Twelve year old Elizabeth Rose Camperdone lives with her father, Lord Anthony Camperdone and her Aunt Margaret at Stoneton Castle in Derbyshire. Her beloved mother, Lady Rose died when Eliza Rose was only four years old. Her family is one of the oldest in Derbyshire but they have fallen on hard times as a result the actions of Eliza Rose's uncle, Baron Camperdone who was a traitor. Stoneton Castle was once surrounded by beautiful farms and forests, now all sold and cleared to make way for a lead smelter in the hopes of producing much needed income.
On the morning of her twelfth birthday, November 6, 1535, Eliza Rose learns that she will wed to the son of the Earl of Westmorland.This she looks forward to because it marks her passage into adulthood. Eliza Rose is told by her Aunt Margaret that she will not live with her husband until she has begun her monthly periods, something Eliza Rose does not understand.
Her nurse, Henny prepares Eliza for the betrothal by helping her into a beautiful, new gold dress and then she is taken to the Great Chamber where many people she knows have gathered. The Earl's servant, Sir Dudley who will stand in for the Earl's son in the ceremony, presents Eliza with her betrothal presents. These include pearls of Barbary, a very large ring and a brooch - the initial E topped with the Westmorland blackbird crest. Eliza signs the contract, sealing the marriage by proxy.
The following year in June of 1536, Eliza's family travels to the Earl of Westmorland's new home to meet King Henry VIII who is on progress around the countryside with his court. Eliza Rose is thrilled as she hopes to meet the King with his new queen, Anne Boleyn. She also hopes to meet her husband, the Viscount of Westmorland too. Eliza is upset to learn that she will not be attending that night's feast. However, while her father and Aunt Margaret are at the banquet, Eliza sneaks out of her room and eventually to the roof of the house where she meets a young man who is drunk. Eliza Rose is dressed only in her night clothes and she finds the young man rude and menacing. It turns out the drunken man on the roof was the Viscount, her husband to be. When the Earl learns of this unplanned meeting, Eliza and her family are disgraced and sent home.
Back at Stoneton, Eliza Rose learns from her father that her marriage to the Earl of Westmorland's son is invalid because he is married - a fact unknown to the Earl. When Eliza turns thirteen she is sent south to Trumpton Hall to be schooled in the arts of the court by the Duchess of Northumberland so that she may find a wealthy husband so as to save her family. At Trumpton Hall, Eliza meets many other girls who are related to her as well as her comely cousin, Katherine Howard. She finds herself far behind the other girls in the knowledge of making themselves attractive to the men of the court, to curtsey, to dance and sing. However, Katherine and Eliza Rose are at odds, as Katherine is considered a great beauty. She taunts Eliza calling her Carrot Top while flaunting her beautiful creamy skin and blue eyes. Eventually Eliza Rose and Katherine develop a strained friendship but this doesn't last long. Eliza believes she has attracted the attention of their music instructor, Master Manham, only to find him making love with Katherine. Devastated, Eliza Rose's relationship with Katherine deteriorates as she sees her as a competitor.
In 1539, when she is fifteen, Eliza is sent along with Katherine Howard to be a maid of honour to the lady who will soon be the new queen, Anne of Cleves. Queen Jane died after giving birth and King Henry is wasting no time marrying a new queen. When they arrive at the Palace of Greenwich on the River Thames, Katherine and Eliza Rose meet Ned Barsby who is a Page of the Presence.
The Countess of Malpas who is responsible for training the maids of honour tell Eliza and Katherine they are "to be an ornament to the court...". She expects they will soon find rich husbands. When they meet King Henry VIII, Eliza notes how he looks over each of the maids of honour. Eliza finds court both boring and tiring, "...we were constantly on our feet, always smiling, curtseying to the king and the other men who came and went." Henny arrives to be Eliza's tiring woman which make them both happy. Barsby reveals to Eliza that although he is familiar with the ways of the court, he is illegitimate and therefore will never benefit in the way that she can. He cannot improve his social standing through marriage or inherit his father's estate or become a groom. He warns Eliza against being drawn too deeply into the intrigue of the court. But with Eliza tasked with marrying well in the hopes of saving Stoneton and her cousin Katherine her main competitor, how can Eliza not risk such involvement?
|Wax figure of Katherine Howard|
Lucy Worsley is a curator of Hampton Court, the magnificent palace of Henry VIII on the Thames River. While looking deeper into the history of the ghost of Katherine Howard, Worsley felt that history has treated Katherine unfairly. Worsley writes in her Epilogue titled "Why I Wrote This Book", "She may have been young and foolish, but I felt that the odds at court we so heavily stacked against her that it was unfair that her lasting reputation should be as a silly little strumpet." She decided that she "would write a new version of Katherine's story..."
