From the beginning to the end I was captivated! I dare say that Kate Emerson has written a classic historical fiction – a fictional account framed by hard historical fact. This novel was a refreshing breath of air for me. In The Pleasure Place, the first in Emerson’s Secrets of the Tudor Court series, the story comes from the point of view of Jane Popyncourt, a name I recognized but knew little about. For me Emerson’s use of a real person, albeit a marginal person within the Tudor court, made the story even more engaging. Since little is known about Jane Popyncourt the reader does not have an archetype in mind for the character and can enjoy Emerson’s wonderfully crafted tale of her life.
Jane arrives in England from France with her mother, who left the French court where she served Queen Anne immediately following the death of King Charles. The pair are welcomed to the court of Henry VII and while her mother is sent into service with Queen Elizabeth, Jane joins the royal nursery at Eltham Palace in order to converse daily with the Princesses Margaret and Mary in French. Jane is never quite sure of her position within the court; feeling at times a servant and at others a member of the family. Jane’s mother passes away shortly following their arrival and Jane is left with many unanswered questions about her family and the reason for the departure from France and subsequent warm welcome at the Tudor court.
As Jane matures she is drawn to Princess Mary and eventually becomes a member of Mary’s household, and serves the princess at the courts of both Henry VII and Henry VIII. During the early years of Henry VIII’s reign England is at war with France. During one of the battles the French noble, duc de Longueville, is captured by King Henry and returned to England and await payment of his ransom. He is a prisoner but due to his rank he is also a guest at court. Jane is residing at the Tower with the Princess Mary, as Queen Catherine is defending the northern border following a Scottish attack, and finds herself immediately drawn to the duc. Unexpectedly, a childhood friend, Guy Dunois, is among the men serving the duc and Guy’s presence prompts Jane to begin inquires about her mother and her death. Jane is unable to resist the charms of the duc and becomes his mistress soon after his arrival. Eventually, she comes to see the duc for the cad he is but King Henry urges her to continue the relationship and serve as a spy.
What I found fascinating is that Jane Popyncourt lived and was a member of Princess Mary’s household and was mistress to the Duc. The fictional twist that Emerson very cleverly spins is Jane’s familial relationship to the Tudors. Emerson also presents a wonderful character in Jane. She is not only likeable but also intriguing and the “fictional” Jane is so wonderfully crafted by Emerson that she emerges as a dynamic figure, in her own right, against the backdrop of Kings and Queens and the dynamics of life at the Tudor court.
This was the first I have encountered Kate Emerson, but I look forward, with anticipation, to the rest of this series. Kate Emerson is, in my opinion, as meticulous with her research as she is clever and creative with her plot twists and character development. The use of Jane Popyncourt, the true details of a real person’s life enriched by a fictional but plausible plotline makes The Pleasure Palace a wonderful engaging read and I recommend it without a moment’s reservation.