Charming. Desirable. Forbidden. Brought to court with other eligible young noblewomen by the decree of King Henry VIII, lovely Elizabeth “Bess” Brooke realizes for the first time that beauty can be hazardous. Although Bess has no desire to wed the aging king, she and her family would have little choice if Henry’s eye were to fall on her. And other dangers exist as well, for Bess has caught the interest of dashing courtier Will Parr. Bess finds Will’s kisses as sweet as honey, but marriage between them may be impossible. Will is a divorced man, and remarriage is still prohibited. Bess and Will must hope that the king can be persuaded to issue a royal decree allowing Will to marry again . . . but to achieve their goal, the lovers will need royal favor. Amid the swirling alliances of royalty and nobles, Bess and Will perform a dangerous dance of palace intrigue and pulse-pounding passions.
Brought to glowing life by the talented Kate Emerson, and seen through the eyes of a beautiful young noblewoman, By Royal Decree illuminates the lives of beautiful young courtiers in and out of the rich and compelling drama of the Tudor court.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
On the twenty-ninth day of January in 1542, twenty-six eligible young women sat at table in Whitehall Palace with King Henry. An additional thirty-five occupied a second table close by. We were arranged by precedence, with the highest-born maidens closest to the king. As the daughter of a baron, I was assigned a seat at the first table, but there were others of nobler birth between me and His Grace.
From that little distance, King Henry the Eighth of England was a glorious sight. At first I could scarcely take my eyes off him. He glittered in the candlelight. Not only did he wear a great many jewels on his person, everything from a diamond cross to a great emerald with a pearl pendant, but the cloth itself was embroidered with gold thread.
I pinched myself to make certain I was not dreaming. Everything at court seemed to sparkle, from the rich tapestries to the painted ceilings to the glass in the windows. I had arrived from Kent the previous day and was still in awe of my surroundings. I had lived in comfort for all of my fifteen and a half years, but this opulent level of luxury stunned me.
Wondrous dishes appeared before me, one after another. When I tasted the next offering, I closed my eyes in delight. The sweet taste of sugar, combined with ginger and the tart flavor of an unknown fruit, exploded on my tongue. I sighed with pleasure and took another spoonful of this marvelous concoction.
“Have you tried the syllabub?” I asked the woman seated beside me. “It is most delicious.”
She did not appear to have eaten anything. Although she’d taken a piece of bread and a bit of meat from the platters the king’s gentlemen had brought around, she’d done no more than toy with the food. At my urging, she spooned a small portion of the syllabub into her mouth.
“Indeed,” she said. “Most delicious.” But instead of eating more, she fixed her bright, dark blue eyes on me, examining me so intently that I began to feel uncomfortable under her steady stare.
I reminded myself that I looked my best. My copper-colored gown was richly embroidered. My pale yellow hair had been washed only that morning. Barely two inches of it showed at the front of my new French hood, but it was a very pretty color and it would have reached nearly to my waist if it had not been caught up in a net at the back.
“Mistress Brooke?” my neighbor asked. “Lord Cobham’s daughter?”
I gave her my most brilliant smile. “Yes, I am Bess Brooke.”
Thawing in the face of my friendliness, she introduced herself as Nan Bassett. She was only a few years older than I was. The tiny bit of hair that showed at the front of her headdress was light brown and she had the pink-and-white complexion I’d heard was favored at court. I had such a complexion myself, and eyes of the same color, too, although mine were a less intense shade of blue.
We chatted amiably for the rest of the meal. I learned that she had been a maid of honor to each of King Henry’s last three wives. She’d been with Queen Jane Seymour when Queen Jane gave birth to the king’s heir, Prince Edward, who was now five years old. She’d been with Queen Anna of Cleves, until the king annulled that marriage in order to wed another of Queen Anna’s maids of honor, Catherine Howard. And she had served Queen Catherine Howard, too, until Catherine betrayed her husband with another man and was arrested for treason.
Queen no more, Catherine Howard was locked in the Tower of London awaiting execution. The king needed a new bride to replace her. If the rumors I’d heard were true, that was why there were no gentlemen among our fellow guests. His Grace had gathered together prospective wives from among the nobility and gentry of England.
I had been summoned to court by royal decree. My parents had accompanied me to Whitehall Palace and impressed upon me that this was a great opportunity. They did not expect the king to choose me, but whatever lady did become the next queen would need maids of honor and waiting gentlewomen.
Conversation stopped when King Henry stood. Everyone else rose from their seats as well and remained on their feet while His Grace moved slowly from guest to guest, using a sturdy wooden staff to steady his steps. As he made his ponderous way down the length of the table, shuffling along through the rushes that covered the tiled floor, I saw to my dismay that, beneath the glitter, he was not just a large man. He was fat. He wore a corset in a futile attempt to contain his enormous bulk. I could hear it creak with every step he took.
The king spoke to each woman at table. When he spent a little longer with one particular pretty, dark-haired girl, a buzz of speculation stirred the air. Whispers and covert nudges and winks followed in the king’s wake. As His Grace approached, I grew more and more anxious, although I was not sure why. By the time he stopped in front of Mistress Bassett, I was vibrating with tension.
She sank into a deep curtsy, her eyes fixed on the floor.
“My dear Nan.” The king took her hand and drew her upright. “You appear to thrive in my daughter’s household.”
“The Lady Mary is a most kind mistress, Your Grace,” Nan Bassett said.
He chuckled and shifted his meaty, bejeweled fingers from her hand to her shoulder. “She is fortunate to have you, sweeting.”
