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Royal Scandal by Philip Lindsay

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Joined: August 2008
Location: North Carolina

Royal Scandal by Philip Lindsay

Post by boswellbaxter » Fri September 5th, 2008, 11:56 pm

Originally published in 1933 with the clunky title of Here Comes the King, this historical novel covers the familiar story of Katherine Howard’s disastrous marriage to Henry VIII. Unlike most novels dealing with Katherine Howard, this doesn’t begin with Katherine’s childhood and her youthful romantic escapades, but starts with her marriage to Henry VIII. The central character is Thomas Culpeper, here a Sydney Carton–like figure who’s shattered when Katherine marries the king. Culpeper is much better drawn here than in other novels in which he appears. His rape of a young woman, which is usually ignored or glossed over by other novelists, plays an important role here, though Culpeper is redeemed in the reader’s eyes by the guilt he feels over the episode.

The other male characters here are well drawn as well. Francis Dereham, who turns up about halfway through the novel and aids the young lovers despite his realization that doing so will doom all three, is vividly rendered, along with his sidekick Damport. Will Sommers, the jester who gloomily watches the trio destroy themselves, has an almost Shakespearean quality, and his jests are actually funny. His interplay with Henry VIII is often quite moving. Henry VIII himself is not the terrifying monster he is in many novels, but a sad, lonely man.

The women aren’t quite as convincing. Katherine’s abrupt change from indifference toward Culpeper to heedless infatuation isn’t sufficiently explained. Though her sultry, come-hither pose graces the cover of the paperback version I read, all in all, she’s a wan character whose main attraction, physical beauty, doesn’t seem enough to justify the risks Culpeper and Dereham take for her. Her confidant Jane Rochford is also disappointingly rendered. She of all the people in the novel should know the risks she takes in aiding and abetting the lovers, but she’s never given a clear motive—revenge, living vicariously, general mischief-making, or what have you—for getting so fatally involved in their affair.

This novel is not for someone who expects things to move quickly. Most of the action takes place over a short period, the king’s northward progress, and at times the slow pace, as the author describes the scenery and unpacks the king’s luggage, can be maddening. Will Sommers’ Greek-chorus–like appearances may also be annoying to some readers. All in all, though, this is a well-structured, character-driven novel that surpasses most others I’ve read about Katherine Howard.
Susan Higginbotham
Coming in October: The Woodvilles


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Joined: August 2008

Post by annis » Thu September 11th, 2008, 8:11 pm

Philip Lindsay is one of those older authors of historical fiction who have somehow fallen into obscurity, which is a graet shame as he is an excellent writer. in his time he was prolific and well-regarded.
I came across him by accident many years ago, when I idly picked up a ratty old book at a second-hand bookstore called "The Golden Cage", not expecting much of it. However I was impressed by this compelling tale, set in London at the time of the Peasant's Revolt of 1381. A group of Londoners make an opportunistic theft of treasure from John of Gaunt's Savoy Palace, which was ransacked during a rampage by the rebels. The treasure becomes a source of contention, greed, deceit and murder. It's a very good picture of London's merchants, apprentices and workers.
I discovered that that period was a favorite of Philip Lindsay's- he wrote a non-fiction book called "The Peasant's Revolt, 1381" as well.
His books are hard to find, but well worth tracking down.

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