In Worsley's version we learn about Katherine Howard through the eyes of Eliza Rose who initially finds her to be "cold, heartless, egotistical and arrogant" when they are in training for court. Through her eyes Katherine is described as "the boldest and the buxomest" and "utterly beautiful." Eliza Rose sees that the girls all want to look like Katherine "with her creamy skin and her limpid blue eyes that beamed like lanterns." The girls training to be maids of honour copy the way she coils her hair around the back of her head. Katherine bosses the other girls and flirts with their teachers, as well as with King Henry. When Katherine becomes Queen, she continues her bossy ways and boldly cheats on King Henry, something that Eliza Rose recognizes and both dangerous and deadly. When her relationship with Master Manham is discovered, Katherine holds fast to the belief that Henry will forgive her and spare her life. When this is not to be, Katherine reveals the real reason behind her actions to her cousin - that she was placed in an almost impossible situation at court; she not only had to become queen but she also had to produce a son as heir to the throne, something Henry could not do. She is trapped in desperate circumstances, so she did what she thought might work - she attempted to conceive a child with another man. In the end Katherine is portrayed by Worsley not as a wanton, silly girl but as young woman who tried to outsmart a court that valued women only for the sons they bore and where political intrigue could have deadly results. At her execution, Katherine Howard is portrayed as dignified and composed and Eliza Rose feels proud of her cousin's "calmness and resolution."
Eliza Rose undergoes an inner journey in the novel as she matures from a naive twelve year old to an experienced courtier in the politically volatile Tudor court. An intelligent girl and a quick learner, Eliza soon becomes very accomplished and is sent with her cousin Katherine to the court of Henry VIII. She is ambitious, hoping to be the most sought after maid of honour and to secure a wealthy husband.
However, court is not what Eliza Rose expects. Her dresses are taken in so King Henry can see her figure and her necklines are lowered. The jewels to be worn are "thrilling to handle" but Eliza begins to "think that there were almost too many of them." Court is boring and tiring. Despite this Eliza Rose finds herself forming a friendship with Ned Barsby but she believes he is not someone she can consider marrying. Even when she begins to feel the first stirrings of attraction she tells herself "It's only Ned Barsby. No one important." In her efforts to attract a suitable husband Eliza Rose forces herself to reject and shun Barsby.
Eliza Rose struggles as she realizes the reality of court life; the men of the court leer at them and are interested only in getting them into bed. How can she reconcile what she sees and achieve what she was sent to court to do - "to find a husband to whom I would be joined in legal, holy matrimony." When her Aunt Margaret she expresses the reality of life at court - how they have been taught to believe the king is appointed by God and can do no wrong, but that the reality is quite different. Eliza Rose has discovered this for herself. "We could not ignore the evidence of our eyes that the king, God's anointed chosen monarch, was in fact a gluttonous, predatory old man." Her aunt warns her that court is a "poisonous swamp" in which the king holds the power of life and death. Eliza Rose is further shocked when her father suggests to her that she become King Henry's mistress in order to save his family's estate and feels a great sense of betrayal. When she confides in Ned he tells her that he had hoped she would want something different than to be the king's mistress.
Eliza decides to partake of court fully, staying up late at night, drinking, gambling and wearing fewer and tighter clothes. She flirts openly with the king but it is her cousin who wins Henry. Eliza Rose soon finds court to be unbearable and she longs for freedom. After Katherine becomes Queen and Eliza is made her maid of honour she again becomes disenchanted with court life. "...I was tired of the endless luxury of our life and our stifling lack of air and freedom..." By the end of the novel Eliza completely understands her life over the last few years. "Of course the old duchess had been training us up to be bait for the king. We were just pawns in the game of winning more power for our families...It should not have been a surprise. After all, I had been told for as long as I could remember that I must do my duty for my family. " Eliza faced with the prospect of becoming the king's mistress after the death of her cousin, feels court has become a prison. Though she has spent her entire life preparing for this moment, Eliza makes her own choice when a different path is offered.
Fans of historical fiction will enjoy Worsley's presentation of the events surrounding Katherine Howard rise through the Tudor court to queen and her tragic downfall. With her particular insight into the Tudor era, the author is able to give her readers what feels like a realistic and genuine glimpse into court life during this time. Interestingly, Katherine Howard as the fifth wife of Henry VIII left no mark on the history of England and there are no known portraits that can be definitively identified as being of Katherine Howard.
Eliza Rose by Lucy Worsley
New York: Bloomsbury Childrens 2016