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The King's Rose

The King's Rose

4.2 15
by Alisa Libby

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Life in the court of King Henry VIII is a complex game. When fifteen-year-old Catherine Howard catches the king's eye, she quickly transforms from pawn to queen. But even luxury beyond imagination loses its luster as young Catherine finds her life-and her heart-threatened by the needs of an aging king and a family hungry for power. Will their agendas deliver


Life in the court of King Henry VIII is a complex game. When fifteen-year-old Catherine Howard catches the king's eye, she quickly transforms from pawn to queen. But even luxury beyond imagination loses its luster as young Catherine finds her life-and her heart-threatened by the needs of an aging king and a family hungry for power. Will their agendas deliver Catherine to the same fate as her infamous cousin, Anne Boleyn-sacrificed at the altar of family ambition?

Engaging historical fiction with a throbbing YA heartbeat, this thrilling novel will draw readers into the intrigues and dangers of the Tudor court.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Libby's lush historical novel chronicles the intense period during which 15-year-old Catherine Howard became Henry VIII's fifth wife. Starting when the king disposed of his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, by annulment, and taking readers through the moment of Catherine's death for treason against the king, the story captures her powerlessness, despite her title. "You are little more than flesh and blood," her grandmother, the duchess of Norfolk, tells her. "You are the vessel by which the Howards lay claim to the greatest power we can wield." Catherine feels intense pressure to be the king's "rose without a thorn" and produce an heir, but she struggles under the weight of her own past and the machinations of her family: deceiving the king about her virginity, suppressing her love for one of the king's courtiers, Thomas, and contending with the arrival of a former lover and friends seeking positions in her court. The gripping story crackles with the anxiety of the young queen-her lack of control over her own life and desires will resonate most with readers. Ages 14-up. (Mar.)

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VOYA - Chris Carlson
Libby fictionalizes the tragic life of Catherine Howard. Wed to Henry VIII at fifteen, Catherine is influenced by her greedy family. She struggles to deal with their demands and Henry's desire for an heir. Failing to get pregnant, Catherine is manipulated into taking a lover in hopes that a younger man will be able to impregnate her and that she can pass the child off as the king's heir. Instead Catherine's affair is betrayed. Barren, she is banished to the tower where she is beheaded for her treachery. The delightful cover art is sure to attract girls to this book. Although billed as a romance, the relationship between Catherine and her lover here is overshadowed by how she is manipulated by others without thought to her feelings or desires. Catherine's aunt, Lady Rochford, is the master manipulator, ensuring that Catherine catches the king's eye and then hopefully delights him enough to produce an heir. Thomas Cartwright, Catherine's lover, comes across less as a romantic figure than an opportunist. Henry VIII is portrayed as an impotent, old man, beset by many maladies. And Catherine appears to be more vacuous than immature. The unlikeable characters tend to diminish the deft job that Libby does at painting a vivid picture of the opulence of the court and the lavish lifestyle enjoyed by Catherine. Little is written about Catherine Howard, so this rare look at the fourth wife of Henry VIII might appeal to girls interested in this period. Reviewer: Chris Carlson
Children's Literature - Jennifer Lehmann
Catherine Howard may be one of Henry VIII's less well-known wives, but her story, as told here, is gripping and relatable to modern audiences. Placed in the court by her powerful family, Catherine catches Henry's eye. Her beauty and youth charm the aging king into marrying her shortly after he annuls his marriage to the unattractive Anne of Cleves. Catherine soon learns that even a queen loved by her husband and supported by her influential family is powerless unless she produces an heir. Her promiscuity before her marriage to King Henry and her efforts to conceive a child after her marriage soon put everything she has, even her life, in jeopardy. While the dominance of sexual behavior in the life of this fifteen-year-old makes this book more appropriate for older readers, the story is tastefully and delicately told. Catherine's struggle between her necessary reliance on her beauty and sexuality and the treason of being anything but virginal and pure for the king echoes in the lives of young women today. Although the pacing slows at times, and the story gets repetitive, the beautiful language and the tension of Catherine's life-or-death dilemma keep the pages turning. Reviewer: Jennifer Lehmann
School Library Journal

