In the second of Margrave’s “mystorical” novels Tom Priedeux jumps from 1399, where we left him in The Gawain Quest, to the reign of Henry VIII. The book opens at the French court where Anne Boleyn is the youngest lady-in-waiting to Henry’s sister, Queen Mary of France, the new wife of Louis XII. While still in her teens, Anne burns with ambition to reform the church in England and to allow the people to read the Bible in their own language. It is here, at the French court, that she befriends Jean Dinteville and George de Selve—who later feature in Holbein’s painting—as well as Stefano, their Italian companion who disappears so mysteriously.
Once Anne has been summoned back to England, Tom Priedeux, a family servant, becomes her trusted messenger. The bond between them is cemented by their affection for Mother Muncy, their wet nurse. Surrounded by growing intrigue and danger at the Tudor court, Tom protects his mistress from her impetuosity and ambition—and teaches her never to leave written evidence. Tom has another mission: to trace his own family, a subplot that is convincingly woven into the well-known political events of the period.
Margrave was inspired to write the book after visiting an exhibition where she became intrigued by Holbein’s extraordinary painting of two French ambassadors separated by a skull, which appears as an anamorphic image in the foreground. The author has devised an intriguing plot, told around the familiar events of Anne’s life up to the birth of her daughter, but stopping short of her execution. Convincing detail and, above all, an emphasis on the importance of religion in the struggle for power and influence make this a compelling read. Margrave also weaves various disputed facts about Anne into the story, including her extra finger and the unknown date of her birth which led to rumours about her actual age and real parentage. As for the painting, the book offers an imaginative solution to the identity of the anonymous patron.