Gregory’s latest contribution to the legend of the Boleyn’s focuses on three women: Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard, and Jane Rochford. Their futures formed of deceit and political ambition, all are cast upon the stage of history with monarch Henry VIII, a man who has deluded himself into believing he is the direct recipient of God’s word.
By the time Henry has cast aside the perfidious Anne Boleyn, he has been infected with a persistent madness that seeps into every aspect of his court. Advised by the Duke of Norfolk, who raised two Howard women to the throne of England only to see them die, and the pliant inquisitors who do the king’s bidding, Henry has become a terror: “He is a danger… be warned.”
Gregory weaves the intricate threads of the lives of these women over a span of but a few years, enough time for Henry to wed and discard one more queen and behead another before fading into the final chapter of his life. Anne, Katherine and Jane are described from a female perspective - their dreams and terrors, their place in history, at the mercy of powerful men: “We are all players in this game, but we do not choose our own moves.”
After Jane Seymour’s death in childbirth in 1539, although she has provided Henry with an heir, he is again concerned for the future of the throne. He contracts for a marriage to Anne of Cleves, who arrives at court unable to speak any language but German. Her lack of communication causes a faux pas that costs her Henry’s enmity for the duration of their marriage and nearly her life.
Her early mistake is Anne’s good fortune when Henry’s fancy is caught by Katherine Howard, a fifteen-year-old in the queen’s entourage. The aging Henry imagining his youthful manhood reinvigorated, the nearly impotent and ailing king is determined to wed young, foolish Katherine. For her part, Katherine is greedy, ignorant of the dangers of court life; eventually she falls into a trap of the Howard’s making, left to fend for herself when the king turns against her.
The trio is completed by Jane Rochford, lady-in-waiting to both queens. A convenient and loyal pawn of the Duke of Norfolk, Jane betrayed both her husband and sister-in-law at his behest. She continues to do the duke’s bidding in an attempt to secure her future, no matter the cost to the queens she serves.
The stolid Anne is not pleasing to Henry yet the most fortunate, separated from Henry’s wrath once he has put her aside, only concerned with Katherine’s lack of common sense. Meanwhile, in her self-delusion and easy complicity with the Duke’s plans, Jane Rochford rationalizes her every decision, resisting to the end the shame of her existence.
In this chilling account of life in Henry’s court, betrayal abounds, Anne, Katherine and Jane are puppets of a megalomaniac and his minions, their days harrowing as they scramble for security. Gregory’s female characters are infinitely compelling, rising from the pages of history to claim their own inheritance.