The Favored Queen

Written by Carolly Erickson
Review by Susan Higginbotham

In this novel, the latest of her self-described “historical entertainments,” Erickson tells the story of Jane Seymour, the third wife of Henry VIII.

Unfortunately, this novel, albeit written well enough, isn’t very historical or very entertaining. Though Erickson invents a French lover for Jane and inserts a less than compelling subplot involving the nunnery where Jane’s sister-in-law is immured, much of the novel consists of a six-fingered Anne Boleyn doing various unsavory things while Jane, the narrator, looks on in disgust and dismay. Only a small portion of it deals with Jane’s life as Henry’s queen, and I never got a sense of what drew Henry to Jane as opposed to any other lady at court.

Since Erickson freely admits to altering personalities, it may sound churlish to complain that Erickson turns Lavinia Terling, a “paintrix” who served Henry and his children, into a dim-witted lady-in-waiting whose only purpose here is to die of the sweating sickness. Yet this sort of wasted opportunity – vapid ladies-in-waiting are, after all, a dime a dozen, while it would have been interesting to see what a female artist thought of the Tudor court – is all too typical of this novel. Larger-than-life personalities like Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn are stripped of most of their color. As for Jane herself, while she admittedly presents more of a challenge for novelists than do Henry’s other wives, it’s still possible to make her more interesting than Erickson does here.

If it is a story about Henry and his wives that’s not tightly tied to fact you’re after, you’re better off skipping this book and watching The Tudors. At least it has good eye candy.