October 26, 2012
The Queen's Confidante by Karen Harper
London, 1501. Henry VII's heir is dead...
Elizabeth, his queen, fears foul play, but who can she trust with her suspicions that their son has been murdered?
In her darkest hour she turns to Varina Wescott, a lowly candle maker and widow. Despite the difference in their stations they share a bond. Both women know the sorrow of losing a child.
Varina is tasked with discovering all she can about the Prince's death. Aided by the handsome and ambitious Nicholas Sutton, Varina's mission will be a difficult one, as both Henry and Elizabeth have enemies determined to bring down the Tudor dynasty...
Released under the title ‘Mistress of Mourning’ in the US, ‘The Queen’s Confidante,’ is written from the alternate perspective of both the widowed Westcott and Henry VII’s Queen Elizabeth, the story tackles two questions which historians have been asking themselves for centuries. Did Prince Arthur really die from natural causes and who killed the little Princes in the Tower?
The widowed Varina has to keep her dead husband’s shop going, to provide for her son, another Arthur, whilst she mourns the death of her youngest child, Edmund. A skilled candlemaker, Varina is unable to enter the guild as she is a woman and therefore contemplates marriage to the unpleasant Christopher Gage purely for security and an enhancement of her career.
When Queen Elizabeth, who in this novel is a haunted, guilt ridden figure, asks Varina to carve figures of her dead children and brothers, the latter becomes an unlikely confidante. Varina also comes into daily contact with Nick Sutton, a man she finds herself attracted to.
Then Prince Arthur is sent to Ludlow Castle with his new wife, the Princess Catherine of Aragon and dies there, at which the heartbroken and suspicions Queen despatches Varina and Nick to prepare the young man for burial, but also root out what really happened to her son.
Before long, Varina finds she is being watched and her enquires about herbs and poisons leads to the murder of the local wise woman and Varina herself is in danger.
Ms Harper’s writing is accomplished and I became immersed in Varina’s world quite easily, and her characters are engaging. Ms Harper does not attempt to answer the mystery of the Princes in the Tower, and the truth about Arthur is left open, but it serves its purpose as a Tudor murder mystery with royal connections, where fact and fiction is well handled, and maybe it really did happen in this way.
I especially enjoyed the descriptions of the candlemaker’s craft, how wax is embedded in linen to be used for shrouds and the obscure rules that apply to how candles were made in the year 1501.
Anita Davison is a Historical Fiction Author whose latest release, ‘Royalist Rebel’ a biographical novel set in 17th Century England, is being released by Claymore Books in early 2013 under the name Anita Seymour