Book review: Secrets of the Tudor Court by Darcey Bonnette

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As the last series of The Tudors hits our TV screens, it seems there is no end to our interest in the shenanigans at the court of Henry VIII.

But there’s more to the Tudor story than just Henry and his wives.

Darcey Bonnette’s enthralling new novel shines a spotlight on one of the lesser known players in the 16th century power battle - a woman who spent her life in the shadow of her ruthless father.

Mary Howard, youngest daughter of Thomas Howard, Third Duke of Norfolk and head of the greatest family in England, was no more than a pawn in her father’s power game but she still held a key role in the royal drama.

Taking the bare bones of her history, Bonnette brings to life a young woman who was there almost every step of the way as the tragic and turbulent Tudors created one of England’s most tumultuous periods.

At the age of just 11, Mary is plucked from her home and dispatched to Henry’s court to be a lady-in-waiting to her cousin, Anne Boleyn, who is being ‘dangled under the king’s nose like fresh meat’.

The ambitious Howards and Boleyns hope to make Anne queen in place of the ageing and childless Queen Catherine of Aragon and so far their plans are working.

With her mother’s warning that self-preservation is the first rule of Henry’s court ringing in her ears, Mary finds Anne a mercurial mistress. Beautiful, cruelly blunt but also edgy and nervous, Anne is not always easy to please.

Mary soon learns that she is not there for her own entertainment but to be the eyes and ears of the court for her father. Anne’s every move must be noted.

Mary finds solace in writing verse, the new Reformist ideas and a handsome young court musician, Cedric Dane, whose forthright manner captures her imagination.

Bullied by her father and enmeshed in court intrigue, Mary is delighted when she is betrothed to Harry Fitzroy, the Duke of Richmond and King Henry’s illegitimate son, and the man who could just take the throne if a royal prince is not produced.

Marriage will finally give her the love and freedom she longs for...until tragedy strikes and events at court turn her life in a new and dangerous direction.

Full of scandals, secrets and skulduggery, this is just the job for those who can’t get enough of the terrible Tudors.

(Avon, paperback, £6.99)