Gr 8 Up

Beautiful Catherine Howard, 15, has attracted the attention of aging King Henry Tudor, who is becoming increasingly desperate for a son. His only son, Edward, is a sickly youngster, and Henry is worried about the succession. He has already rid himself of three wives and, now, he finds a way to dispense with his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, so he can marry Catherine. Catherine has been thrust before him by her powerful Howard relatives, and she knows that her role is to keep the king happy, but she has grown up in the morally lax household of her grandmother, the dowager Duchess of Norfolk, and she has secrets in her past that, if revealed, will ruin her. Told in Catherine's voice, the story gains real immediacy as she glories in the excitement and glamour of the court, but soon realizes that she is in great danger. Her love for young Thomas Culpepper overcomes her common sense, and their affair seals her doom. Period activities such as a bear-baiting contest are skillfully woven into the plot. The dowager Duchess and her accomplice, Lady Jane Rochford, are deliciously amoral in their relentless political scheming. One particularly effective scene has Catherine shocked at seeing a portrait of the youthful Henry and realizing how much he has deteriorated. While numerous sexual encounters are part of the political reality, they are subtly handled. A real treat for lovers of historical fiction.-Quinby Frank, Green Acres School, Rockville, MD

Kirkus Reviews
Romance novels often tell stories of women imprisoned by circumstance but whose hearts, and other parts, ache for true love. Here, that tormented soul is 15-year-old Catherine Howard, a vivacious young woman who catches the eye of the lusty, aging King Henry VIII and soon finds herself playing the part of his fifth wife, with strict orders to produce a male heir . . . or else. It's a perilous role. Henry's second wife, Catherine's cousin Anne Boleyn, was beheaded, and Anne's ghost haunts her with admonitions about the fickle king: "His tiny man-member wagged, and he followed it wherever it led him, destroying all that stood in his path...Do you think he will hesitate to destroy you?" The constant fear of retribution for her past and present sexual indiscretions taints Catherine's genuine pleasure in her newfound status, bejeweled gowns and other courtly extravagances, and this daily conflict is vividly, often poetically expressed in the queen's first-person voice. More drama than history, this suspenseful, downright racy tale will send readers hurtling headlong toward the novel's bitter end. (Fiction. 15 & up)

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)
HL810L (what's this?)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


Copyright © 2009 by Alisa M. Libby


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who wishes to quote brief passages in connection with a review written for inclusion in a magazine, newspaper, or broadcast.


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Published in the United States by Dutton Books,
a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014





eISBN : 978-1-101-02468-3

This book is
dedicated to my mother,
Bernice Vicki Moskowitz,
who likes a bit of romance
with her history.



The Thames is a messenger of fortune, rippling smoothly beneath the prow of this barge. The curtains flutter in the cool spring breeze; silver moonlight filters through their thin silk.

When I was a child and knew nothing about court life, I watched my cousin Anne Boleyn set across this very water, not long after her secret marriage to King Henry. The king’s first wife had been banished from court in order for Anne to take her place upon the throne. The gold curtains of Anne’s royal barge were flung open to reveal her, gowned in sparkling white satin and draped in jewels. King Henry awaited her on the steps of the Tower of London, where they would spend the night together before her glorious coronation as queen. Anne’s long black hair glistened like satin in the sunlight, and the panels of her jeweled gown shifted to reveal the round belly beneath—already pregnant with a prince, an heir. Or so we all thought.

Years later Queen Anne had a much different voyage to the Tower, this one void of fanfare—or reverence. But it is best not to think of Anne, and the sorcery she used to entrap the king. She creeps into my daydreams when I least desire to find her there.

