Destination: England (in the 16th century)
King Henry VIII, not to mention his daughter Princess Mary, could have used some of that advice on the Internet about packing light.
I always knew that royalty moved from place to place–they needed to dazzle the locals with their power and authority. But The King’s Damsel brought home to me how constant and complex were the royal processions about the countryside.
And I guess it never occurred to me that the young Princess Mary (later Queen Mary) would head up her own household (300 people we are told–about half what the King would have) and carry out her separate processions. Her separation from her mother Catherine started when she was a mere ten years old and as Henry lost interest in Catherine, who had failed to produce a living son as heir, poor little Mary’s visits with her mother and father became fewer and fewer.
Kate Emerson creates the ’King’s damsel’, Tamsin, a fictional character set in the middle of very real people and happenings. Tamsin’s evil ward sends her off to work as a lady in waiting to the Princess, and thus gets an inside view of the court. When Tamsin asks a new friend at court about the rules for visiting her own family, she is concerned because they are far away from her home.
“Oh, we will not be here long. The princess will not remain in any one place for more than a few weeks. Her Grace has been given her own household so she can be seen in her role as Princess of Wales.”
Not only do all the royals travel with crowds of retainers, but they must pack their clothes, furniture, horses, cooking utensils and everything necessary for the household. Since there is no mall nearby to refresh their supplies, merchants come to them with necessities. A seller of ribbons and lace comes to one of the castles, and Tamsin meets the lace-seller’s son, with whom she becomes friends and finally a co-conspirator.
The King’s Damsel is a riveting historical novel packed with the details of daily life among royalty in the 16th century. Of COURSE there is romance. This is the court of Henry VIII after all, whom, it seems, could have used a twelve step program for his sex addiction. He not only married six wives (annulled, beheaded, died, annulled, beheaded, survived), but he had dalliances with court ladies who caught his eye– particularly when his current wife was busy trying to produce the highly desired male heir.
Ken and I visited Hampton Court when we were in England, one of more than 60 properties that the King used, and could imagine King Henry clomping down the stairways or arranging clandestine meetings with his succession of mistresses in the hundreds of rooms. We also visited the Tower of London, and I was surprised to learn in this book that it was a coveted palace to live in, before it got its darker reputation. (Learn more about King Henry’s properties at this well-researched website.)
I’ve always been puzzled as to how all those women could have believed that King Henry was going to settle down with THEM, but Kate Emerson makes Henry an alluring lover. The King’s Damsel recreates the magnetism of Henry and helps explain how a succession of women could have willingly dallied with him–most convinced that they would become queen–even when the evidence pointed toward some dire circumstances to come. And, of course, there is that whole “power is the ultimate aphrodisiac” thing, as another Henry– Henry Kissinger– said.
Although she remains true to Mary who is under attack from Ann Boleyn, Catherine’s successor in the King’s affection, Tamsin is drawn into an affair with the King. And yes, this is based on historical record, albeit a fairly flimsy one. A letter from a Spanish ambassador once mentioned that the king “had renewed and increased the love he formerly bore to another very handsome young lady of the court.” And other letters give other small details about this young lady. Kate Emerson takes this and runs with it, creating Tamsin and her family and acquaintances in a completely believable and engrossing fashion.
Despite the historical detail the reader never feels bogged down because Emerson breathes life into every page by skillfully painting pictures of daily life rather than just reciting facts.
Besides the historical interest, I look longingly at the map of major locations included in the front of the book and think what fun it would be as a traveler in England to make my own “royal procession” around the countryside. I would like to book tickets to ALL the royal digs. However, I would pack light. For one thing, I wouldn’t have 300+ retainers. For another, Ken would have only ONE woman to keep him amused.
Would you like to go on a Royal procession of England?
Notes: The publishers sent me Kate Emerson’s The King’s Damsel for review, but my opinions are my own.
Kate Emerson is a pseudonym for Kathy Lynn Emerson, who writes historical mystery novels.
Pictures used here are my own. Please respect my copyright.
Links to Amazon allow you to order directly from Amazon and at the same time support A Traveler’s Library. What a good idea. It does not cost you any extra, so how about doing all your Amazon Christmas shopping through A Traveler’s Library links. You can buy anything–not just the item that is linked.