The Queen's Governess is historical fiction from an interesting and unique perspective: that of Kat Ashley, Queen Elizabeth I’s governess and, later, her close friend and confidante. The novel begins with Kat’s life as a commoner, living with her father and stepmother, and takes the reader through her rise at the hands of Thomas Cromwell, the Anne Boleyn scandal, and her care for Elizabeth.
The Tudors have been experiencing something of a renaissance recently. They’re definitely entertaining –there have been countless books, both fiction and nonfiction, written about Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I. However, there has almost been too much lately; as a result, many of the stories have become redundant. However, Karen Harper’s novel about Kat Ashley is a breath of fresh air into this tired topic.
Though most people who have read about Elizabeth I are familiar with Kat Ashley, the queen’s loyal childhood governess, there isn’t much information about her. Harper takes the reader back to Kat’s humble origins, concocting coincidences and destiny behind her eventual rise to serve Queen Anne Boleyn. Harper imagines a touching relationship between the two women and aptly demonstrates why Kat might have an affinity for the queen.
Kat herself is a well-written and charming character. Her unquestionable loyalty to Elizabeth is one of the most endearing things about her. She thinks of Elizabeth as her daughter, and they develop a sweet relationship made all the more interesting for Kat’s friendship with Anne Boleyn.
Harper provides an extensive author’s note at the end of the book, on everything from the spelling of Kat’s maiden and married names to John Ashley’s book on horses. Even without the note, though, the quality of the book makes it clear that Harper put a lot of time and effort into historical research and checking her facts. While she does incorporate great detail, it never bogs the novel down – it is very easy to read.
The Queen's Governess is an interesting book intended as a quick read, much like Harper’s previous novel, Mistress Shakespeare. I appreciated both the unique point of view and the obvious research Harper put into this novel. She does a wonderful job breathing life into these long-dead characters – I’m already looking forward to her next book.