A Lady Rides High
When Frances Pierce, the daughter of a country baronet of modest means, impetuously places herself between Anne Boleyn and a group of mud-throwing villagers, she is rewarded with a place among Anne’s ladies. Awed by Anne and utterly loyal to her, Frances benefits when Anne at last becomes queen, but when Anne’s fortunes change, the naïve Frances realizes just how treacherous the dazzling court of Henry VIII can be.
The characterization here is deft. Frances, the narrator, is particularly well realized, as are her family members and fellow villagers. Frances’s self-deprecating, sharply observant, and often droll narration adds a welcome freshness to the very familiar story of the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn. The love story involving Frances, while it does not hold any great surprises for the reader, is charming and touching; it will also be refreshing to those readers who prefer love scenes that stop at the bedroom door.
There are a few problems. Edward III, not Edward II, founded the Order of the Garter. The noblemen who were Anne’s accused lovers were not hanged, as depicted by Gardner, but beheaded, the preferred method of execution for the highborn. Henry VIII and Anne are not rendered quite as vividly as Frances and the other purely fictional characters, though the infant princess Elizabeth makes several memorable appearances, such as this one: “Henry glared at Anne, then at Elizabeth, who glared right back at him.” Moments like these make this a book well worth reading.