Book review: Rivals in the Tudor Court by Darcey Bonnette

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Stripped of his title and imprisoned in the Tower of London, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, contemplates his fall from shining Tudor star to condemned traitor.

His hot-headed son, his inept daughter, his proud wife and his vengeful mistress have all played a part in his degrading downfall.

But the real enemy – a foe even more formidable than the terrifying figure of King Henry VIII – has always been Norfolk’s own burning ambition...

Darcey Bonnette’s entertaining prequel to her novel, Secrets of the Tudor Court, features the powerful duke and his dynamic and destructive relationship with his wife Elizabeth Stafford.

Bonnette has the knack of introducing us to some of the Tudor court’s lesser know but most fascinating characters and playing out their stories through the parallel lives of those who were closest to them.

Using a triple narrative device, Howard’s dramatic life unfolds though his own eyes and those of his wife Elizabeth and his long-time mistress Bess Holland.

Howard founded a dynasty and staked his place in history through a self-serving ruthlessness that allowed no rival to stand in his way. But his true rivals were his wife and his mistress who would battle to the end for him.

As Queen Catherine of Aragon’s lady-in-waiting and daughter of the Duke of Buckingham, the future seems bright for Elizabeth Stafford.

But when her father gives her hand to Thomas Howard, the spirited young woman must sacrifice her love for another man for duty.

Yet Elizabeth is surprised by her passion for her powerful new husband and when he takes on a mistress, she is determined to fight for her love and her honour.

Naïve and vulnerable, former laundress in Elizabeth’s household, Bess Holland is easily charmed by the Duke of Norfolk, doing his bidding in exchange for gifts and adoration.

For years, she and Elizabeth compete for his affections but they are mere spectators to Norfolk’s obsessive quest to weave the Howard name into the royal bloodline.

The women’s loyalties are tested as his schemes unfold – among them the contentious marriage of the duke’s niece Anne Boleyn to King Henry.

But in an age of conspiracies and beheadings, no self-serving motive goes unpunished, and Elizabeth and Bess will have to fight a force more sinister than the executioner’s axe…

Full of intrigue, passion and betrayal, the inside story of Thomas Howard and his love triangle is another revealing chapter in the thrilling Tudor saga.

(Avon, paperback, £7.99)