This novel tells the fascinating real-life story of Rose Hickman, née Locke. Nearing the end of her life, she wrote a memoir, only part of which still survives. Having done a considerable amount of research, Sue Allan has reconstructed the ‘missing bits’.
The Lockes and the Hickmans were prosperous London mercers, close to the Crown. They remained steadfast in their Protestantism throughout the turbulent years of the English Reformation. Their beliefs developed into what we would today call Nonconformist, and even when Protestantism was the established religion of England under Elizabeth, the family suffered much hardship because of their faith.
Sue Allan has made this subject her own in her trilogy that includes Mayflower Maid, Jamestown Woman, and Restoration Lady. Tudor Rose can be seen as a ‘prequel’. Rose was born during the reign of Henry VIII and died during that of James I at the ripe old age of 87. Sue Allan has put her heart and soul into bringing a long-forgotten lady to wider attention in what is, clearly, a labour of love.
The author is clear that she has written a novel, but the result, I feel, is a curious hybrid, neither satisfying as biography nor as historical fiction. I do not know how much of the text comprises Rose’s own words or how much is the author’s own, but the effect is more a report than fiction, being deficient in dialogue and dramatic tension. I never felt any sense of Rose’s personality. This is such a pity because the author has uncovered many fascinating historical details.
Indeed, I found the author’s notes and appendices far more readable than the novel itself, and can only wish that she had chosen to write a biography. As a historical novel it never quite catches fire.