Nan’s smile never wavered, although his grip must have pinched. I admired her self-control.
I had no warning before His Grace shifted his attention to me. “And who is this beautiful blossom?” he demanded in a loud, deep voice that caught the interest of everyone else in the great hall.
I hastily made my obeisance. As I sank lower, I caught a whiff of the stench wafting up from the king’s game leg. In spite of layers of gaudy clothing, I could see the bulge of bandages wrapped thickly around His Grace’s left thigh.
King Henry stuck a sausage-shaped index finger under my chin and lifted my face until I was forced to meet his gimlet-eyed stare. It was fortunate that he did not expect me to do much more than give him my name. That I’d attracted the predatory interest of the most powerful man in England very nearly struck me dumb.
“I am Lord Cobham’s daughter, Your Grace,” I managed in a shaky whisper. “I am Elizabeth Brooke,” I added, lest he confuse me with one of my sisters.
I lowered my eyes, hoping he’d think me demure. The truth of the matter was that I was appalled by the ugliness of Henry Tudor’s bloated face and body. Any awe I’d felt earlier had been displaced by a nearly paralyzing sense of dread.
“Hah!” said the king, recognizing Father’s title. “Imagine George Brooke producing a pretty little thing like you!”
Next to King Henry, who was the tallest man in England, any woman would be dwarfed. As for Father, I’d always thought him exceptionally well favored. But I had the good sense not to contradict His Grace.
“What do you think of our court?” King Henry asked.
“It is very grand, Sire. I am amazed by all I have seen.”
The king took that as a compliment to himself and beamed down at me. I repressed a shudder. We had a copy of one of His Grace’s portraits at Cowling Castle. Once upon a time, he’d been a good-looking man. But now, at fifty, the bold warrior prince of yesteryear had disappeared into a potentate of mammoth proportions and chronic ill health.
Still, I knew my duty. I must pretend that the king was the most fascinating person I had ever met. That way lay advancement at court for my father and brothers as well as myself. I arranged my lips into a tremulous smile and tried to focus on His Grace’s pretty compliments. He praised my graceful carriage, my pink cheeks, and the color of my hair. All the while, his gaze kept straying from my face to my bosom. I have no idea what I said in reply to his effusive praise, but when he chucked me under the chin and moved on, I felt weak with relief.
King Henry stopped to speak a few brief words to the woman who was seated on the other side of me, my kinswoman Dorothy Bray, then abandoned her for a redhead with a noble nose and a nervous smile. Dorothy, her dark eyes alive with dislike, glared at me. “Brazen flirt,” she whispered.
I was not certain if she meant me or the redhead.
Although she was only two years my senior, Dorothy was my aunt, my mother’s much younger sister. Like Nan Bassett, Dorothy had been a maid of honor to Queen Catherine Howard. In common with most young women who held that post, she was attractive. She looked very fine dressed in dark blue. Her best feature was a turned-up nose, but her lips were too thin for true beauty and just now they were pursed in a way that made her almost ugly.
I was sorry that the king had not spent more time with Dorothy, since she was clearly envious of the attention he’d paid to me, but there was nothing I could do to remedy the situation. That being so, I ignored her and turned back to Nan Bassett. Nan was as friendly as before, but now she seemed distracted. I wondered if she, too, felt alarm at having caught the king’s interest.
Until the moment the king had called me a “beautiful blossom,” I had never regretted being pretty. I had taken it for granted that I was attractive, accepted without demur the compliments from the scattering of courtiers who’d visited my father at Cowling Castle, the Cobham family seat. Now, for the first time, I realized that it could be dangerous to be pretty.
What if His Grace chose me to be his next queen?
It was a terrifying thought, but so absurd that I was soon able to dismiss it. After all, the king had paid far more attention to Nan and to that dark-haired young woman, too.
When everyone adjourned to the king’s great watching chamber, where an assortment of sweets was served, we were free to move about as we sampled the offerings—pastries, comfits, suckets, marchpane, Florentines, candied fruits, and nuts dipped in sugar. Musicians played softly in the background, as they had during the meal, but the sound was nearly drowned out by talk and laughter.
I turned to ask Nan Bassett another question and discovered that she was no longer by my side. She’d reached the far side of the chamber before I located her. I watched her look all around, as if she wanted to be sure she was unobserved, and then slip past the yeoman of the guard and out of the room.
Considering, I bit into a piece of marchpane, a confection of blanched almonds and sugar. I found the sweetness cloying. The scent of cinnamon rose from another proffered treat, teasing me into inhaling deeply. I regretted giving in to the impulse. Along with a mixture of exotic aromas and the more mundane smell of melting candle wax, I once again caught a whiff of the horrible odor that emanated from the king’s ulcerous leg. Without my noticing his approach, he’d moved to within a foot of the place where I stood.
All at once the hundreds of tapers illuminating the chamber seemed far too bright. They revealed not only the ostentatious display, but also the less appealing underpinnings of the court. Beneath the jewels and expensive fabrics, the colors and the perfumes, there was rot.
His Grace stood with his back to me, but if I stayed where I was he could turn around and see me at any moment. To escape his notice, I followed Nan Bassett’s example. Palms sweating, I retreated, backing slowly away until other ladies filled the space between us. Then I turned and walked faster, toward the great doors that led to the rest of Whitehall Palace.
