Venus in Winter

Written by Gillian Bagwell
Review by Lucy Bertoldi

Bess Hardwick lived during the Tudor era and belonged to a close-knit circle at the court of Henry VIII. She took center stage amidst the changing lives of the monarchs of the time, from King Henry to Elizabeth I.

The novel begins in 1539, with twelve-year-old Bess reluctantly complying with her mother’s wishes to live at Codnor Castle with Sir George and Lady Zouche, close friends of the king. Due to economic struggles, and because her stepfather was in debtor’s prison, there was no other choice but to send Bess off for a better future. With the Zouches, she would be schooled in proper etiquette and assured a most suitable marriage.

Renowned for her kindness, sincerity, and all-around goodness, Bess is well-liked by everyone at court. She is wed four times in her lifetime, to wonderful men who loved and appreciated her. This historical has been well researched, but I almost couldn’t believe such a person actually existed and survived in those dreadful times (and those dreadful Tudors!).

What I found most enjoyable in Venus in Winter were Bess’s encounters with figures such as Catherine Howard, Queen Mary, Jane Grey and her sisters Kate and Mary, Catherine Parr, and Elizabeth I. However brief or important her relationship was with these people, Bess shared significant moments with them that rendered her special in each of their lives.

Throughout the book, there are moments of poignant sorrow, such as Catherine Howard’s horrifying death (at the time, Bess and Cat were friends of the same age). But I felt especially sad for Jane Grey, whose closeness to Bess was most endearing. Young, timid and forever trying to please her parents, Jane became their pawn, which led to her own demise.

Venus in Winter is an intimate walk through Tudor history that offers a close-up view of life at court.