The Morland Dynasty: The Dark Rose by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
originally published 1981
Genre: Historical fiction, family saga, romance
Synopsis & Review: Picking up about 1509, at the death of Henry Tudor and a couple of decades after Eleanor Courtenay’s death at the end of The Founding, The Dark Rose follows the fortunes of the Morland family throughout the reign of Henry VIII. The first part is chiefly concerned with Paul, Eleanor’s great-grandson, now nominal head of the Morland family, though he is guided by his uncle Richard. Paul is unhappily married to his cousin Anne Butts, and finds love outside in marriage with a young widow called Ursula, who bears him a son, Adrian. Paul also struggles with his jealousy of his half-siblings, whom he believes to be illegitimate, and this burning jealousy shapes much of his early life. Through famine, plague, political intrigue, and social unrest, Paul strives to keep the Morlands whole, and ever rising. Children are fostered with prominent families, and join the court of the King, making connexions and improving the Morland prospects.
The second part follows Anne, called Nanette, the daughter of Paul’s half-brother Jack. After the death fo her parents, Anne fosters out with the Parr family, becoming close friends with their daughter Katherine. Upon maturity, she joins the Court, and is soon fast friends with a lovely girl called Anne Boleyn. The two enjoy the attentions of gallants and all the festivities of court life, until the King’s eye turns to Anne. Nanette proves her loyalty, staying with Anne and serving her throughout the long years of courtship, and her rise to the throne.
The Dark Rose sees the entire reign of Henry VIII, and all that it encompassed: war, famine, pestilence, the break with Rome, and the rise of Protestantism. Among all the graver matters, there are still shearing festivals, weddings, exciting hunts, and all manner of life and the Morlands make the painful transition from mediaeval to modern.
After finishing The Founding, I added The Dark Rose to my hold list at the library.
Like The Founding, this second Morland Dynasty novel is jam-packed with every sort of character, but focuses primarily on this gentry family and the various prominent people they encounter and major events they are involved with. The novel tends to touch on virtually every major event of Henry VIII’s reign, which leads to a sort of befuddlement as one gradually becomes drunk with historical detail. Imagine Sarum, but with a novel or two for every section. Fortunately, Harrod-Eagles keeps the narrative moving along, skipping through dull periods on to the next significant event–be it personally significant for the characters, or of major historical import.
Once again, the characters avoid anachronism, having reactions and behaviors that can seem very odd, even unpleasant to modern sensibilities. This makes for an authentic feel throughout the book, despite occasionally dated scholarship and some fictional conventions to suit her story. Some of her interpretations of history are … interesting, but they never feel out of place for the novel, serving her characters and her arc well. Difficult subjects are addressed with contemporary perceptions, but also sensitively. There are some romantic cliches, but they’re not overdone, nor is the prose overwrought–decidedly a problem with some popular historical fiction.
It’s funny, but I feel I’ve almost forgotten the book already, and I finished it only and hour or two ago.
A relaxing and enjoyable read, perfect entertainment for a long plane ride, or to take your mind off heavier subjects. Though the earlier volume is occasionally referenced, it is not necessary to have read it for understanding this second volume.
Cover: Much the same as the last, a plain buff cover, with a cropped period (though not contemporary) painting, this time depicting Henry VIII. The author’s name dwarfs the title.
The night wore on, and they sat quietly, barely pretending to sew any more, waiting for dawn when they could hear mass again, waiting for the light to steal into the little chamber, waiting for the last day to break. When the sky had grown pearly outside, and there was a new smell in the air, the poignant, heart-breaking smell of morning, the Queen lifted her head wearily and said,
” Do you remember Calais? It was growing light when he came.”
Nanette said, “He was damp with dew. His doublet was pearled with it.”
“How he loved me,” Anne murmured, smiling. “It was all grey and still, and he came like the sun rising, a golden spark in the grey. And that was Elizabeth. I am so glad there is Elizabeth. She is our love, she will carry it on. He was always so good to me, always–“
18 October – 21 October