It’s tough to tell, because some titles are duplicated, but the Library of Congress seems to list somewhere on the order of 200 novels under the subject headings “Great Britain–History–Henry VIII, 1509-1547–Fiction” and “Henry VIII, King of England, 1491-1547–Fiction.” Hey, we even reviewed one of them earlier this year. And those 200 titles don’t include such Tudor-era novels as Nancy Bilyeau’s The Crown, which we reviewed last year–it gets a simple heading of “Great Britain –History –Tudors, 1485-1603 –Fiction.” For some context, “Caesar, Julius–Fiction” clocks in at 80 titles, and “Washington, George, 1732-1799–Fiction” gets 64, both without duplicates deleted. It seems safe to say that Henry VIII (along with the Tudor era, which he and his daughter Elizabeth defined) is among the most interesting figures for historical novelists.* And (in my opinion) for good reason: King of England, a man with six wives and numerous mistresses, founder of a major branch of Christianity, Henry and his family are endlessly fascinating.
Today, we look at two more entries into this fictional canon. The first, Laura Andersen’s The Boleyn King, is a fascinating piece of alternate history, asking what might have happened if Henry and Anne Boleyn had had a male heir. For those not up on their Henry-lore, Anne was Henry’s second wife, for whom he broke from the Catholic Church. Their daughter, Elizabeth, became (by many reckonings) one of England’s greatest monarchs, but Henry, not able to foresee a great female monarch, had Anne beheaded, on the pretext of infidelity, but in fact because of her “failure” to produce a male heir. So Andersen’s question is a huge one–a male Boleyn would have changed the course of English history to an enormous extent, and Andersen clearly recognizes the size of her undertaking: the second of three books in the series, The Boleyn Deceit, comes out in November.
The second book for today, Elizabeth Fremantle’s Queen’s Gambit, is a more straightforward historical novel, looking at the life of probably the least examined of Henry’s wives, his sixth and final wife, Katherine Parr. Interestingly, Fremantle’s book is also the first in a trilogy, with the second, Sisters of Treason, due out in May 2014. With no signs of interest in all things Tudor waning, these two novels should be great additions to YA collections with fans of the period.
ANDERSEN, Laura. The Boleyn King. 340p. Ballantine. May. 2013. pap. $15. ISBN 9780345534095; ebook ISBN 9780345534101.
Adult/High School-Set against the backdrop of the turbulent Tudor reign, this intriguing foray into an alternative history asks: What if Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn had a healthy son? That son, 18-year-old William, is soon to be crowned King of England. But a 16th-century Tudor Court is rife with politics, intrigue, and unrest. Danger surrounds William everywhere with none more important than the threatened rebellion against the crown in the name of Mary, the Catholic daughter of Henry and his first queen, Catherine. Because William’s mother was rumored to have had lovers, including her own brother, the search for an important document that could refute William’s legitimacy becomes the center of conspiracy and subterfuge. Against all these threats, William has three confidants: his sister, the Princess Elizabeth; Minuette, Elizabeth’s lady in waiting; and his best friend, Dominic. Working together, they begin the search to unearth the truth about this document. In real life, Queen Anne lost her head, Henry went on to marry four more times, and the only son he had that lived long enough to reign was Edward, his son with Jane Seymour. Here, historical characters live alongside fictional ones in an unfolding story of intrigue. Give this book to every teen who has loved the entire array of Boleyn/Henry VIII and other Tudor historical novels. The unfinished ending suggests the second of three that will be awaited with anticipation.-Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA
FREMANTLE, Elizabeth. Queen’s Gambit. 432p. S & S. Aug 2013. Tr $26. ISBN 9781476703060.
Adult/High School–A modern rhyme describes the wives of England’s King Henry VII as: “Divorced, beheaded, died; Divorced, beheaded…” and then there’s Katherine Parr, who survived. The last of King Henry VIII’s six wives, she was a reluctant bride. Married twice before, she did not relish Henry’s attentions and rightfully feared the outcome of such a union. In the four years she was married to Henry, her heart was really with the dazzling–and conniving–Thomas Seymour. In Queen’s Gambit, readers are introduced to Dot, Katherine’s maid who tells her own story alongside that of Katherine. From this vantage point, readers see the behind-the-scenes intrigues and observes Katherine as she becomes mother to the king’s previous children, Mary, Elizabeth, and Edward, while hoping to conceive her own, securing the succession and possibly her life. But Henry dies first, and Katherine heads toward wedlock with handsome, charming–but flawed–Thomas Seymour, her own true love. Fremantle communicates the tension and fear that Katherine feels, like many of her time and station close to the King, and brings them to life. It is excellent writing indeed when even though the ending is known, readers find themselves hoping that, this time, things will be different. When Katherine first hears about the king’s interest in her, and later, when she knows that there are those plotting against her, readers feel the terror and uncertainty. Teens who like to read about the Tudors will find another excellent addition to their legacy.–Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA
*I didn’t do an exhaustive study, but I have a feeling the overall win goes to Jesus: “Jesus Christ–Fiction” gets 717 titles on LOC’s catalog.