For the Artists Who Like to Remain Strictly Out of the Box
As a young girl Mary Howard waits with her brothers and sister nervously to see her father, the great Lord Norfolk a powerful soldier and a man of high honour. Norfolk picks up the small three year old girls and questions her greatest achievement, to a three year old recent toilet training is what she proudly tells her father. However Norfolk corrects the small child with words that she will be forced to remember for the rest of her life, words that will mar her life, her view and haunt her until her death ‘You are a Howard… Always remember it’. As we quickly learn throughout Darcey Bonnette’s novel being a Howard, no matter how powerful is a reoccurring curse, not the blessing that is instilled into Mary from the tender age of three. Bonnette opens the novel with an extreamly violent scene from the eyes of Mary’s mother, Elizabeth Howard, the ‘great’ Norfolk beating his labouring wife, a violent beginning for little Mary, by a man who will constantly rule over her, and chooses as the key chess piece in his games.
I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and I could not get it out of my mind for a single minute of the day (even in my English Literature exam…oops!), Bonnette has managed to lead you through all of the marriages of King Henry VIII, with the scandal and trivial arguments within court. Throughout the novel we see Mary grow from a young girl, shaking in fear at her parents violent exchanges and the prospect of being sent to court to wait on her cousin the ‘famous whore’ Anne Boleyn, Henry’s first mistress turned wife. Every single detail has been added to the ways of the ‘mad king’, his bastard children, religious and political changes and the reality of the blood thirsty king. Although what happens to this young girl? She is used, beaten, shown horrors of watching her family die before her (three of her cousins, Anne and George Boleyn and young Katherine ‘Kitty’ Howard) at the cruel fate of her father and she falls helplessly in love but all of this, absolutely everything is under the control of the violent and repulsive Norfolk.
Every new Queen brings a new challenge for the young Howard, which by the end of the novel she see’s as a dirty word. The first Queen Mary meets is Catherine of Aragon, a kind woman who ‘earnt fathers resepct’ something which obviously is hard to claim as Mary’s mother (a dedicated lady in waiting to the Queen) declares that God has ‘cursed women’. There is Anne her fun loving yet wicked cousin with a fast and harsh tongue but an obvious love for a king, the softer side of Mary’s ‘Dear Anne!’ and her beautiful much loved daughter Elizabeth, Mary’s only hope that there is goodness in the Howard blood. Anne, who Mary watches as her neck is cut. Next is Jane Seymour who Mary has been brought up to detest, although by her death, sees the goodness the ‘dull’ Queen brought too the kingdom especially for the two Princesses and giving the King his longed for son. Then Anne of Cleaves a poor woman unable to even speak to her ladies maids, who Mary is relieved has been ‘set free, however her young cousin is next in line. Innocent Kitty Howard like her cousin Anne in a game that power hungry Norfolk works on relentlessly, again another child send to the block who cries ‘Uncle Thomas why don’t you love me anymore’, the uncle she cherished sending her to her death with ‘a single tear’. The last ‘Cat’ Parr, a great and intelligent friend of Mary’s a woman to outlive the King.
Now this by no means is a book of happiness, it is a tale of determination, pain and anguish of being a Howard.. a ‘betrayer’. It can get a little depressing at time but despite this I could not stop reading and was intrigued but this beautifully pure girls journey and the dark could that follows and strikes her, her father Norfolk. This man is often depicated as the worst of the worst a terrible man, a murderer, a man driven only by his own triumphs, ruthless and the lowest of the low. However Mary is loyal to her father and despite all he puts her through, she still runs back to ‘her Norfolk’ and this is truly heart breaking even when she is a strong women she must fight for her father…. for the feeling of love she has been craving since the tender age of 12 on her ride towards the court, her new fate. Now as a reader you are supposed to hate Norfolk with a passion after ruining Mary’s every happiness, but this is for a reason as the novel unfolds we uncover things about the tyrant Lord that seem to make sense of his rather Jekyll and Hyde nature and why Mary feels that she must protect him despite all he does. There is no doubt that there are two sides to Norfolk he does not wish to be evil, to harm but well I will leave you to discover why. I will not leave you with all tales of depressing scenes, there are moments where Mary could not be a happier more content woman.
I am trying to wrack my brain now for more things I can say that will not give away the surprises in store. I highly recommend this novel, my Nanna has just brought the second one for me!
I give this **** 4 stars, simply because at times I did get a little fed up of being down but it’s still brilliantly written!!!
Available in paperback, although on special offer on Kindle at the moment!!
Secrets of the Tudour Court – Darcey Bonnette
Review by Chloe Metzger