The Morland Dynasty: The Princeling by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
originally published 1981
Genre: Family saga, historical fiction
Synopsis & Review: Mary Tudor is dying, and England waiting to see what will happen, whether Elizabeth, daughter to Anne Boleyn, will be able to claim and hold the throne. In Yorkshire, the extensive Morland family continues their rise and considers a change of allegiance. Nanette, former lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn and Katherine Parr, lives at the Watermill House with her husband and children; as one of the last of the older generation, she and Paul Morland (third of his name) direct the family, choosing advantageous alliances through marriage and trade. But the family is fracturing along religious lines. When the old King, Henry VIII broke with Rome, England began a religious revolution, and the Morlands are in the thick of it. While some family members follow Henry’s compromise with a non-papist Catholicism, others are becoming more Protestant. In an effort to support Catholics, Paul Morland breaks with the Howard family of Norfolk, and instead allies himself with the Percys of Northumberland, arranging a marriage for his eldest son John to Mary Percy, a fierce Border leader.
Paul’s eldest daughter Lettice spends time at Elizabeth’s court before traveling in the train of Lord Darnley to Scotland. In that rough, perilous land, Lettice chooses between a wolf at the door, and one at the hearth, marrying a dangerous Scots baron, Lord Robert Hamilton. When Paul’s second son William disappears from court (he joins an actors’ troop), his third son dies, and his youngest disappears at sea, and with John in the Borders with the Percys, there is no longer an heir for Morland Place. It is then that Nanette’s adopted son Jan, himself a bastard Morland twice over, begins jockeying for position as the Morland heir at the behest of his wife, Mary Seymour.
This is only the third installment in the Morland Dynasty? Really? It feels like I must be much further into the series, considering how much time the first two spanned. The Princeling clocks in at just over four hundred pages, a good hundred-plus shorter than the first two, and also covers much less time (only thirty-one years). This may be the volume in which Harrod-Eagles decides to stop speeding through history quite so quickly, but then again, the next volume covers the Civil War. How does she spread this out over thirty-plus books at such a ripping pace?
The Morland family is much larger now, and a bit harder to keep track of. Though there is a handy family tree included at the front of each novel (and in this one also a floorplan of Morland Place–how fun!), it only covers the current generations in each novel, and tries to avoid too many spoilers by withholding some death dates and marriages. (Which kind of sucks, because I love me some spoilers.) I kept forgetting which cousins were whose, and where they had gone off to, and who they had married. But it’s okay, because every once in a while, you get a nice plague that kills off a whole bunch of people. I do enjoy how Harrod-Eagles kills off characters or disappears them, and generally in a nice, fairly realistic manner. It’s fun! And sometimes sad.
The Princeling of the title refers to John’s bride Mary Percy, who also acts as a cipher for Elizabether Tudor–and even to a lesser extent for Mary Stuart. “Prince,” though inherently masculine, also once referred generically to a leader of men; Mary Percy, as her father’s sole heir and a rockin’ tomboy, is the leader of her father’s men. Their loyalty is within her person, and can be transferred through her person to her husband. In miniature, this is also the problem of Elizabeth, who forestalls civil war by remaining unmarried. Mary Stuart, of course, would take the opposite route, become muchly and unwisely married. Mary’s cipher, though, is in the person of Lettice, who marries Lord Hamilton despite fearing him, because she finds it better to be protected by a wolf than remain unprotected amongst a ravening wolfpack. Harrod-Eagles makes this comparison explicit in Lettice’s own observations of Mary Stuart’s relationship with Bothwell, both before and after their marriage.
Again, the novel is concerned with changing loyalties, discussing the meaning of loyalty to one’s family or clan, or one’s liege, one’s prince or even country. Harrod-Eagles also touches on European exploration of the Americas and the globe. But otherwise, largely more of what was in volumes one and two.
Cover: Same formula as the rest of the current imprint. This at least features a scene with Elizabeth in it.
For Lettice, too, life had settled into a pattern, and though it was not the pattern she would have chosen, yet in many ways it was more comfortable than she had expected. She saw little of Rob–he came home rarely, once in summer to hunt at Birnie castle for a week or sometimes two, once int he winter, to spend the twelve days of Christmas at Aberlady with his family. Apart from that she hardly ever saw him or even heard from him. She guessed it was partly to protect her: she knew in some obscure way that though he was within the Council, he was not in accord with them, that his idea was to remove Morton, whom he hated, and replace him with the ex-Queen as Regent for her own son. Though he had not discussed it with her, Lettice understood now something of the way his mind worked, and she could almost hear his voice saying, “The Queen would wield no power, but she would prevent anyone else usurping that power.