By Royal Decree is the third installment in Kate Emerson’s series, The Secrets of the Tudor Court. This series is unique is that each novel is narrated by an actual but marginal woman within the Tudor Court. I truly enjoy Emerson’s use of this innovative and fresh point of view and at the same time enjoy her novels as they follow the history accurately. Surprisingly, Emerson includes the actual events of the woman’s life and weaves that into the larger historical setting. Every installment has been a new and interesting journey into the lives of those Tudor enthusiasts recognize, but do not know much about. I find this technique enables Emerson to expand and explain motivations in such a way that the greater historical framework is not broached. I find Emerson’s writing both innovative and classic and truly a wonderful example of how historical fiction should be done.
By Royal Decree follows the story of Elizabeth “Bess” Brooke, daughter of Lord George Brooke, 9th Baron Cobham of Kent. The story opens with Henry entertaining a group of eligible women of noble birth, including Bess, in his search for his sixth wife. In the first chapter we again encounter Nan Basset, Between Two Queens, and Emerson allows the second and third installment of the Secrets of the Tudor Court to overlap ever so slightly, which worked for this reader. Bess brought to court by her parents to attend the King’s banquet. Bess, young and beautiful, attracted the King’s interest that made her wary and she felt the need to escape his notice. In her attempt to leave Bess accidently catches her aunt Dorothy Bray in an intimate embrace with Lord William Parr. Much to her aunt’s displeasure Parr seems taken with Bess but she leaves Court the following day to return to Kent, wisely laying low until Henry snares another bride.
Lord William Parr’s sister Katherine would become Henry’s sixth wife and Queen thereby rocketing the Parr’s up the sociopolitical latter virtually overnight. Not that Lord William seemed to personally profit from this rise. He was divorced from his child bride, with whom he had spent only one night and who shortly after left him with a former priest and had many children through that relationship. Divorce, ironically, even in Henry VII’s England might be granted but the spouse could not be remarried until the death of their former spouse. The relationship and love affair between William Parr and Bess seems genuine both in the novel and in the research I’ve done into the pair after reading Emerson’s account. In the end, politics and religion shaped the couple’s relationship. Under Edward VI the pair were allowed to marry, Mary I quickly reversed that decision and Elizabeth I reunited the pair again. It is from this proclamation that the novel takes its name. Bess and William were married or not by royal decree.
Again, Emerson delivers a wonderfully crafted and carefully researched novel that truly opens up the world of the peripheral figures within the Tudor Court. For this reader it is Emerson’s meticulous adherence to historical fact that truly allows her fictional account of Bess Brooke and William Parr to truly come to life. I recommend By Royal Decree and am eagerly awaiting delivery of the next installment in the series, At The Kings Pleasure, which will feature Lady Anne Stanhope, sister of The Duke of Buckingham.