Bloomsbury Children’s Books | 2018 (5 April) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book
Mary is just a child when her father and mother separate. But this is no normal family break up – Mary’s mother is Catherine of Aragon and her father is Henry VIII. After years of marriage Henry wants Anne Boleyn and there is nothing he won’t do to win her, even if that means declaring his daughter Mary illegitimate and sending her off to Hatfield where she must serve as a maid to her new little half-sister Elizabeth. Removed from her mother, friends and possessions, Mary suffers everyday due to her resolution that she will never wait on Elizabeth, she will never deny her own title of Princess and she will never betray her mother who remains, in her eyes, Queen of England. There is little comfort for Mary as she grows to adulthood alone, frightened and uncared for. But Mary has the knack of finding friends in the most unlikely of places.
Lady Mary tells the story of Mary from when she is 9 years old, and happy, until she is a young woman of 21. During these years Mary is transformed, first by the appearance of Anne Boleyn in their lives and secondly by the King’s marriage to Jane Seymour. This is the story of Mary’s trials as a princess and royal figure but it is also, and more importantly, the tale of Mary’s suffering as a young person missing her parents and not quite understanding what is happening. She looks for friendship and sometimes finds it but she must also learn about dishonesty and betrayal.
This is a children’s book and I think, just like the earlier Eliza Rose, it will greatly appeal and hopefully spark an interest in this most fascinating and colourful of periods. As an older reader, there were certain parts of Lady Mary that I really enjoyed. I did like the depiction of life at Hatfield. It’s all very visual and full of little details, all reflecting Lucy Worsley’s knowledge as a curator of the royal palaces. There is also something very appealing about this portrayal of Mary. It’s so easy to warm to her and I didn’t want to put the novel down, I was so caught up in her story.
However, my biggest issue with the novel was also in this portrayal of Mary. Her religious fervour is removed and so, although I could believe in her gentleness and kindness as presented here, as a whole this depiction didn’t ring true for me. We’re given little glimpses of a possible romance, alongside quite upsetting scenes showing her brutal treatment as a prisoner, but, although she ages by over ten years through the book, her voice doesn’t change. It’s hard with hindsight to escape Mary’s legacy, that of Bloody Mary, but there isn’t a sign of any of that Catholic belief that dominated her life.
Henry VIII is equally unbelievable, in my opinion. He comes across as a bit of a fool. Some of the other characterisation isn’t subtle – Anne Boleyn is a horrifying ogress while Thomas Cromwell is as slimey as he is dangerous. Jane Seymour, by contrast, is a gentle angel. I did, though, really enjoy the scenes between Jane and Mary, and what they show about life at court. I did question the point at which the novel ended – with the birth of Edward VI. I would have loved it to have finished with Mary’s destiny – her accession to the throne.
Depth is missing from Lady Mary but in its place is an accessible and pleasing introduction to the Tudor court for young readers, and I found it much more successful than its predecessor My Name is Victoria. I certainly found Lady Mary very hard to put down, enjoying its Tudor richness and colour.