Original publication date: 2010
My edition: 2010 (Putnam)
Why I decided to read: I've enjoyed Karen Harper's other books in the past
How I acquired my copy: ARC sent via the publisher
The Queen’s Governess is the story of Kat Ashley (nee Champernowne), governess to Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth I. Kat, like the Tudors and Boleyns (and Thomas Cromwell, for that matter), literally came from nowhere, plucked from obscurity by Thomas Cromwell and placed in the household of Anne Boleyn. The Tudor court was full of self-made men and women, and Kat became one of those who fought for her reputation in a place when one’s position there was uncertain. Kat Ashley became the Princess’s governess in 1537, eventually becoming one of Elizabeth’s closest confidants and First Lady of the Bedchamber. The novel opens when Kat is a young girl and meets Thomas Cromwell by fortuitous chance, and closes when Elizabeth becomes Queen.
I wanted to like this novel better than I did. Karen Harper certainly knows her period—the 16th century—and her dialogue and characters seem mostly authentic (the exception being Thomas Seymour, who comes across as a lot worse than I think he really was, and Kat herelf, which I’ll explain in a bit). Unfortunately, this didn’t really translate into a really good story for me. It’s sort of hard for me to see what the focus of the novel is—is it Kat, whose life wasn’t really all that interesting (even her romance with John Ashley is underplayed), or is it the story of Elizabeth, who doesn’t get all that much on-screen time?
Sometimes I felt as though this novel read like a recitation of facts, not fiction based upon facts; and I felt that the novel jumped around a lot in time. Maybe, if the novel had been a bit longer, it might have allowed the author to go more in depth with the plot. Also, I didn’t really buy the idea that Thomas Cromwell used Kat Ashley as one of his spies—though, of course, knowing what Cromwell was like, it could very likely have happened as not. The novel portray Kat Ashley as a bit of an innocent, but I believe that she must not have been entirely scrupulous, as it took a certain amount of wiliness to survive in the Tudor court. In comparison with some of Harper’s other books, I would rate this slightly below Mistress Shakespeare. It’s not Karen Harper’s best novel, but as usual, she’s definitely done her research.