Review: Eliza Rose – by Lucy Worsley

I think I’ve mentioned before that Game of Thrones has encouraged me, by dint of being both awesome and fuelled by gore, to seek out other historically themed gross-fests. As such, I accidentally spent 6 hours yesterday watching The Tudors. Late to the party, as always, but isn’t it a ridiculous show? There is actually a ghost in it. A ghost! And everyone is young and sexy. Almost everyone!

I’ve never been a big fan of the Tudor part of history – too many beheadings and too little hygiene – but recently there have been quite a few documentaries which have opened up the period for me like never before.

Of course, we all know Henry VIII – a capricious, bearded, fat man who couldn’t catch a break when it came to siring heirs.

Arguably my finest work.

He’s the one with all the wives – so many we made a rhyme about it just to remember them all. What else do I know about his wives? Well there was the one who was too old, the one who might have been a witch…  and another four, one of whom was likened to a horse…

Perhaps it’s because I am now so very old that I can’t remember much we learned about the Tudors in school. Perhaps it’s because it’s not a period I’ve read a lot of fiction around, but boy, did I know hardly anything about those wives!

Sometimes with history, with lives already lived, finished and conclusively summarized, it’s easy to forget these were three-dimensional people with their own motivations. We remember people by their York Notes, but condensing six wives – the lives of six queens, one of whom inspired a change in this country’s entire religious structure and sparked years of religious persecution – down to a rhyme doesn’t feel like enough for me anymore. And they were such interesting people. I don’t expect to get a particularly true account from The Tudors, but I do always find that reading fiction around a subject is a good way to learn a broader overview of the facts. Enter, Eliza Rose.

I like Lucy Worsley. I’ll stop there, rather than subject you to my sycophantic bleatings, but be aware that I like Lucy Worsley like Lesley Knope likes Ann Perkins.

With my interest kindled by The Tudors and an appetite for fiction, what better book to come up on my Amazon recs than Eliza Rose? I did mainly buy it because it’s by Lucy Worsley, though.

Eliza Rose Camperdowne is young and headstrong, but she knows her duty well. As the only daughter of a noble family, she must one day marry a man who is very grand and very rich.

But Fate has other plans. When Eliza becomes a maid of honour, she’s drawn into the thrilling, treacherous court of Henry the Eighth …

Is her glamorous cousin Katherine Howard a friend or a rival?

And can a girl choose her own destiny in a world ruled by men?

Now, this is pitched as a children’s book so I thought that, like the first Harry Potter book, it might be difficult to read as an adult. Not so much, as it happens – it certainly isn’t written down. It’s both a coming of age book for Eliza, our fictional main character, and a lovely humanisation of Katherine Howard. In spite of not knowing much about her, she’s been my preferred of the wives for a while, if only for the whole being called Katherine thing.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Katherine isn’t portrayed here as a particularly nice person – she’s controlling, flirtatious and often cruel – but Worsley explores her motivations fairly and fleshes her out beyond a two dimensional “silly girl” who didn’t realise she couldn’t just sleep with anybody she wanted while she was married to the King.

With Eliza, I learned what a position at court really meant, and what she had to be prepared to do to succeed. Eliza Rose made real – albeit in a gentle, suitable for children way – the decisions any young woman at court had to make. Eliza Rose, and Katherine Howard too, were very human, vulnerable and clever. It’s an interesting book I devoured in one sitting, and has such a wealth of glorious historical detail. I’d expect nothing less. Highly recommended, and I’d love a sequel!

I’m on the lookout for some good fiction around the rest of the wives, I’d love to hear if you’ve any recommendations?

Try Eliza Rose here, and let me know what you think!