My steps slowed when I was faced with a yeoman of the guard clad in brilliant scarlet livery and holding a halberd. There was one problem with my escape plan. Whitehall was a maze of rooms and corridors so vast that I did not think I could find my way back to my parents’ lodgings on my own. With Nan Bassett gone, I knew only one other person at the banquet—Dorothy Bray. She was family, I told myself. If I asked for her help, she’d be obliged to give it.
As I searched for my young aunt, the musicians struck up a lively tune and the dancing began. Ladies partnered each other for the king’s entertainment, but Dorothy was not among them. The chamber was crowded, making it difficult to find anyone, and I was beginning to despair of ever making my escape when I passed a shadowy alcove. A bit of dark blue brocade protruded from it, the same color and fabric as Dorothy’s gown. Without stopping to think that she might not be alone, I stepped closer.
A man was kissing Dorothy with enthusiastic abandon. By his dress—a green velvet doublet with slashed and puffed sleeves and a jewel the size of a fist pinned to his bonnet—he was a member of the king’s household. One hand rested on Dorothy’s waist. The other was hidden from sight in the vicinity of her breast.
At the sound of my startled gasp, they sprang apart, exposing a good deal of Dorothy’s bosom. Abashed, I started to back away.
“Stay,” the man ordered in a low-pitched growl, and stepped out of the shadows.
I obeyed. Then I simply stared at him.
He was one of the most toothsome gentlemen I had ever seen. Tall and well built, his superb physical condition suggested that he participated in tournaments. I had never attended one, but I had heard that such events were a fixture of court life. Gentlemen vied with each other to show off their prowess with lance and sword. A man who looked this athletic was certain to be a champion jouster. His face, too, was perfection, with regular features, close-cropped auburn hair, and a neatly trimmed beard and mustache.
His eyes were light brown and full of annoyance as his gaze swept over me, from the top of my French hood to the toes of my new embroidered slippers and back up again. By the time they met mine for the second time, approval had replaced irritation.
Sheltered by her companion’s much larger body, Dorothy put her bodice to rights. Still tucking loose strands of dark brown hair into place beneath her headdress, she shoved him aside. Temper contorted her features into an ugly mask. “Begone, Bess!” she hissed. “Have you nothing better to do than spy on me?”
“I did not invade your privacy out of malice. I only wish to retire to my lodgings before His Grace notices me again and I do not know the way.”
The man chuckled. His mouth crinkled at the corners when he smiled at me, making him even more attractive. He doffed his bejeweled bonnet and bowed. “Will Parr at your service, mistress.”
Dorothy slammed the back of her hand into his velvet-clad chest the moment he straightened, preventing him from stepping closer to me. It was no gentle love tap, and if the look she turned my way could have set a fire, I’d have burst into flames on the spot. “That is Baron Parr of Kendal to you, niece.”
I was unimpressed by his title. My father was a baron, too, and so was my uncle, Dorothy’s younger brother. “Lord Parr,” I said, bobbing a brief curtsy in acknowledgment of his courtesy bow, as if we were about to be partners in a dance.
Our eyes met for the third time. I recognized a spark of male interest in his gaze, along with a twinkle of wry amusement. Without warning, butterflies took wing in my stomach. It was the most peculiar sensation, and one I had never experienced before. For a moment my mind went blank. I continued to stare at him, transfixed, my heart racing much too fast.
“If you truly wish to return to your mother,” Dorothy said with some asperity, “then do so. No one here will stop you.”
Her cold voice and harsh words broke the spell. I forced myself to look away from Lord Parr. Although I could not help but be pleased that such a handsome man found me attractive, I knew I should be annoyed with him on Dorothy’s behalf. “How am I to find my way there on my own?” I asked in a small, plaintive voice.
Dorothy’s fingers curled, as if she would like to claw me, but Lord Parr at once offered me his arm. “Allow me to escort you, Mistress Brooke. Brigands haunt the palace at night, you know, men who might be tempted to pluck a pretty flower like you if they found her alone in a dark passageway.”
I looked up at him and smiled. He was just a head taller than I.
“We will both accompany you.” Dorothy clamped a possessive hand on Lord Parr’s other arm with enough force to make him wince. We left the king’s great watching chamber with Lord Parr between us and walked the first little way in silence.
Dorothy’s anger disturbed me. She’d resented the few minutes His Grace had spent talking to me. And now she wanted to keep Lord Parr all to herself. But I was not her rival. And even if I was, I would be gone from court in another day or two.
My steps faltered as comprehension dawned. Dorothy would not be staying much longer either. There was no place at court for maids of honor or ladies of the privy chamber or even chamberers when the king lacked a queen. Dorothy would have to return to her mother—my grandmother Jane at Eaton Bray in Bedfordshire—until the king remarried. What I had interrupted must have been her farewell to her lover.
I glanced her way. Poor Dorothy. It might be many months before she saw Lord Parr again, and I had deprived her of an opportunity, rare at court, for a few moments of privacy.
Worse, although I had not intended it, I had caught Will Parr’s interest. I rushed into speech, uncomfortable with my memory of the profound effect he’d had on me. “Do you think the king has someone in mind to marry?”
“He paid particular attention to you.” Dorothy’s voice dripped venom. She walked a little faster along the torch-lit corridor, forcing us to match her pace.
A wicked thought came into my head. If the king made me his queen and Dorothy were my maid of honor, she’d be obliged to obey my slightest whim. I felt my lips twitch, but I sobered quickly when I remembered that in order to be queen, I’d first have to marry old King Henry. Nothing could make that sacrifice worthwhile!
“I wager Mistress Bassett has the lead,” Lord Parr said in a conversational tone, ignoring Dorothy’s simmering temper.
