The Queen’s Governess by Karen Harper
Kat Ashley, nee Champernowne is well known by those who have read about Queen Elizabeth I. Not only was Ashley Elizabeth’s governess when she was young, but she remained a devoted servant when Elizabeth ascended to the throne. What many may not know – I certainly didn’t! – is that her original sponsor when she arrived at court was none other than Thomas Cromwell. Harper’s version of Kat had her groomed from her relatively poor family as a protege of Cromwell and a sometimes-spy for him at court who grew to love both her first mistress Anne Boleyn and her daughter Elizabeth. Kat stood by Elizabeth during many of the greatest trials and scandals of her young life.
Yay! I like the Tudors again! Time and time again recently I’ve tried to read a novel based on the Tudors and I’ve just been bored and sort of annoyed, major Tudor fatigue. I should have known, however, that Karen Harper wouldn’t let me down. While she doesn’t necessarily create a complete air of time and place, Harper’s storytelling ability pulls me right into the lives of her characters. While Kat was occasionally ever-so-slightly modern sounding, she was a strong and engaging main character and I loved the relationships she built with her husband John Ashley and, of course, with Elizabeth. It all seemed to flow in an entirely plausible and convincing series of events, I thought Harper supported her interpretation of these women’s story very well.
There were a few anachronisms, however, one in particular that really jumped out with me was John Ashley quoting a nursery rhyme:
“I hear Humpty Dumpty is heading for a fall, and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men will never put him back together again – or want to” – p. 143
Popular belief is that this nursery rhyme was based on a cannon used in 1648 against the Royalists in the English Civil War. Ashley is speaking in 1540. Even so, the couple of anachronisms didn’t pull me out of the story as much as it might have done. Other than having to run to Wikipedia after the Humpty Dumpty incident, I was actually able to stay in the story really very well.
Don’t let the anachronisms throw you, this is some of the most engaging Tudor fiction I’ve read lately. Love me some Karen Harper!