Book review: The Queen’s Promise by Lyn Andrews
Long before Anne Boleyn famously captured the eyes and heart of King Henry VIII, she entered into a secret and forbidden betrothal to Henry Percy, the young heir to the powerful Earldom of Northumberland.
It was a daring contract between two teenagers, recklessly in love, and one that would haunt them for the rest of their lives.
The Queen’s Promise is an equally audacious adventure for Liverpool-born author Andrews and one that she handles with her keen eye for human drama and matchless storytelling gifts.
And this is not just the familiar story of Anne’s relationship with the capricious monarch but a glimpse of life on the fringes of the court... a journey into the Percy family’s wild Northumberland territories where Border Reivers, gangs of notorious outlaws, brought a trail of death and destruction.
If Anne’s rise to royal prominence was paved with peril, Henry Percy’s day-to-day existence was fraught with both physical danger and the kind of political manoeuvring that constantly threatened imprisonment or death.
From the moment Henry Percy, future Earl of Northumberland, glimpses the beautiful 16-year-old Anne Boleyn at King Henry’s court, he is enchanted. Raised at the French court, she is so different and naturally elegant and without the false, simpering gaiety affected by the other girls.
Anne has been taught to use her charms to secure her family’s position of power at court and she attracts young men ‘like insects drawn to a candle flame.’
But in Henry Percy, she recognises a truthful, honourable man with little guile or malice and is instantly drawn to his kindness, gentleness, his ethereal looks and the qualities of ‘a true knight.’
When Henry proposes, she agrees to marry him and in a small chapel and before witnesses, they make vows and enter into an unconsummated pre-contract.
But a match of the heart has no place in a court full of ambitious men and conniving women, and a world where marriage is a political manoeuvre. Torn apart by scheming Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and their angry parents, the lovers are exiled to separate ends of the kingdom.
For Henry a lifetime of duty awaits, including marriage to a woman he despises, and all the while he remains true to the only woman he will ever love.
And watching from the sidelines as the tragedy unfolds is Henry Percy’s squire Will Chatton, rescued from the murdering hands of reivers when he was just the lowly born child of a peasant farmer.
Meanwhile, Anne is exiled to the family home in Kent where she harbours a deep resentment for the Cardinal, declaring that ‘if an opportunity arises to hurt him, I shall seize it with both hands.’
But Henry Percy is not the only man to be bewitched by Anne and when the king determines to make her his queen, the course of history is changed forever...
Andrews captures the essence of a star-crossed pair of young lovers, painting a memorable portrait of the young Anne – intelligent, accomplished, vivacious but dangerously ambitious and always a pawn in her family’s plans to seize power and influence.
In Henry Percy, we see a young man at odds with his cohorts at the Tudor court. His sensitivity, culture and delicate health mark him out as an unsuitable heir and yet he remains dutiful, loyal and honest to the end.
The parallel life of his faithful squire Will Chatton provides an interesting and informative foil to the wheeling and dealing of the rich and powerful and a spectrum through which we can view real-life historical events.
Henry Percy might possess wealth and rank but, unlike Will, he is in no position to follow his heart or to decide his own fate.
Passion, intrigue and danger spring from every page and Andrews impresses with her attention to authentic historical detail, whether that is the cut of the king’s clothes, life in the royal palaces or the daily struggle of the poor to feed and clothe their family.
With its enticing blend of action, romance, history and politics, The Queen’s Promise is guaranteed to delight and captivate fans of the endlessly fascinating Tudor court.
(Headline, paperback, £6.99)