This is a collection of thirteen short stories and novellas written by Alison Weir over the last few years to accompany her Six Tudor Queens series of novels. The stories were released as individual ebooks one by one as they were written, but are now available all together in one volume.
I have read all six of the full-length novels in the Six Tudor Queens series, each one exploring the life of one of the wives of Henry VIII. These short stories fill in the gaps between the novels, providing more insights or looking at things from a different perspective. They are arranged in roughly chronological order, starting before Henry’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon and ending after the death of Katherine Parr. I had already read one of them – The Tower is Full of Ghosts Today, about a Tower of London tour guide with a strange resemblance to Anne Boleyn – but the rest were all new to me.
Several of the stories are written from the perspectives of members of the Tudor dynasty whose voices weren’t heard in the main series. Arthur: Prince of the Roses, about Henry VIII’s ill-fated elder brother Arthur Tudor, The Unhappiest Lady in Christendom, narrated by the future Mary I, and The Princess of Scotland, about Henry’s niece Margaret Douglas, all fall into this category. Others provide more background and depth to the stories of the six wives themselves – for example The Chateau of Briis: A Lesson in Love explores Anne Boleyn’s years at the French court as maid of honour to Queen Claude and her potential link with a tower at Briis-sous-Forges called the Donjon Anne Boleyn.
The stories that were of most interest to me were the ones that follow characters on the periphery of the Tudor court or those who are living ‘in the shadow of queens’, as the title suggests. I particularly enjoyed reading about the court painter Susannah Horenbout, sent to Cleves to investigate the background of a potential bride for the King, and Lady Rochford, wife of George Boleyn, who was instrumental in the downfalls of both Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard. Naturally, given the time period and subject matter, some of the stories are quite sad, involving executions, imprisonments, betrayals and infant deaths. If you’re of a squeamish disposition, be aware that the final story, In This New Sepulchre, describes in graphic detail the shocking desecration of Katharine Parr’s tomb and corpse.
My favourite story in the collection was probably The Curse of the Hungerfords, which introduces us to Agnes Cotell, the second wife of Sir Edward Hungerford, who becomes involved in a 16th century murder case. Her narrative alternates with that of Anne Bassett, whom many people believed would become one of Henry VIII’s wives, although obviously that never happened. Weir keeps us waiting to see how the lives of these two women are connected and I thought this could easily have been developed into a longer novel, which would have allowed for more depth and detail.
I haven’t discussed all of the thirteen stories here, but I hope I’ve given you a good idea of what the book contains. I would have been disappointed if I’d paid for some of these stories individually in the e-short format, but as a collection I found this a worthwhile read. If you’ve read some or all of the Six Tudor Queens series it works well as a companion volume, but it’s not essential to have read any of those books before reading this one. Alison Weir’s next novel, Henry VIII: The Heart and the Crown, will be published in 2023, but in the meantime I have her latest non-fiction book, Queens of the Age of Chivalry, to read.
Thanks to Headline for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.
This is book 52 read for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2022.