“Do you think so? Nan has caught His Grace’s eye in the past and nothing came of it.” Dorothy had reined in her emotions with the skill of a trained courtier.
They bandied about a few more names, but none that I recognized. I practiced prudence and held my tongue as we made our way through the maze of corridors and finally stopped before a door identical to dozens of others we’d passed.
“We have arrived,” Dorothy announced with an unmistakable note of relief in her voice. “Here are your lodgings, Bess. We’ll leave you to—”
The door abruptly opened to reveal my father, a big, barrel-chested man with a square face set off by a short, forked beard. His eyebrows lifted when he recognized Dorothy and Lord Parr. “Come in,” he said. “Have a cup of wine.” He fixed Dorothy with a stern look when she tried to excuse herself. “Your sister has been expecting a visit from you ever since we arrived at court.”
Father, Mother, and I had been assigned a double lodging—two large rooms with a fireplace in each and our own lavatory. The outer room was warm and smelled of spiced wine heating on a brazier. Somehow, in only a day, Mother had made the place her own. She’d brought tapestries from Cowling Castle to hang on the walls, including my favorite, showing the story of Paris and Helen of Troy. Our own servants had come with us to make sure we received food and drink in good time and that there was an adequate supply of wood for the fireplaces and coal for the braziers.
Unexpected company never perturbed my mother. She produced bread and cheese and gave the spiced wine a stir with a heated poker before filling goblets for everyone. The drink was a particular favorite of Father’s, claret mixed with clarified honey, pepper, and ginger.
Lord Parr made a face after he took his first sip. “Clary, George? What’s wrong with a good Rhenish wine, perhaps a Brabant?”
“Nothing . . . if you add honey and cloves,” Father said with a laugh. “You are too plain in your tastes, Will.”
“Only in wines.”
I was not surprised that the two men knew each other. They both sat in the House of Lords when Parliament was in session. Standing by the hearth, they broadened their discussion of wines to include Canary and Xeres sack.
I joined Mother and Dorothy, who sat side by side on a long, low-backed bench, exchanging family news in quiet voices. I settled onto a cushion on the floor, leaning against Mother’s knees. At once she reached out to rest one hand on my shoulder.
The sisters did not look much alike. Mother’s hair was light brown and her eyes were blue like mine. She was shorter than Dorothy, too, and heavier, and markedly older, since she’d been married with at least one child of her own by the time Dorothy was born. She might never have been as pretty as her younger sister, but she had always been far kinder.
“Speaking of imports,” Lord Parr said, “I have just brought a troupe of musicians to England from Venice, five talented brothers who were delighted to have found a patron.”
The mention of music caught Mother’s attention. “How fortunate for you,” she said.
“My wife dearly loves music,” Father said. “She insists that all our children learn to play the lute and the virginals and the viol, too.”
“I play the virginals,” Lord Parr confessed, after which he and my mother discussed the merits of that instrument for nearly a quarter of an hour, until Dorothy, with a series of wide but unconvincing yawns, prevailed upon him to escort her to the chamber she shared with several other former maids of honor.
“As you told Bess,” she reminded him, “it is not safe for a woman to walk unescorted through Whitehall Palace at night.” She all but pushed him out the door.
A moment later, she stuck her head back in. “You should take Bess home and keep her there, Anne,” she said to my mother. “The king singled her out and admired her beauty. You know what that means.”
Dorothy’s second departure left behind a startled silence.
“Did His Grace pay uncommon attention to you?” Mother exchanged a worried glance with Father. The concern in her voice made me long to reassure her, but there was no way to hide the truth. Too many people had noted the king’s interest in me and would remember exactly how long we had spoken together.
“He . . . he called me a pretty little thing.” I squirmed under their scrutiny, feeling like a fly caught in a spider’s web.
“And what did you think of him?” Father asked.
“That he is old and fat and diseased and that I want no part of him!”
“Oh, George,” Mother said. “What shall we do? What if His Grace wants Bess to remain at court?”
“He’s not yet said he does, and as I’ve no desire to dangle our daughter in front of him like a carrot before a mule, we will leave for home first thing in the morning.”
“But if he is looking for a wife, as everyone says he is—”
“Then he will have to look elsewhere. It is not as if there are not plenty of willing wenches available.”
“Sixty of them, by my count,” I said. Relief made me giddy. “Although I suppose a few of them, even though they are still unmarried, may already be betrothed.” I had been myself, to a boy I’d met only once, but he’d died. So far, no other arrangement had been made for me.
Mother exchanged another speaking glance with Father but said only, “Are you certain, Bess, that you wish to cut short your first visit to court?”
“I would gladly stay on if I could avoid the king,” I admitted. “But for the nonce, I much prefer to be gone. Perhaps I can return after King Henry makes his selection. Surely, with so many ladies to choose from, it will not take His Grace long to find a new queen.”
© 2010 Kathy Lynn Emerson
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Secrets of the Tudor Court: By Royal Decree includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Kate Emerson. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
In the third book of Kate Emerson’s Secrets of the Tudor Court series, young lady-in-waiting Elizabeth (Bess) Brooke takes center stage amid the tumultuous times of Tudor-era England. As a young gentlewoman, Bess enters court life a naïve and inexperienced maid. But history, fortune, and love change all of that, as young Bess climbs the noble ranks and witnesses the volatile nature of England’s royal, political, and religious climate. Holding tight to her one true love, Will Parr, Bess learns just how dramatically a life can be affected by royal decree—and how precious each moment truly is.