“It will not be for long,” Lady Rochford reassures me. She pulls a curtain aside and smiles, enchanted by the moonlight sparkling upon the dark water. We are not going to the Tower, of course. In the distance I see the torches lit before the red brick façade of Lambeth—my former home, from my former life. I lived here before I went to court and became “that Howard girl who caught the king’s eye.” I imagine my grandmother, the dowager Duchess of Norfolk, pacing the front hall and peering out the mullioned windows to spy my approach.

“I know, Jane. The king thought it best that I stay at Lambeth, for a time,” I tell Lady Rochford, just as my uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, informed me earlier today. The king is not displeased with me. It is simply for the best, I was told as the servants hastily packed my trunks. I was given no further information. The king’s will be done, as my father used to say with his strange mixture of bitterness and awe.

What would Father think if he saw me, now? The moonlight winks darkly upon the tear-shaped sapphire suspended from a gold chain around my neck. It’s not the type of necklace a lady-in-waiting in the queen’s household would wear, not even a lady of considerable means. And definitely not Catherine Howard, the daughter of disfavored Edmund Howard, who died penniless years ago in spite of his powerful family name. The sapphire was a gift to me, from the king. And it was only the beginning.

“I saw the queen before we departed. Her trunks were being packed, as well,” I inform Lady Rochford, though she already knows. “Where was she going?”

“Don’t worry about her, Catherine,” she answers, her voice quiet, dreamy. “Don’t waste your time worrying about her.” But I can’t help but worry about the queen—King Henry’s fourth bride, shipped to England from Cleves, Germany, at the start of this year. Anne of Cleves was intended to rejuvenate the king after his long mourning for his third wife, Jane Seymour. But this seems unlikely; the German princess was not as pretty as her portrait, and King Henry’s disappointment was clear.

I came to court last autumn to serve the new queen, and awaited her winter arrival with the rest of her ladies-in-waiting. But by early spring the gift of the sapphire made the focus of the king’s affection clear for all to see. At fifteen years old, I am on the brink of gaining great wealth and great privilege for my family. Or so I have been told. I had best act properly, I am often reminded, or else squander all of our chances. The king is forty-nine and not as well as he once was. Time is precious, fleeting.

The Thames is a messenger of fortune, be it good or ill.


I am swiftly ushered to my apartments upon arrival at Lambeth—elegantly appointed chambers near the duchess’s own, nothing like when I lived here as one of her many charges, sleeping side by side in a row of beds in the maidens’ chamber. A long wooden box lies upon the bed. The duchess’s servants crowd around me, smiling expectantly. Their eyes flicker like candles. “Where is the duchess?”

“She will be with you soon, Catherine. Look.” The servant moves forward, touching the box with eager fingers. “This arrived earlier today, along with the message that you would be joining us. Don’t you want to look?”

My fingertip traces the image carved into the center of the box—a Tudor rose. I’ve received gifts in such boxes before, but never one as large as this. With a glance at Jane, I lift the lid, the motion followed by a wave of sighs. A cream silk gown is nestled in the box before me; the ladies crowd in for a closer look.

“There is a letter,” I proclaim, plucking the parchment from the box and bending my head over the slanted script, wary of the prying eyes surrounding me.

I hope this gown will suit your pleasure, as surely you suit mine. I look forward to seeing you wear it and can think of no more lovely young lady to which to present this gift, from your

Henricus Rex

“Oh, how exquisite. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Jane declares.

“You haven’t?” I inquire, but Jane does not answer. Jane’s late husband, Lord Rochford, was George Boleyn—Anne’s brother. Jane was lady-in-waiting to Anne when she was queen. Did she really never see Queen Anne in a gown such as this?

It is the type of gown I’ve always dreamed of wearing. As a child I had only my sister Isabel’s shabby outgrown dresses to wear. Even at Lambeth I was envious of the sophisticated ladies in the maidens’ chamber, only to later be awestruck by the elegant attire of my fellow ladies at court. But this far surpasses anything they flaunted before my covetous gaze. The silk is deliciously soft to the touch, the bodice embroidered with gold thread and hundreds of delicate pearls.

