***Those not familiar with Tudor history might consider this review a bit spoilerish. Consider yourself warned**
The story begins as Elizabeth (Bess) Brooke is one of a large party of eligible noblewomen invited to dine with Henry VIII so he can peruse them and pick his next bride. Luckily for Bess she’s passed over for Kathryn Parr, who ends up as wife #6. Bess comes to court and ultimately meets and falls in love with Queen Kathryn’s brother William Parr, but there’s a hitch. William was given a divorce from his first wife for being unfaithful, but he’s not allowed to remarry until she kicks the bucket and their only hope is a “Royal Decree” from the King.
When Henry dies, his son Edward is crowned king and William curries favor with Edward and his guardians (first Edward Seymour, then John Dudley), always hoping to gain that “Royal Decree” allowing him to marry Bess. The Princess Elizabeth is given into Kathryn’s care and Bess also joins her household in the country. Edward, never the healthy one, dies and with no male heir to follow him England is divided over the choices left – should they support Mary and face a return to Catholicism, or the Lady Jane Grey? And if William supports the wrong party, their hopes for a “Royal Decree” allowing them to wed might be dashed forever…
Sounds like all the material one needs for a fat juicy novel no? Unfortunately, Emerson is not quite up to giving Bess and William the treatment their story deserves. Too much time is spent with Bess and William
panting pining after each other as Henry’s court flits from one palace to the next, and not enough on the latter part of their lives as they live in terror of loosing one’s head during Mary’s reign. If you read up on Bess here, you’ll see she led quite a life and must have been a formidable woman indeed to earn the trust and respect of Elizabeth Tudor – but unfortunately that is not the Bess you’ll see this book. While she was certainly a more appealing heroine than Nan in Between Two Queens, Emerson wasn’t able to make her terribly engaging either as she spends too much time stamping her feet at her father demanding “twu wuv” and mooning over William.
I’d read Emerson’s first book in this series, The Pleasure Palace, and enjoyed it for what it was, light and fluffy brain candy with lots of details on court life, the food and clothes along with a healthy dash of court intrigue, but that mixture just didn’t gel as well for me in this one. The historical details were fewer and farther between and missing those left me hungry for something more. The tie-in to the title, By Royal Decree, was also a bit overused in the book to the point of feeling like I was being clubbed over the head with it. In the end, this is a light easy read and a good book, just not a great one. William and Bess could make for some fascinating reading and I’d love to see a stronger author take them on as Susan Kay did with Elizabeth I in Legacy.