Secrets of the Tudor Court by Darcey Bonnette

She holds the key to a kingdom’s future! When young Mary Howard receives the news that she will be leaving her home for the grand court of King Henry VIII, to attend his mistress Anne Boleyn, she is ecstatic. Everything Anne touches seems to turn to gold, and Mary is certain Anne will one day become Queen. But Mary has also seen the King s fickle nature and how easily he discards those who were once close to him! Discovering that she is a pawn in a carefully orchestrated plot devised by her father, the duke of Norfolk, Mary dare not disobey him. Yet despite all of her efforts to please him, she too falls prey to his cold wrath. Not until she becomes betrothed to Harry Fitzroy, the Duke of Richmond and son to King Henry VIII, does Mary finds the love and approval she s been seeking. But just when Mary believes she is finally free of her father, the tides turn. Now Mary must learn to play her part well in a dangerous chess game that could change her life and the course of history.

I wasn’t expecting this one to be a literary masterpiece, but the subject, Mary Howard, got me interested in the book. Mary Howard was the daughter of the notorious Duke of Norfolk and wife of Henry VIII’s illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy. She outlived Henry VIII’s and all of his wives. Now I don’t know a lot about Mary Howard but there a lot of other historical inaccuracies I noticed in the book so I wouldn’t take most of Bonnette’s material on her as fact.

When I did pick up the book and was reading the blurb I got the impression the book was going to be based on an unfounded theory I have read on Henry Fitzroy (which I am not going to mention so we can avoid spoilers) This would have actually made a pretty interesting read, but as it’s only brought up very briefly much later on in the book I was disappointed. This spans over two decades,  (five wives in Henry VIII-years) in only 350 pages, so a lot of it feels rushed.

I know a lot of people liked this portrayal of Anne Boleyn as it tried to give her a bit of complexity and depth but I found most of it was Anne wringing her hands and cackling, and a lot of very undignified moments. I did, however, like her handling of Katherine Howard, it was a refreshing spin which showed her as a vulnerable young woman in desperate need of affection. Jane Boleyn doesn’t get a lot of love here, not does Jane Seymour but I have to admit Mary Howards unbridled hatred of both women made me laugh.

I would have liked Mary Howard to be a little less weak, she did grow a bit towards the end, but generally she is helpless and at the mercy of Norfolk throughout, and spends a lot of her time in tears or ill. I don’t know, maybe that is a realistic portrayal of her but it makes for a frustrating read.

The real stand-out in this book is the twisted relationship between Mary and her father, Norfolk. Most Tudor history fans will know Norfolk’s sins are too many to mention, but the portrayal of Norfolk in this book is absolutely chilling. Some of the scenes where he is beating his wife and daughter really made me ill, and I do applaud Bonnette for not holding back here. It’s a cold slap of reality in an otherwise fairly unremarkable book.

This isn’t a light read, but it is a quick read, I polished it off in a day. There’s not much around about Mary Howard so if you’re a big Tudor fan I would give this one a go. I’ll be reading Bonnette’s next book on Thomas and Elizabeth Howard.

Rating: ★★½☆☆


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Secrets of the Tudor Court