TOPICS AND QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Under whose rule did Bess and Will’s love for each other flourish most? Consider Henry and Kathryn, King Edward, Queen Mary, and Elizabeth Tudor.
2. Would Bess have had a happier, easier life if she had married Harry or Jack?
3. As indicated in the author’s note, all but a few characters in By Royal Decree were actual historical figures. Which ones did you find most appealing? Which came to life off the page?
4. Were you surprised at Bess’s arrow shot during Thomas Wyatt’s siege on Cobham Castle?
5. Considering the time, was it right for Bess to marry Will, even with Anne Bourchier entitled to the Parr estate? Do you ever feel sympathetic to Anne? And should true love prevail over royal decree?
6. Discuss the various uprisings and religious controversies that occur over the course of the story. When was the threat of imprisonment/ execution most palpable? Were you surprised at how quickly some courtiers changed their religious affiliations? (Consider especially Northumberland and Parr’s conversion to Catholicism while imprisoned.) Would you switch your beliefs under duress? How tightly should one grasp to what she thinks is right?
7. What did you make of Tom Seymour’s character? Was he nothing more than a lecher? How did you react to his ill-advised breaking and entering at King Edward’s palace?
8. Bess’s desire for a child remains unfulfilled by the story’s end. Should she and Will have fostered Mary Seymour? Do you think Bess is being honest with herself when she says that Will’s love is all she needs?
9. Which gentlewoman (besides Bess, of course) did you enjoy most? Can you trace the progress of her initial court mates through the story?
ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
1. Partake in Tudor-era sports like archery and tennis while dressed in your finest imitation of livery!
2. If you haven’t already, read the first two books in Kate Emerson’s Secrets of the Tudor Court series, The Pleasure Palace and Between Two Queens. How do they compare? Who is your favorite protagonist (Bess Brooke, Jane Popyncourt, or Nan Bassett)?
3. Emerson goes to great lengths to paint a very distinct picture of the era. Discuss the facets of the court that come to life the most. For those with artistic inclination, try to paint or draw one of your favorite scenes!
4. If you get the opportunity, visit the Tower of London and imagine what it must have been like for poor Will Parr!
5. Research and watch any number of movies depicting the Tudor era. How do they compare to each other in terms of bringing the time period to life? Does the visual rendering match the image that Emerson creates in words?
A CONVERSATION WITH KATE EMERSON
Why did you choose Bess Brooke as the focal point for your third book in the series? What about her (compared to Jane and Nan) made you want to tell a story from her vantage point?
The first thing that caught my attention was the report that the Marchioness of Northampton had been the one to suggest Lady Jane Grey as a bride for Lord Guildford Dudley. Since this match turned out to be so significant to history, I wondered why she’d suggested it and if she had any idea of the possible consequences at the time. I cannot, however, draw any comparisons between my interest in Bess Brooke and my interest in Jane Popyncourt and Nan Bassett. I have a long-standing fascination with the lives of many relatively unknown Tudor women.
In the opening scene, as King Henry flirts with the gathering of single women, he briefly singles Bess out. She escapes his gazes, but do you think she would have made a good queen?
I doubt it. She was still very young at that point—still a teenager. The other teenager King Henry married, Catherine Howard, was not a notable success in the role of queen.
Did Bess and Will ever have children?
What is your research process like for writing these books? You obviously have an amazing grasp of the era and its events. Does it ever get confusing, especially with how volatile the regime and title changes appear to be?
I’ve been collecting information on the Tudor era for more than forty years, so much of my research is simply a matter of finding the right books on my shelves or notes in my file cabinets. For specific details, I rely heavily on inter-library loans and make frequent visits to the online Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. There are many opportunities for confusion, and it can be a challenge to get the facts straight. It doesn’t help that modern screenwriters have taken such tremendous liberties with real people’s lives to create dramas for television series and movies. Little-known Tudor women are even more likely to be misrepresented, even by some highly regarded scholars, because there has been and still is less research being done into their lives than on the lives of more prominent women, such as the six wives of Henry VIII. My hobby (my husband calls it my obsession) is A Who’s Who of Tudor Women, which can be found at my website www.KateEmersonHistoricals.com. I’m constantly adding to this, and making corrections and additions to the existing mini-biographies. The number of entries will surpass the one thousand mark by the end of 2010.
Your books have done quite well, and the Tudor era has been popular in a variety of other mediums. What about the era keeps readers and viewers coming back for more?
I suspect it is because the times (and King Henry himself) seem bigger than life, not only in spectacle and pageantry, but also in grandiose schemes. Real treason plots and spy stories abound, fruitful ground for the novelist. And, of course, there was always plenty of court intrigue for the ladies to indulge in.
Did Bess actually take aim at Tom Wyatt with a bow and arrow? What was it like writing that scene? It’s a brief moment, but one that I think readers will be shocked by, as Bess would have become a murderer if not for Tom’s chain mail.
This incident is entirely fictitious. We don’t know where Bess was when Wyatt attacked the castle. But since we don’t, I felt free to have her join her family during the siege. If she was there, frustrated by events, distraught over her situation with Will, fearing she was about to see her father and his men slain by her cousin the rebel, why wouldn’t she be driven to help defend the castle? Since her ability with a bow had already been set up in an early scene in the novel, shooting at Wyatt didn’t seem to me to be at all out of character. Of course, she is shocked by her own action afterward, but I’m not sure she would have regretted it if she had succeeded in killing Tom. As it was, several of Bess’s father’s men were killed during the siege.
Who is your favorite queen?
