It appears that the vocabulary of the Covid-19 pandemic has now permeated historical fiction. The reader of this book is informed twice that Henry VII has put the royal palaces into “lockdown” because of outbreaks of disease. No mention of courtiers having to practise social distancing or WFH, but, even so, a lot of the language in this just doesn’t quite sound right in a Tudor-era novel. It’s not a brilliant book, but the author deserves credit for sticking to the known facts about events (unlike certain other authors, cough, Philippa Gregory), being nice about Lady Margaret Beaufort, being even-handed about Henry VII, and writing a book about the little-known figure of Joan Vaux, later Joan Guildford, governess to Henry VII’s daughters. She was praised by Erasmus. That’s impressive!
Erasmus doesn’t actually feature in this, though, because the book’s set before their meeting. I assume that there’ll be a sequel, because Joan, although she was a protegee of Lady Margaret Beaufort and a friend and lady-in-waiting to Elizabeth of York, is best-known for accompanying Princess Mary to France for her ill-fated marriage to Louis XII and for testifying that the marriage of Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon had been consummated. This book, however, is set between 1485 and 1501. We get a lot about court life and the various plots involving Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck (everyone in my history A-level group was bizarrely obsessed with Perkin Warbeck 🙂 ), and it’s made clear that Perkin Warbeck is definitely not Richard of York and that the real princes definitely disappeared in Richard III’s time. We also see Joan’s personal life: she was married off to a widower with six children, but the book suggests – I don’t think anyone really knows, because not much has been written about them – that she was initially reluctant but that the marriage was very happy.
Her husband’s various roles meant that she spent a lot of time at the Tower of London, and there’s a sub-plot about her loving the ravens and protecting them from a baddie who wants to shoot them all … I’m not quite sure what the point of that storyline was, but, hey, it was different!
It’s not the world’s greatest book, and it finds it necessary to explain the historical background as if the reader knows nothing about it, but there’s always something comforting about Tudor-era novels – although that’s probably just me, because they take me back to A-level days! Joanna Hickson’s written better books than this, but it’s an easy read and it’s really not bad.