I do like a bit of historical fiction and over the past week have managed to read 2 concerning the Boleyn family. This particular one is about Katherine Ashley, the Governess of Elizabeth I and eventually life long friend. If you've ever see Blackadder Nursie is inspired by Kat Ashley, although I don't think she was ever known as Bernard!
Kat Ashley was a young girl living in Devon with her father and evil stepmother, who may or may not have been involved in her mothers' death when Katherine was 10. Like a lot of young women Kat went to work in the local manor as an assistant to their disabled daughter, this was usually in the schoolroom so she received an excellent education even for the daughter of some minor gentry.
Then comes the lucky day when fate entwines her with Thomas Cromwell, Secretary to Cardinal Wolsey and as the saying goes her star starts to shine, all the way to the Kings Court! Here she becomes a waiting maid to Anne Boleyn just before Anne becomes Queen.
The book then whisks along through Queen Annes fate, meeting Thomas Seymour, her marriage and throughout it all her relationship with Elizabeth.
Aah, relationships! In my opinion this is what this book is all about. Of course that is true of the vast majority of books but this one more so, there are no real fleeting meetings but relationships which address different issues.
So we have relationships of convenience such as Kat with her families who used her as long as necessary, and of course her them. In the book it can be seen that Anne Boleyn treated her the same way, but that turned into friendship and eventually dependency.
Then there's lust entailed with Thomas Seymour, yes that Seymour of the Elizabeth and Katherine Parr, he stays a bit of a bodice ripper from the moment we meet her. There's the relationship with her solid dependable husband John who seems to keep her stable when things go a bit belly up!
Once in a relationship Kat never seems to become a 'fair-weather friend, she stays with Elizabeth through thick and thin fulfilling her vow to Anne Boleyn. Mind you that was because she was initially sent to Anne to be a spy for Thomas Cromwell, she found out where her loyalties lay pretty quickly.
Motherhood is also a feature of the book, the notion has occurred to the author and she does like to explore it. Kat Ashley's mother died when she was 10, shortly after the 18yr old maid became her step-mother and Kat becomes a veritable Cinderella mostly looking after her new siblings. AT court Kat sees the harsh reality of being a Royal mother and what its like for children, as she already know, to be apart from their mother, and not there before there mother dies.
And then of course the parent/child relationship between her and Elizabeth, Kat even relates at one point how her household is more like a family with herself as mother, John as father and Elizabeth as their child. With the love, care and devotion that come through this book you can't tell this is how Kat feels. Perhaps Kat is like this because she knew from a young age that she couldn't have children, certainly she never had biological kids of her own.
The book is enjoyable to read, it's easy to, and it does happen quite often that the author seem s to drift across to the more well-known characters and tell their stories.
Not so here, Kat is the central focus and everyone else moves around her. She's a great heroine as well as a strong woman. Kat stayed reliable even when she was taken to the Tower of London for 'questioning' and when she spent time in Fleet prison for supporting Elizabeth. She fought like a mother hen for her chick when Elizabeth's enemies were trying to discredit her.
Of course its historical fiction so a great deal of what's in the book is speculation or guesswork. Very little of Kats early years is known even down to her parentage although she has been traced to Devon. Her court life is more documented although her relationship with Thomas Seymour may have more than a touch of artistic licence in it!
I like the authors writing style as well, it's clear and concise and unusually for someone writing about this period the language used isn't vulgar, of course it probably wasn't vulgar then but it is now. The book reads far more like an up to date Jean Plaidy novel.
It's a great book and well worth the £1.99 I paid for it in Sainsburys. I do enjoy reading about the people constantly hear about whilst reading other books and seeing how they did fit in. For Tudor fans it's a must particularly those of the female variety.
There's also a really interesting section at the back where the author talks about the research she has done and the possibilities around Kat and her background. Harper also recommends a good selection of other books to be reading.
So why are you reading me? Go read her!