I don’t have one. I’m not particularly taken with any of King Henry’s six wives, or with his niece, Lady Jane Grey, or with his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth. Many sixteenth-century Englishwomen are far more interesting to me—but I don’t have a favorite among them either.
How do you choose where to embellish/alter history and where not to?
I try very hard never to change historical facts. If there are two interpretations of what happened, however, I feel free to pick the one that works best for my plot. I do embellish what is known, if my characters are involved, in order to offer a rationale for the behavior recorded by history.
Do you create characters with a single purpose in mind?
I create very few purely fictional characters, but when I do, they are usually servants—a maidservant to act as a sounding board for my protagonist or a go-between to discover information she could not obtain on her own.
Is it difficult writing an established character who has a predetermined personality and a well-known history of decisions? Are you still able to find artistic freedom within the confines of historical accuracy?
I find it a challenge to write about real people. There may be certain facts known about a real person, but his or her background and relationships to others are usually unrecorded by history. This gives me the freedom to extrapolate from what is known. I just keep asking myself why someone would have done what s/he did and look at the other people around him or her and the events both earlier and later in his or her life to find answers.
Are you working on another book in the series? If so, who are you going to focus on next?
The next book in the series, At the King’s Pleasure, is the story of Lady Anne Stafford, who was at the center of a scandal at the court of Henry VIII in May 1510.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
i really enjoyed this book. just like philippa gregory's books, but better. I loved every word of it, am going to read more from her. :)
For anyone who is obsessed with the Tudor story this is a must read. It gives the story of Jane Popyncourt, a young woman who comes from France with her mother in order to escape rumors. You get to see how Henry Tudor became King Henry VIII and how even as a child he possessed many similar qualities he did as an adult. This book gives a new perspective and instead of focusing on one of Henry's wives you get a feel of how he ruled and exactly how courtiers were expected to behave. This book has everything we have come to know and expect from King Henry VIII: romance, thrills, and of course drama, drama, drama. You will have a hard time putting this book down and once you finish it you want more.
I have read all three of the series. I really have enjoyed each of the books and can't wait till the next one comes out in Sept!! I would recommend the series
I thoroughly enjoyed Between Two Queens ¿ the first book I have read by Kate Emerson. I did not want to stop reading it ! I think that the cover could have been chosen more carefully ¿ for me the cover choice would be more appropriate for a real romance sort of novel rather than the good historical novel that this book actually is.The story follows the lives of Nell Caxton , the daughter of William Caxton (the man who brought he first printing press to England) and of her best friend Elizabeth (Bessie) - daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. The book follows the period right before and after the death of Edward IV. It chronicles the chaos that ensued as Richard III grabbed for the reigns of England; ostensibly imprisoning and later murdering his nephews (the Princes in the Tower) and forcing Elizabeth Woodville and her family into the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey. This book has it all: history, family feuds, greed, political conniving, love, I found this to be an absorbing read ¿ with well defined characters and well executed plot that never lagged. The narration is in chapters by both Nell and Bessie. I found Nell to be an interesting character but perhaps a bit too cold ¿ then again perhaps that is exactly how a highly educated, independent woman of the time had to be in order to survive and prosper. Nell¿s lover (a chaste love I should mention) was Antony, Lord Rivers who Richard also had executed for allegedly conspiring to take over the protectorate of his nephew Edward. Bessie is enamored with her uncle Richard III whose was married at the time to Anne (Neville).I read one review that called this book Tudor lite ¿ and in some ways I concur. This is, after all, historical fiction ¿ not non-fiction. The book does, however, contain mostly historically correct information. One feature that I especially liked about this book is the section in the back called ¿ the who¿s who of the Tudor Court¿ which provides abbreviated biographical sketches of the characters in the book. Also included are an interview with the author and an excellent reading group guide. Anyone interested in British history, the Tudors and good historical fiction will thoroughly enjoy this book I think.
Kate Emerson's Between Two Queens cover looks like a standard issue Tudor romance, but readers may be surprise to find a novel of surprising historical heft. Emerson has done the unthinkable as she tells a story of King Henry VIIIs infamous court that even die hard European Royalty Fiction fans will be unfamilar with. Basing the the novel on actual Historical letters, Emerson builds the story of Nan Basset, a young courtier hoping to become a Lady in Waiting to Jane Seymour and from the position secure a good husband. Nan almost immeadiately catches the eye of King Henry and through her story we get glimpses King Henry's court throughout the reign of Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard which never fails to fascinate. Emerson also portarys the realities that Nan must have had to face-- family fortunes rising and falling at the whim of the King, and the encouragement to advance her family through seduction and husbandry. Credit goes to Emerson for trying to give Nan's actions grim consequences and not forcing a fairy tale ending. Fans of the genre should be pleased. A historical afterward, family trees, and a Q and A with the author add historical credibility to the edition. Having said that, there is some typical Tudor romace elements in the mix: contrived romances, the occasionaly awkward (and pointless?) shifts in point of view, flat characters without motivation or dymanic personalities.
