Book Review: “The Raven’s Widow: A Novel of Jane Boleyn” by Adrienne Dillard

51a-rKfpABL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_The rise and fall of the Boleyns have been something that has fascinated those who study the Tudor dynasty for centuries. We often view these series of events from the immediate Boleyn family, but what might it have been like for someone who was married to a Boleyn, like Jane Parker Boleyn, the wife of George Boleyn? Jane is often portrayed in literature as a woman who had a tumultuous marriage who sold out her husband when she was interrogated, someone who helped Katherine Howard with her secret liaisons behind Henry VIII’s back, and a woman who suffered from mental illness while in prison. If you take a look at Jane Boleyn’s life from this lens, she sounds like a troubled woman, but what if there was a different side to her? What if she was a good person who loved her husband and his family? That is the Jane Boleyn that Adrienne Dillard wanted to portray in her latest book, “The Raven’s Widow: A Novel of Jane Boleyn”.

Adrienne Dillard explains how she views Jane Boleyn and why she chose to write this particular story:

When the traces of Jane’s humanity are washed away, it’s easy for later generations to demonize her actions. What could have been perfectly innocent behaviour is seen through the prism of her later behaviour and ultimate ending: death as a traitor to the crown. It is my goal in writing this novel to give Jane some of that humanity back. I want to put a face to a name that has been blackened by assumption for the last five centuries. I want to remind people that Jane wasn’t some spectre lurking in the corner, plotting the downfall of others. She was a sister, a daughter, a wife, a friend, and a loyal servant. She had hopes and dreams. She had flaws and quirks. And to further muddy the waters, we have to consider her mental state. The choices she made may be hard to understand now, but at the moment that she made them, they made sense to her. (Dillard, 350).

Dillard structures her story as a parallel narrative, which is unique and effective when telling Jane’s story as it allows the reader to see the parallels between what happened to the Boleyns during their fall and Jane’s own fall. We are first introduced to Jane as she enters the Tower of London, awaiting her sentence after being involved with Katherine Howard. While Jane is in the Tower, she has flashbacks to her time with Anne and George Boleyn. Jane’s father wanted her to marry well and so he chose George Boleyn as her husband. To say that Jane was reluctant to marry such a man was an understatement, but as their story progressed, George and Jane grew to love each other, even through the countless miscarriages that Jane suffered.

Jane acts as a perfect “fly on the wall” character as she is a servant in the court of many of Henry VIII’s wives. She cares for not only her sister-in-law Anne Boleyn, but for Katherine of Aragon and it is rather interesting to read how Jane viewed this complex time in English history known as “The Great Matter”. Another great matter discussed throughout this novel is how religion was changing with new, radical theological ideas. Though we are not sure where Jane exactly stood on these issues, it is interesting to see how she might have responded to them.

Adrienne Dillard brought Jane Boleyn’s story from the shadows and illuminates it. By showing Jane as a loving and caring wife, daughter, servant, and friend, Dillard gives her readers a different perspective towards this captivating woman who suffered from mental illness. I did not know much about Jane’s story before reading this novel, but now I want to know more about her. If you want an engaging and thought-provoking novel about Jane Boleyn and the Boleyns, I highly recommend, “The Raven’s Widow: A Novel of Jane Boleyn” by Adrienne Dillard.

Book Review: “Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey” by Adrienne Dillard

51LQDgS2-bLThe Boleyn family is one of the most notable families during the reign of the Tudors. When one thinks about this family, people like Anne Boleyn, Thomas Boleyn, and George Boleyn come to mind. However, another Boleyn and her family story have been emerging from the shadows of history in recent years. That is the story of Mary Boleyn, a mistress of King Henry VIII. Mary Boleyn had a daughter named Catherine Carey, who married Sir Francis Knollys and was the mother of 14 children, including Lettice Knollys. Since Catherine Carey was a direct relation to the Tudors, what might have her life have been like? Adrienne Dillard wanted to give readers a possible view of Catherine Carey’s life in her book, “Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey”.

Adrienne Dillard chooses to start her fabulous novel in a unique dream sequence:

The dream was always the same. My feet were filthy. To most children my age this would be expected, something they dealt with every day of their lives as they toiled alongside their parents in the field, usually too poor to afford proper footwear. But to me it spelled disaster. I knew that soon my grandfather would be home and would be very displeased. Instead of swinging me in the air, plying me with affection as he usually did when he returned from Court, he would stare at my dirt-caked toes and say disdainfully, “You are a Boleyn and you should know your place. No Boleyn will ever live like a beggar child, I have worked hard my whole life to make sure of it.” With those scornful words, my heart would be cut in two. I knew I had to find my brother Henry, get back to the house and clean up before our grandfather arrived….I burst through the apple trees into a clearing and saw the scaffold before me. “No!” I shrieked, feet rooted to the ground, I stared on in horror as the sword sliced the head from my aunt’s swan-like neck. The executioner raised her severed head into the air by its long chestnut locks. Anne’s eyes were wide in shock, her lips still moving, the blood formed a river in the dirt. The last thing I remembered before my world turned black was my own scream. (Dillard, 2).

Catherine’s life was full of heartache, in fact, Princess Elizabeth was the one who signed a letter to Catherine with Cor Rotto, which is Latin for “broken-hearted”. With as many deaths that Catherine experienced in her lifetime, including the death of two of her children, she also found a lot of love. Although her marriage to Sir Francis Knollys was an arranged marriage, like so many were back in the time of the Tudors, Catherine and Francis fell in love with one another. It was that love that helped Catherine, Francis, and their family navigates the ever-changing political and religious environment of the royal court.

In this book, Catherine is portrayed as the illegitimate daughter of King Henry VIII. This has been a rumor ever since she was born since her mother was the mistress of Henry VIII, yet it has never been proven. It adds an interesting twist to her story since she was one of the ladies who served Elizabeth I, who if these rumors were true, was her half-sister. Catherine tends to be someone who enjoyed a normal, drama free life, and so she never tells anyone outside her immediate family the truth. Another unique aspect of this book is how Adrienne Dillard portrays when Catherine and Francis took part of their family to Germany during the reign of Mary I, to escape religious persecution. Not much is known about this time so it was rather interesting to read how different their lives could have been like while on the run.

Adrienne Dillard’s book is beautifully written and tells the story of such a remarkable woman. She stayed on the sideline and was able to have a good relationship with every Tudor monarch, which was actually quite a rarity. Dillard was able to portray the love that Catherine had as a mother and wife in a simple and humble way that it felt like Catherine could be a friend. This was my first time reading a book by Adrienne Dillard and I absolutely loved it. She was able to bring the life of a royal and a mother of 14 to life in such a respectful and dignified way. She made you believe that Catherine Carey could have been the illegitimate daughter of King Henry VIII. After reading this book, I want to learn even more about Catherine Carey and her extraordinary family.

If you want a gorgeous book about a wonderful woman who lived during the time of the Tudors, I highly recommend you read “Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey” by Adrienne Dillard.