YOUNG & DAMNED & FAIR by Gareth Russell, HarperCollins.
On the eve of her execution, King Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard, made a “curious request”. She asked to see the block on which she would die, and practised laying her “slender neck into the wooden curvature”. Gareth Russell’s biography gives this queen a depth rarely seen. Portrayed as giddy and foolish, Catherine could be determined. Until the scandal over her virginity, she had hardly put a foot wrong. Her marriage to an ageing megalomaniac who “never pushed forward any legislation which could improve his subjects’ lot” mustn’t have been easy. On the day of her death she nuzzled her neck into the embrace of the block, for “she had made it familiar. She would leave with dignity.”