“Wait until the king sees you, my dear”—Jane gushes, admiring the ample silk skirt—“from a girl to a princess in just one day.”

“Wait until all of those snobs in the queen’s household see you,” one maid exclaims, “arrayed like royalty.” The ladies giggle, sharing my revelry.

“Wait until all of court sees me.” I hold the gown to my chest and stand before the mirror, admiring the twinkling bodice in the candlelight. “Even the gift of a sapphire can’t quite compare to this.” I smile, remembering when my fellow ladies-in-waiting saw the first concrete evidence of the king’s affection: the deep blue-purple refractions of the stone glittered in their eyes.

“Imagine the look on the faces of those handsome grooms,” one of the younger girls waxes dreamily. “All of the courtiers, the lords and ladies. Imagine the look on the face of your cousin Thomas Culpeper.”

I flinch at the sound of his name. Jane’s eyes turn sharp, piercing through me—we’ve talked about this already. I swallow, compose myself, and attempt a slight smile. I blink rapidly, smoothing my palms over the full skirt. Suddenly my fingers feel numb, the softness of the silk no longer registering upon my skin.

The door to my chamber opens, and a tall figure emerges from the shadows. A single glance from the duchess silences the servants’ chatter.

“I must speak with Catherine alone,” the duchess says smoothly. The servants move away from me, receding into shadows and filing silently out of the room. Jane squeezes my arm swiftly before departing.

The duchess walks into the ring of light created by the cheerful fire and the lit candles on my dressing table. Even in this golden light she appears hard, silvery, her sterling hair swept back from her white face. She levels her steel-gray gaze at me and smiles.

“The gown is beautiful, Catherine,” she says, lifting it from my arms and spreading it out carefully upon the bed; she caresses it lovingly. “We will have it fitted while you are here.”

“Is the king to visit me here?” I ask, feigning composure. For all the times I’ve met him in the palace gardens, played my lute for him, or danced before him in the great hall, I’ve never been alone with King Henry.

“Do you know why he sent you here?”

“The Duke of Norfolk assured me I had not displeased the king,” I state, instantly defensive. “I’ve charmed him. I’ve done all that you told me to do.”

“Calm yourself, Catherine.” She moves to a corner of the room and lifts a glass decanter of wine from a small table, filling two goblets. I feel uneasy watching the duchess pour wine for me. Her face is serene, but there is a certain energy sparking around her; I can see it in spite of how carefully she moves. “Your uncle Norfolk is correct, you have not displeased the king. Quite the contrary. Please.” She hands me a full goblet and gestures to a chair before the mirror. She sits across from me upon the bed, her rich black satin gown a stark contrast to the cream silk lying beside her. “It was the king’s order that you were sent here.”

“Norfolk told me. But why did the king remove me from court?”

“He thought it prudent that you be sent away before the queen is relocated. She will be sent to Richmond, to escape the threat of the plague and take in the country air.” The duchess sips primly from her own goblet, then sets it upon the table.

“There is a threat of plague? In London?”

“Of course not, fool.” But she smiles, amused instead of frustrated. “Don’t you think the king would be the first to take to the country if there were? No, no, he will stay at court and brave the false threat of contagion. It will not be long now before their marriage is deemed null and void on the basis of a preexisting betrothal contract for Anne of Cleves with the Marquis of Lorraine, and nonconsummation of her marriage to King Henry.”

“He will divorce the queen,” I murmur, rolling the meaning of these words over in my mind. “Already?”

“Oh, you cannot play the fool with me, Catherine. You did not truly think that our king would stay married to that Flanders Mare?”

“Will I return to court when the divorce is final?”

“In a matter of speaking.” The duchess’s eyes fairly glow in the dimness. “After the wedding.”

“The wedding?”

She stares at me for a moment. Extending her arm, she places her cold hand upon mine.

