Make Merry at Court
…with three Tudor Christmas stories!
In Blythe Gifford’s Christmas at Court, Sir John Talbot and Lady Alice’s secret betrothal must wait until Henry Tudor claims the throne. Next in Secrets of the Queen’s Lady by Jenni Fletcher, the lady-in-waiting to Anne of Cleves is unexpectedly reunited with a handsome—younger—diplomat at the palace’s festivities! And in His Mistletoe Lady by Amanda McCabe, Catherine seeks help from a mysterious Spaniard to free her father in time for Christmas!
Not long ago I watched the documentary “Tudor Monastery Farm at Christmas” in which historian Ruth Goodman and two archeologists recreated the way that (okay, more ordinary) English subjects would have celebrated the festivities then. ‘Tis the season for holiday novellas and in my search for something other than the standard Regency or Victorian offerings, I spied this. Perfect timing, ‘eh?
Christmas at Court by Blythe Gifford starts before Henry Tudor has even gained the throne. In an age of arranged marriages, Alice and John are no exceptions. But their betrothal is far more than that and is arranged by more powerful people than merely their parents. Theirs is to be a life or death pledge of support for an upstart claimant to the throne. First however, they must mask their true intentions from a tyrant who is rumored to have already murdered his nephews, might be poisoning his sickly wife, and has brought his bastardized niece to court. Unsure of whom they can trust in this toxic court, Alice and John must weigh each word and action before a paranoid king – and each other.
I liked the way the story puts John and Alice in close proximity yet demands that they try and keep their distance from each other. Can they trust the other and the feelings that might shine from their eyes. Are the searing kisses they share true or merely a cloak of potential betrayal? Kudos for the traditional Christmas celebrations that are shown as well as how important religion was in the time. B
Secrets of the Queen’s Lady by Jenni Fletcher was already giving me good vibes before I started it: a younger man in love with a woman eight years older plus there is Anne of Cleves (who I always thought had a lucky escape even if she could never marry again) as a secondary character! Lady Philippa Bray, only one year widowed, is the one to meet Sir Christopher Lowell when he arrives at Richmond Palace with a can’t-be-turned-down invite from King Henry and his new darling, Queen Katherine Howard. The King wants his “beloved sister” to join the Christmas revelries at Hampton Court Palace.
Kit Lowell is bowled over to see the woman who kindly helped him find his way around at Court and to whom he’s compared every woman he’s met since then. She’s still the lovely and charming woman he remembers but Pippa hides a secret about her first marriage. During their walks and conversations, Kit dares to hope that she might see in him a man devoted to her and willing to over-set his family’s ambitions for him if she’ll only say “yes.” Can she risk allowing another man control over her?
So who wouldn’t want a cute, young, intelligent, well spoken man who promises to love you and show you the world if only you’ll come away with him? Pippa’s come through to the other side of marriage with freedom that only widows had in the 16th century. She doth protest much against her feelings for Kit but it’s understandable when she explains her life to him. Her “noes” are also partly for his benefit as younger sons were often beholden to the head of the family. I enjoy it when historical heroines have agency within the truth of whatever age authors choose to put them in and Pippa manages it – with a teensy bit of encouragement from Lady Anne and help from an unlikely source to find her totally wonderful beta hero. But I think they need to work on getting married sooner rather than later. B+
His Mistletoe Lady by Amanda McCabe rounds out the unusual Tudor setting novellas with a story set during the opening year of Queen Mary’s reign. Lady Elena Greaves and her daughter Catherine (named for the Queen whom Elena accompanied from Spain) are traveling to the royal court in London to plead for husband and father Sir Walter who is imprisoned in the Tower for his part in the Wyatt Rebellion.
Arriving there, Elena is embraced by Queen Mary for her loyalty to the Queen’s later mother while Catherine is introduced to a lady-in-waiting, Jane Dormer. Catherine is not only thrilled to see the glittering court during the festivities but also to get a chance to meet the Spanish courtiers who are there with the Queen’s husband, Phillip of Spain. One man in particular catches her eye with his gentlemanly manners and handsome face. Don Diego de Vasquez finds Catherine lovely but once he learns who she is, he knows he ought to keep his distance. He can’t allow anyone to interfere with his reason to be in England. Of course, all this soon goes by the wayside as Diego and Catherine meet and begin to fall in love. Oh, but what about the plotting in the works?
I must admit to at first being mildly uncomfortable with the viewpoint of the Catholic courtiers and Mary Tudor because, well … Bloody Mary. True at this point I don’t think the burnings had begun (nor is this in the plot at all) but … Bloody Mary and now looking back, we know what’s coming. Still, I ended up being interested in how so many people were (or at least acted as if they were) happy that the Reforms initially forced on England were being swept away and the old religion brought back. The inclusion of actual historical figures as secondary characters was also a nice touch, too. I know that many of these people will need a bolthole to escape England once Mary dies so it’s nice that so many of them appear that they will have one. The romance is a little fast but overall, I ended up enjoying a Tudor setting that is little used.