I’m really excited to welcome Kate Emerson to my blog today. I really enjoy her books – most recently, By Royal Decree – and I posted my review yesterday. Thank you, Kate!
“Never Let a Good Story Go to Waste”
The heroine of BY ROYAL DECREE is Elizabeth (Bess) Brooke, the daughter of a baron who had the misfortune to fall in love with a married man at the court of King Henry VIII. But there was a great deal more to her than that, and her story has fascinated me for a long time.
The premise behind the “Secrets of the Tudor Court” series I write for Pocket/Gallery Books is that some of the lesser-known women at court, particularly those whose names were linked in a romantic way with the king, were at least as interesting as any of Henry’s six queens. I doubt that Henry Tudor had anywhere near the number of mistresses history assigns to him, but those women whose names crop up in connection with him do have one other thing in common—many of them were intriguing people in their own right. Among them, Bess Brooke stands out for a couple of reasons.
First of all, there is a debate over her identity. Who was the woman King Henry flirted with at a banquet just after the arrest of his fifth wife, Catherine Howard? The Spanish Ambassador, who often got things wrong, identified her as Lord Cobham’s sister, the estranged wife of Sir Thomas Wyatt. He also described her as “young” and as a candidate for the post of wife number six. Those things don’t go together! It is pretty obvious to anyone with common sense that the ambassador had Bess Brooke confused with her aunt, another Elizabeth Brooke, who had been cast off by Wyatt for adultery. Bess was the daughter of the current Lord Cobham and, although still a teenager, was considered old enough for marriage. What clinched her identity for me was that this event was also the only opportunity she’d have had to meet William Parr, the man she was to love for the rest of her life. Shortly afterward, he left for duties on the border with Scotland and did not return until well after his sister, Kathryn Parr, had married King Henry.
That was just the first of a series of historical milestones in Bess Brooke’s life. Her secret marriage to Parr was controversial and her marital status changed with the political climate for the next three reigns. She was in disgrace and living with the widowed Kathryn Parr at the time Kathryn made her own scandalous marriage to Thomas Seymour and Seymour was engaged in inappropriate behavior with the future Queen Elizabeth, also in residence at Chelsea. A few years later, Bess became one of the leading lights at the court of Edward VI, Henry VIII’s short-lived son. Then she was actively involved in the effort to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne instead of Queen Mary. In fact, she is credited with suggesting that Lady Jane marry Lord Guildford Dudley. Will Parr nearly paid with his life for that miscalculation. And, during Mary’s reign, Bess risked coming out of obscurity to deliver a message to Princess Elizabeth from the French ambassador. The historical record does not give a reason why she was chosen for this mission.
All of those things combined to make me think that Bess Brooke had potential as a fictionalized character. I thought so when I first used her in a minor role in the historical romantic suspense novel, WINTER TAPESTRY, written under the name Kathy Lynn Emerson back in 1990. In that version, she was part of an informal network of women devoted to keeping Elizabeth Tudor safe until she could succeed her sister. Among the others were Kat Astley, Elizabeth’s governess, and Elizabeth Fitzgerald, Lady Browne, who was later Lady Clinton and then Countess of Lincoln, both of whom have been the subjects of recent novels by my friend Karen Harper. They, too, are fascinating sixteenth-century women.
But Bess Brooke is the one who seems to have made the most impression on me. She crops up a second time in FACE DOWN BENEATH THE ELEANOR CROSS, one of a series of mysteries I wrote (again as Kathy Lynn Emerson) about Susanna Appleton, a sixteenth-century gentlewoman, herbalist, and sleuth. In this novel, Susanna, Bess, and Bess’s gentlewoman, Constance Crane (an entirely fictional character, later called Birdie in BY ROYAL DECREE) were all present at the wedding of Lady Jane Grey. The mystery, which takes place in 1565, brings them together again when Bess is on her deathbed. Writing that scene made me very sad. Perhaps that’s why, in BY ROYAL DECREE, I end Bess and Will’s story on a happier note, in 1558, with the accession of Elizabeth Tudor and the restoration of the legality of Bess’s marriage to Will Parr. And, of course, in BY ROYAL DECREE, I have the opportunity to tell all of Bess’s story. It’s a fictional version of her life, to be sure, but I’ve done my best to provide logical reasons for the events that have survived in the historical record.
For those who are interested, there is more information about the real Bess Brooke at my website,http://www.kateemersonhistoricals.com.