BLURB: “Eliza Camperdowne is young and headstrong, but she knows her duty well. As the only daughter of a noble family, she must one day marry a man who is very grand and very rich. But Fate has other plans. When Eliza becomes a maid of honour, she’s drawn into the thrilling, treacherous court of Henry the Eighth…Is her glamorous cousin Katherine Howard a friend or a rival? And can a girl choose her own destiny in a world ruled by men?”
REVIEW: I am a huge fan of Lucy Worsley’s work, so despite the fact that this, her first historical fiction novel, is clearly intended for the child/young adult market, I was eager to read it anyway. This novel tells the story of Eliza Camperdowne, a young girl from a ruined gentry family who is her family’s only hope of achieving greatness under the reign of Henry VIII. After a failed betrothal to the son of the Earl of Westmoreland, Eliza is sent away to be educated in the art of courtly manners at Trumpton Hall, the home of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. Trumpton Hall, however, is also home to Eliza’s confident, beautiful, reckless and often rather spiteful cousin, Katherine Howard. Katherine and Eliza instantly clash, and matters become worse when Katherine and the music master, Francis Manham, make Eliza the victim of a cruel joke. When the time comes for the girls of Trumpton Hall to be sent to court, however, it is only Katherine and Eliza who make the cut, and the two of them are forced to at least try and get along as they share accomodation and serve the same Queen, Henry VIII’s fourth wife Anne of Cleves. Unbeknownst to Eliza, who is struggling with her own feelings and engaging in her own flirtation with the illegitimate but charming servant of the King, Ned Barsby, and earning the admiration of Will Summers, the King’s Fool, Katherine is doing some serious flirting of her own. Eliza is both stunned and horrified when Katherine announces that she is to marry the King; Eliza herself had reluctantly decided to fight for the position of King’s Mistress, in order to help her family’s prospects. As a Maid of Honour, Eliza now has to work even harder to play the court game, and distances herself ever farther from her beloved Ned. When the whole thing comes crashing down around them with the discovery of Katherine’s adultery, it is Eliza who stays by her side, despite all their past bitterness and rivalry, and as Eliza achieves her happy ending she realises how foolish she was to have been jealous of Katherine in the first place.
This is a well-written story, very imaginatively written, and it does evoke to some extent the dangerous, rumour-filled atmosphere of Henry VIII’s court in its latter years. I do feel, however, that the book was spoiled for me by some of the adjustments that the author chose to make to the historical facts. I do not blame Worsley for doing this, and in light of this novel’s intended audience I understand why the story was made simpler and some of the more lurid details removed. For example, instead of writing separately of Katherine’s affairs with the music master Henry Manox and her later, more serious affair with Francis Dereham, Worsley combines them into one person; a music master named Francis Manham who later attends on Katherine at court and continues a reckless affair with her there. Thomas Culpepper is not included in the tale at all, which I did find somewhat surprising even in consideration of the audience. When I removed myself from my mindset as an historian myself, however, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and felt it was an easy to read and engaging tale, and would be a good introduction to history for younger girls; I feel it would inspire many of them to pursue studies into the Tudor period, and this I think is the books most admirable quality – it serves as a source of inspiration.