In Kate Emerson¿s second book in her ¿Secrets of the Tudor court¿ series; she has taken letters about one of Jane Seymour¿s¿ Maids Of Honor and tries to bring us a story of many layers. It is a novel filled with court intrigue, treachery, treason and scandal and political and religious machinations. She has chosen a time towards the end of Henry the VIII life when his health, looks and charm were on the wane. She has also chosen to make Anne (Nan) Basset a strong woman who has always made her choices reflect on what she can gain both for herself and her family.Unfortunately for me this book just reminded me that history never fails to repeat itself, whether with our politicians or with the nouveau riche - sadly, I could never seem to get the picture of Donald Trump out of my mind whenever I was reading about the King!Between Two Queens opens with Nan being chosen as one of the Maids of Honor to a very pregnant Queen Jane. When Jane Seymour dies after childbirth Nan captures the Kings eye and he hers. At the same time another younger, poorer man has become smitten with Nan. Nan chooses to have a dalliance with Ned, getting pregnant in the process and instead of marrying him, decides to give up her child and to encourage the Kings roving eye and dreams of becoming Queen.The characters of Anne and her ¿friend¿ Ned where never convincing to me; they were shallow and manipulative and while that may have been what really went on during this reign, I felt that they could have been painted just a little bit more human and made to be a bit more interesting.Much of the story had deep gaps and some parts even seemed to have been added after the fact with the author sometimes not even completing a plot thread. The so called mystery and intrigue really wasn¿t mysterious or intriguing. It was more boring than anything. I admit that I really do not know anything about this time period nor do I have more than a passing fancy with the Tudors¿so if you are reading this book cold like I did, I think you may be very disappointed. DO NOT judge this book by its cover. It has been given the cover of what one would assume is a historical romance, it is not.
The story begins in 1537, King Henry VIII is in the middle of his reign and married to his 3rd wife Jane Seymour. Nan (Anne) Bassett & her sister Cat (Katherine) arrive at court. One of them is to be chosen to be a maid of honor to Queen Jane. Nan soon learns that the Tudor Court is a dangerous place to live, with games and intrigue around every corner.I have always enjoyed reading about the Tudor Court but this is the first time I've read anything about Anne Bassett or her connection to the court. I really felt for Nan, while she was a maid of honor, she was constantly being moved around. I believe this made her feel like she didn't know where she belonged. While she was ambitious, she just wanted her bit of happiness.I found Between Two Queens to be a riveting tale rich in detail and character. A story of hope, ambition, and finding your place in life. Nan Bassett, a most interesting figure. She is full of spirit and hope that will keep you turning the page.
Secrets of the Tudor Court: Between Two Queens by Kate Emerson Historical Romance-Jan. 5, 20104 stars Between Two Queens is an interesting peek into the Court life of the Tudor reign as seen through the eyes of the brash and young Anne Basssett. Nan Basset was a real person and Kate Emerson does a wonderful job of bringing her to life. From the moment Nan Basset is chosen as a Maid of Honor to Queen Jane she hopes to use her position to find a young, wealthy and well-connected husband and further the ambitions of her and family. But her plans are thrown into turmoil when Queen Jane suddenly dies after giving birth. Nan is left adrift, she no longer has a post and she struggles to find a way to stay at court, the seat of power. But her drive is derailed with the attentions of King Henry VIII and constant intrigue that keeps her on her toes. Can Nan find love and navigate her way through court while still helping her family? This was a fascinating look into the Tudor Court that felt real and alive. Greed and power drive much of the action in this story as the characters try to find favor with either the King or Queen. It is really a tale of a young woman¿s coming of age. Nan is determined to have a life away from her overbearing mother. But when she first arrives she is unprepared for the danger, intrigue and excesses of court life. Nan quickly learns and is soon planning and manipulating her way through the often malicious court life. This book sometimes did feel a little like an autobiography although the author does an excellent job of making Nan more accessible. I often had the feel of reading a Philippa Gregory historical but for me it lacked a little of the emotional connection I¿ve had when reading Philippa Gregory¿s stories. Although I did find the story absorbing, the one weak spot for me was that I never really warmed up to Nan. Nan¿s self absorption and cunning made for good reading but I never felt very sympathetic towards her. It would have been nice if she rose above some of the actions of the other court players and was not so devious or self-centered but I believe the author showed her actions to demonstrate the reality of Tudor Times and the need for survival. If you love historicals, (especially books by Phillippa Gregory) and thrill at dangerous intrigue this is a solid book you will not want to miss! Reviewed by Steph from the Bookaholics Romance Book Club
It has been awhile since I have read a book regarding the court of Henry VIII and this was the perfect book to return to that time period. I enjoyed Jane as the main character and despite her naivety at the beginning of the book she surprised me at how she was able to navigate Henry¿s court. I was actually surprised that Jane was portrayed at being such good friends with so many males without being the target of more venomous gossip regarding her morals.Although references are made to Henry¿s lovers the focus of this book is not him and his love life but rather how it impinges on where Jane wants her life to go. Having read a few other books about Henry and his various wives I had some internal confusion of Henry, Mary and Margaret¿s personality quirks and actions as I would mix up this book with the ones I¿ve read in the past. However, I would have to say this one is one of my favorite¿s set in Henry VIII¿s court.
