HarperCollins | 2022 (20 January) | 464p | Review copy | Buy the book
It is 1502 and Henry VII and his queen Elizabeth desperately mourn the loss of their son and firstborn heir, Prince Arthur, so newly married to Katherine of Aragon. It is Lady Joan Guildford’s task to console the Queen, while comforting the remaining precocious royal children, to whom she is Mother Guildford. Her son Hal is Prince Henry’s closest friend and Joan’s life is interconnected with the royal family in so many ways but all that will change when the damaged, insecure King suspects so many of his courtiers of corruption, including Joan’s husband. Joan finds comfort in her home and household, in teaching English to Princess Katherine. She discovers that she can love again and with the accession of Henry, a Renaissance prince, to the throne, everything will change once more for this remarkable and well-loved woman.
The Queen’s Lady follows on from Joanna Hickson’s The Lady of the Ravens, which presents a marvellous introduction to Joan, a young woman who forged such a deep relationship with Elizabeth of York during the later years of the Wars of the Roses and spent her free time looking after the ravens at the Tower of London. The two novels form a complete whole and I would heartily recommend you read them both but The Queen’s Lady also stands well on its own, especially as it enters into a new era – the decline of Henry VII and the emergence of Henry VIII. It’s worth mentioning that the novel doesn’t venture into the well-trodden divorce/remarriage years of Henry VIII’s reign and that is something to be thankful for!
I love Joanna Hickson’s novels. She writes beautifully and the studies are full of emotion and feeling as she places the lives of women at the centre of history. Here we have not only Joan but also Elizabeth of York, Margaret Beaufort (Henry VII’s incredible mother), Joan’s maid, Katherine of Aragon, the Princesses Margaret and Mary as well as many other mothers, wives and daughters. They might not fight on the battlefield (although Katherine has a yearning to do this) or have official roles in government but they provide such a fascinating perspective on key events, such as the disintegration of Henry VII or the Field of the Cloth of Gold. And childbirth is shown to be every bit as dangerous as anything a man may face in war.
The Queen’s Lady is without doubt one of my favourite novels by Joanna Hickson. I love the historical setting with Henry VII’s increasingly strange and paranoid behaviour, removing him so far from his stature as triumphant warrior on Bosworth Field. The impact of this on Joan’s husband, Sir Richard, is really tragic and moving, and pathetic in the true sense of the word. Joan is cut adrift and we watch how she deals with it. There is romance but it isn’t sentimental. Joan is not a sentimental woman. She’s practical, busy and warm, a natural teacher and protector. I really like her. She’s a true historical figure and the author breathes life into her.
The scenes set at court are wonderful, with all of the feasting, jousts and games, the complicated system of living quarters, the etiquette surrounding the royal family. I also enjoyed the sections in which Joan accompanies the princesses to their royal husbands – of Scotland and of France. There is so much going on and I was thoroughly engrossed from start to finish, in the quiet moments and in the times of drama.
The Queen’s Lady completes Joan’s story and what a story it is! I cannot wait for the next novel from this fabulous author.