“The time has come, Catherine. King Henry intends to make you his bride.”

She smiles at me. I blink back at her.

“King Henry intends?”

“To make you his bride,” she repeats. Her eyes are focused upon mine. “I expect you will be wed before the summer is done.”

My heart rises in my throat, as though I have just swallowed a living thing. I knew this was their goal, eventually, but the sudden reality of it shudders through me. Cousin Anne waited years for King Henry’s separation from his first wife . . . oh, but I can’t think about Anne, now.

“So soon?” My voice cracks slightly. I clear my throat. “I did not know . . . it is all . . . I didn’t know it would happen so soon. That he would be rid of the queen—” I clear my throat again, trembling hands clasped tightly around the goblet. “Anne of Cleves is a princess. I am not even—”

“He has chosen a common girl before—don’t forget your cousin Anne, and Jane Seymour. Neither one with royal blood. But you are not common, Catherine. You are a Howard, and our family is among the most powerful at court.”

My mind swims; the golden light in the room seems liquid, blurred.

“The king has made his choice, Catherine, and he chooses you. Norfolk said King Henry has described you as a jewel of womanhood. He loves your freshness, your innocence.”

There is something literal about the way she says that word: innocence.

“The king knows that he has little time to waste,” the duchess adds, and looks at me darkly. “Do you know what is required of you, as the king’s wife?”

“A child,” I state, “a son.” I drain my wine in great gulps and set the goblet upon the dressing table.

“An heir, Catherine—your son will be a legitimate heir to the throne.” She squeezes my hand so tightly that I wince. “But that is after the wedding. Right now you are to be the king’s virgin.”

I look up at these words; the duchess’s eyes sparkle eerily, like twin sapphires.

“He does not want a seductress, or a temptress, or a flirt. He wants to marry a virgin—like his eternally beloved, departed queen Jane Seymour. You must be like Jane for him.”

You know that isn’t true, I think, meeting the duchess’s gaze. Before I can say a word, she raises a hand to stop me.

“There are things now that are dangerous to even think, let alone say aloud,” she says, her voice quiet but piercing. “Any admission could be misconstrued as a precontract, and could spoil all we’ve done. It never happened, Catherine, any of it. Your past is gone. You are a virgin, now.”

Hearing these words spoken to me within Lambeth’s walls is almost too much to bear. My past echoes here, the very stones of this building crowded with memories of the girl I used to be.

“That’s what you’ve told him?”

“Yes. The king is told what he wants to hear.”

“The king was told that Anne of Cleves was a beauty—just see where that lie will lead her, not to mention Cromwell.”

“The king is already taken with you, Catherine. And the king wants a virgin. The Duke of Norfolk and I have made you exactly what the king wants you to be. Do you understand?”

“I understand,” I murmur, my eyes lowered.

“Besides, he would not have wanted you, otherwise.” Her voice is low and cold, slithering around me like a snake. “The thought of a girl already spoiled by another man disgusts him.” A slight smile plays at the sharp corners of her mouth. “But we have fixed all of that. You will be queen, Catherine, because of your family. Remember that, for you could not have done this on your own.”

“I will remember.” I knew this was their plan, of course. But now the crown itself is at hand: too large, too grand a thing for me to comprehend. If I have a son, he will be second in line for the throne of England, behind Prince Edward, son of the dead Queen Jane. I will be crowned queen, and my son could one day reign as king.

“We have created you, Catherine.” The duchess’s voice trembles with excitement. “The king desires an innocent young maid who will love him.” She smiles, her steel eyes wide and impossibly bright. “So that is what you must be.”

Meet the Author

Alisa M. Libby lives outside of Boston, Massachusetts.