I wanted to like these books. I wanted to like them enough to keep them in the library and recommend them to other Tudor history buffs. Even after reading all three, I kept looking for a reason to like them. But that just never happened.Kate Emerson advertises herself as an ¿expert in all things Tudor,¿ which right off the bat makes me suspicious. Tudor history is large and messy; covering many decades and hundreds of players. From the seamtresses who designed the gowns and costumes for the royals to the scullery maid in any given kitchen, Tudor history is crowded with people wanting to tell their story. Being an expert in all things Tudor can¿t be done.These books were written poorly, even woodenly at times and are overwrought with romantic conjecture and conniving. They are set in the Tudor court, and they follow minor characters of the Tudor court, but they are not about the Tudors. These are romance novels dressed up in Tudor regalia. These are not the stories of fully-rounded people whose stock in trade must be courtly intrigue and politics in order to survive. I found these books to be flat, boring at times and kept hoping for more ¿ something.If you want to read really good historical fiction about the Tudor era, especially Elizabeth I, stick to Phiippa Gregory
In the famous British court of Henry VIII, political games, ambition, secrets and lust are commonplace. Understanding these concepts and being able to utilize them is crucial. In the case of the Jane Popyncourt, secrets are a method of survival. After being brought to Henry VII's court at a young age and under strange circumstances, Jane becomes the ward of the king and teaches his daughters, the Princesses Mary and Margaret, French. Jane grows up around the royal family, eventually installing herself as one of Princess Mary's ladies and a spy for King Henry VIII. Jane's life at court seems to be secure, until the mysterious secrets surrounding her past begin to resurface.Kate Emerson's Secrets of the Tudor Court: The Pleasure Palace is another entry into the massive (and still growing) collection of historical fiction novels set in the dramatic, soap opera-like Tudor era. And it's not a bad entry by any means -the writing is easy to understand, the characters are three-dimensional and enjoyable and many of the plot concepts in the novel are fascinating.However, the interesting plot points seem to not come often enough. The book does move, but very slowly at times, making the action a little uneven. Also, I had some issues with Emerson's playing with history. While I do understand that this is a historical fiction novel, some of the fiction just felt too forced when integrated with the history. I'm usually just fine with the fiction, but in The Pleasure Palace it seemed to cross a line -plus much of the dialog just felt too modern for me to feel completely engaged in the period. Overall an enjoyable and fun read, but there are better Tudor novels out there...Fans of romantic Tudor era fiction may enjoy The Pleasure Palace, but those who are sticklers for historical accuracy should give it a miss...
While reading this book I was constantly waiting for something to happen. It was as if it continued to build and build and build; at the end only two minor events happened as a result of the "building" of the story. I was disappointed and thought that more could have been done to add to this plot.
Emerson's first book in what I believe is going to be a series set during the Tudor period is based upon Jane Popyncourt, a member of the Tudor Court and of whom very little is known, giving the author more leeway to craft her tale. When the French King dies mysteriously Jane's mother flees to England with her daughter and seeks shelter with her twin brother at Henry VII's court. Jane is taken to Eltham to be raised with the royal children and after the mysterious death of her mother she is made a ward of Henry VII and raised in the royal household with Henry and his two sisters Margaret and Mary. As an adult Jane serves the Princess Mary, although her life takes a bit of a turn when a highly born French prisoner of war takes an interest in her - an interest that Henry VIII encourages hoping for a state secret or two. As Jane begins to hope for happiness with the one man who loves her, her search for the answers to her mother's death and the reason for the mad flight from France spins Jane into a perilous situation with life-threatening consequences. I greatly appreciated the time and effort the author put into her research - she especially did a great job with the details of life in the Tudor Court, the clothes, the food, the tournaments, Henry and his mistresses, etc. and the author was able to do that without making me feel like I was being clubbed over the head with the minute details. I liked the fact that the author gives you the family trees of the English and French Nobility of the period, along with a who's who in the back of the book. Jane was an enjoyable, albeit a bit too spunky and independent heroine, but in the end the big mystery fell just a tad bit flat for me. Why anyone would consider the big mystery such a threat that they would want bump people off just stretched the believability factor. A very easy breezy read - light and entertaining but one that's not likely to stick with you long after its finished. 3.5/5 stars, rounded up to four.
Kate Emerson veers off her normal routine by tackling the dramas of the Tudor Court with this new novel. Jane Popyncourt's life is fictionalized in this fun novel although she truly was a ward of King Henry VII. We are introduced to Jane Popyncourt as a young girl fleeing her home France to seek refuge in England with the King. Jane is young enough to not question how it is that she has this privilege, although as a reader that is in the back of our minds, we are just made aware there is a family connection.Meanwhile, orphaned Jane is being raised with the Royal Family, befriending Lady Mary and tutoring her and her sister Margaret in French. Years later as Jane is reunited with a childhood friend from France, she realizes there is some mystery to her background. She begins her quest among unhelpful court ladies to learn more about her mother.Jane is portrayed as knowing how to act as a lady at the appropriate times, but she is ready to sow some wild oats when she meets a dashing Duc de Longueville Louis D'Orleans, a prisoner of War. Thus she gains a reputation, coupled with the fact that she is a foreigner, she does not have a bright future ahead of her. Jane must find her way, and learn the truth to her heritage amidst a dangerous time of war.Kate's novel is full of historical tidbits as far as how the courtiers dresssed, their jewels, the pageants and parties; just enough information to not sound like non-fiction but more to give us a sense of being right there in Jane's presence. This is a novel full of romance, mystery and intrigue. The writing was well-done and the book was an easy read and I am looking forward to the next installment in the Tudor Court series. This is a must read for anyone who enjoys Historical Fiction, I give this one 5 stars!
The title of this book made me pretty embarrassed to have this book on my Goodreads shelf. It was, however, a good read. (ha!) This is yet another view of the Tudor court, as lived and seen and experienced by Jane Popyncourt, a real person, but fictionalized here.
An absolutely wonderful read! Don't let the title throw you off. The Pleasure Palace is not a bodice ripper; rather a very good piece of historical fiction. Period detail is presented in a manner that both furthers the storyline and enlightens as well. I will read more works by Kate Emerson.
Throughly enjoyed for a short read.