Annotation: In 1539 England, Katherine “Kitty” Tylney lives in the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk’s household, along with many other young women but, most importantly, her best friend, the beautiful and popular Catherine “Cat” Howard. After Cat is sent to live in the royal court and catches the eye of King Henry VIII, however, how will their friendship survive as Cat seems more and more destined to become the next Queen of England?
Personal thoughts: I love all things related to Henry VIII and his six wives (I’ve read bunches novels on the subject, watched every episode of The Tudors, have seen all the movies…I’m a hardcore fan!) When I saw that a young adult novel had been published about the life of Catherine Howard, I was very excited and, not surprisingly, enjoyed reading Gilt quite a bit. I’ve always thought that Catherine Howard’s story would make a great novel for teens because she herself was a teenager, thrust into a royal life with little education or knowledge of what to expect. I liked reading from Kitty’s perspective, especially since it gave the opportunity to portray Catherine as a 1539 version of Regina George. I am really looking forward to reading the rest of the series and am happy that Katherine Longshore is re-telling this exciting period of history for the young adult audience.
Plot summary: In 1539 England, Katherine “Kitty” Tylney and her best friend Catherine “Cat” Howard live together, along with dozens of other young ladies, in the household of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. Forgotten by their poor but aristocratic families, Kitty and Cat and the rest of the girls spend their time flirting with the male servants of the household. Cat, the most vivacious and popular of the girls, rules over the maidens’ chamber, deciding who does what, who is in favor, and who is to be shunned. Even though she is awkward, shy, and not nearly as beautiful and bewitching as Cat, Kitty enjoys a certain level of social protection in the maidens’ chamber as Cat’s closest friend and confidante. Everything changes, however, when the Duke of Norfolk decides to send Cat to live in the royal court as a maid servant to Anne of Cleves, King Henry VII’s latest wife. Kitty and the rest of the ladies mourn the loss of their leader, and life quiets down in the household of the Dowager Duchess until Cat writes to invite Kitty and two other ladies, Joan and Alice, to join her at court. It seems that King Henry has fallen under Cat’s spell, and is intent upon marrying her. As the best friend of the Queen, Kitty is suddenly thrust into a life of fancy gowns, parties and men. But no secret is safe in the court of Henry VIII, and idle gossip can lead to a date with the executioner. Will Kitty be able to survive a life in service to a Queen like Cat, or is she destined to fall like so many in King Henry’s court?
Review: The story of Catherine Howard, the young, beautiful, bubbly and ultimately ill-fated fifth wife of King Henry VIII has been retold by countless authors over the years. In Gilt, however, author Katherine Longshore has successfully adapted the history into a novel for young adults, something that is actually quite fitting considering that Catherine herself was only a teenager when she became Queen. The author portrays Cat as something of a “mean girl.” Popular, charismatic and charming, Cat rules over the other girls in the household of the Dowager Duchess like a high school queen bee. Although Kitty is considered by all to be Cat’s best friend, it is clear from the start that their friendship is not equitable. Kitty is at the mercy of her friend, and it seems that their relationship is strongest when Kitty does Cat’s bidding, regardless of what danger it puts her in. Many readers will be able to identify with this, especially those who have had experiences with friends like Cat who seem to use friendships for their own gain. After Cat goes to court and eventually wins the heart of the King, the relationship between Kitty and her best friend becomes even more strained. The novel is an excellent jumping off point to spark interest in this time period for young adult readers. The author does a good job of relaying the history while making the story intriguing and relatable for teens. Gilt is the first in a series of books about life in Henry VIII’s court. The second novel, Tarnish, takes place twenty years before the events of Gilt and is set to be released in June 2013.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory, The King’s Rose by Alisa M. Libby, The Confession of Katherine Howard by Suzannah Dunn.
Themes: Catherine Howard, the Tudors, King Henry VIII, England, royalty, friendship, secrets.
Awards/Reviews: Positive reviews from Booklist, Kirkus and VOYA.
Series Information: First novel in The Royal Circle series. Second novel, Tarnish, set to be released June 2013.
Discussion questions:- What did you know about Catherine Howard and King Henry VIII before reading Gilt? Did reading the novel make you want to learn more?
- Do you think Cat was a true friend to Kitty? Why or why not?
- Why do you think Kitty couldn’t bring herself to tell anyone about what she saw in the woods?
- Do you think it was a good idea for Kitty to come to court?
- Why do you think Cat insisted upon having a romance with Thomas Culpepper? Do you think Kitty did the right thing in helping them meet?
- What do you think lies ahead for Kitty at the end of the novel? What do you hope happens to her?