their own conclusion.
While this remains the single most identifying factor in signaling Catherine Carey out as someone to continue pondering even centuries later, I like that the author made a point to address who Catherine was, despite the paternity question:
"Catherine was more than just the possible illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII. She was a mother, a sister, and a wife. She was a religious reformer, a trusted confidant and a loyal friend. It is time to finally bring Catherine's story out of the darkness and into the light" (3%).
I have read more than my fair share of books about the Tudors, so I had a good idea about the basics of Catherine Carey's life, but this book so nicely filled in the little gaps of knowledge that I did not actually know existed. For instance, I had no idea she was so involved in the religious reformation going on, that she and her children resided in Germany during Mary I's reign, and only returned when Elizabeth I ascended to the throne. In regards to the children alone, I had no idea that so many lived to adulthood - quite the remarkable feat for the time period when giving birth was a dangerous business. It was also reassuring to learn that after Catherine passed away her husband, Francis Knollys, did not remarry despite outliving her by 27 years. In a time where marriages were made to increase land, wealth, and status, it is always a pleasant surprise to find a couple who likely were genuinely in love. Despite however the marriage might have been suggested or come about, it seems they truly did love and care for one another.
One thing readers should keep in mind going into this one is that the story is not exactly told in a linear fashion. Instead, chapters are divided into various aspects of Catherine Carey's life. For example, one of the sections I was most interested in began at 62% and was dedicated to Catherine and her brother Henry. I do not mind when texts jump around like that, as I have a pretty good knowledge base of the period. Some might find it distracting though.
Anyone who has read any of my previous reviews involving the Tudors knows that I care little for Anne Boleyn. I prefer Mary, who seemed a bit like the black sheep of the family, for many reasons (most importantly of course being that I tend to follow Eustace Chapuys' line of thought in referring to her as 'the Concubine'). It is for that reason that little gems like this bring a smile to my face:
"Catherine's legacy lives on in the descendants of her 14 children, one of whom occupies the British throne today" (76%).
Ha, take that Anne! It is Mary's descendants on the throne, not yours!
The text itself ends at 76%, followed by a slew of primary and secondary sources, which were highly useful. I also appreciated the decent amount of photographs used throughout. Though of course, the farther you get from the throne, the less sure we are of proper identifications of portraits - especially in cases were only copies have survived.
Overall this is another book in the series that I can recommend to those interested in the period. The author does a wonderful job taking the information we have and at least painting the broad strokes of Catherine's life, with some details, so we have a fairly clear view of her through time. Definitely recommended.