Between Two Queens is the second in Kate Emerson's Secrets of the Tudor Court series. I adored the first, The Pleasure Palace, and high hopes and expectations for this read. I was surprised that Emerson followed up her immensely popular portrayal of Jane Popyncourt with such a surprising characterization of Anne “Nan” Bassett. We meet Nan as she competes against her sister for a position in Queen Jane Seymour’s household. She is young, naïve, and without substance so naturally King Henry takes a liking to her and Nan is chosen for the post. However, Nan is shocked to discover that she will join Queen Jane in her confinement the following day and locked away from court and the wealthy and titled eligible men that she desperately longs to eventually marry.
Nan’s character begins to gather depth after she is sent away from court on the death of Queen Jane. Nan begins a physical relationship with Ned Corbett, a gentleman in her stepfather’s household. A pregnancy results and Nan manages to emerge without tarnishing her reputation and sees that her son is taken in by a loving family. Back at court awaiting the arrival of Anne of Cleves Nan does have a brief sloppy encounter with the King, who is so intoxicated, that she easily convinces him he has deflowered her. At last, she seems to develop a depth to her character and rather than dreaming of becoming Queen she begins to dream of life as a mother and wonders and misses her son.
Between Two Queens, follows Nan’s life at court while in service to the last four of Henry's six wives. We meet Nan as a spoiled teenager but her character grows as the novel progresses and ultimately Nan becomes a cautious but successful courtier in an intrigued filled dangerous court with a growingly erratic King.
Interestingly, Emerson begins each chapter with passages from actual letters written by historical figures in this story. I really enjoyed this addition. Not only did it add some primary historical documentation that enhanced and reinforced Emerson’s portrayal. So while I didn’t find Between Two Queens as intriguing a read as The Pleasure Palace, I did appreciate the evolution of the portrayal of Nan Bassett and in the end found myself admiring her ability to survive and thrive at the Tudor Court. Without a doubt, Emerson continues to breath new life into the lesser-known women of the Tudor era while weaving what is known about their lives into the larger historical story while remaining true to fact. I am eagerly anticipating the third installment in the series: By Royal Decree.