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The King's Rose 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
dholland08 More than 1 year ago
The King's Rose by Alisa M. Libby was an excellent work of historical fiction. It is the story of Catherine Howard, the fifth wife of King Henry VIII. Little more than a child bride (she's fifteen when she gets married) Catherine is thrust into a world of intruige, with the spotlight of the Tudor court on her at all times. Catherine was pressured by her scheming family to marry the aging King Henry, and they continue to pressure her constantly to be their vision of the perfect queen. Even as Catherine enjoys the luxuries of being royalty, she feels the constant threat that comes with being queen and seeks to hide some of her darker secrets. If the king should find out that she was less than pure when she married him and that her heart still belongs to another, Catherine's very life is at stake. This was a riveting good read. Alisa M. Libby deftly wove her portait of Tudor court life, by narrating the story as Catherine. We see this world from Catherine's eyes and the story is told as if it is happening right now, so the reader is drawn into the plot, like they're right there experiencing it. Catherine is a character you can sympathize with, and feel for deeply as the novel hurtles toward it inevitable ending. I highly reccommend reading The King's Rose. The imagery is beautiful and the characterization is done very well. For history lovers or anyone who likes a good story, this one is a treat.
rebecca_herman More than 1 year ago
Born into the ambitious Howard family, Catherine has never had much control over her life and fate. Her cousin, the infamous Anne Boleyn, lured King Henry VIII into marriage then met a grisly end. Hoping for a marriage that will benefit the family, Catherine's relatives send her to court in 1540, when she is fifteen. There, Catherine catches the eye of the king, who decides to divorce his current wife, Anne of Cleves, and marry her. Though Catherine would prefer to marry for love, one does not refuse the king, and even if she could, her family is determined to gain power through her marriage. From the start, Catherine feels like she is living a lie, and playing a part to be the wife Henry desires. He wanted a pure, innocent maiden, and Catherine had a foolish and youthful love affair before coming to court, an event the king must never learn about. Woefully unprepared for the life she must live, Catherine struggles with her own immaturity and the conflicting desires of the king and her family, and is forced to make terrible choices that will lead to her doom. The King's Rose is a wonderful historical novel for young adults - and adults as well - about the life of King Henry VIII's fifth and youngest wife, Catherine Howard. The author did a good job of bringing Catherine to life and making it understandable why she made the choices she did. Catherine is tragic figure - a young girl, unprepared for the life of a queen, forced into a terrible situation by her family in a time when a young woman had few choices and little right to control her own destiny. I highly recommend this book to readers who are fascinated by the Tudors as well as those who enjoy historical fiction in general.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Yet another young female has caught the eye of the aging King Henry Tudor. This time it is fifteen-year-old Catherine Howard, cousin to Anne Boleyn. Less than a year has passed since her arrival at court, and she is now the Queen of England. Catherine's new life of luxury and being the king's "rose without a thorn" is different. But Catherine's past haunts her, so she must be careful. She dreams of that kiss she shared with her (distant) cousin, Thomas Culpeper. A perfect kiss. Her relations with other men. But all must stay a secret, or death caused by treason could come her way. Being the huge historical fiction fan I am, I just had to buy this book when I could find it around. This was one of the novels I couldn't put down, because I really wanted to continue on and find out what was going to happen. There isn't much else to say, aside from I loved THE KING'S ROSE. If you enjoy historical fiction, you should definitely check this one out.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Worth every penny.
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darlene10 More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book. Catherine is a child who is pushed into an audlt world and does not have the tools to survive. Good read
HistoryBuffess More than 1 year ago
I have read a lot of books about the wives of Henry the 8th and this is one of the best. Even though I knew what would ultimately happen to Cathereine I was kept onthe edge of my seat hoping against hope that things would turn out differently. The writing was good, the pace was even and I cared about the characters... I also felt like the context of the book was good- I feel like I learned things about Henry's England... it was really good- I highly reccomend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ezmirelda More than 1 year ago
This book was fun and exciteing to read because before this I'd never had the chance to read a book from this time period. I felt like I was learning and having fun reading at the same time. All in all it was a pretty good book,guaranteed to have you in tears by the end. I would definetly reccomend this to all open to trying something new.
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