Eliza Rose by Lucy Worsley

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Bloomsbury, 2016. ISBN 9781408869437
(Age: Older teen readers) Themes: English History; Royalty; Life as a Courtier; King Henry VIII; Katherine Howard. This book is marketed as a children's novel. The cover is sweetly 'cute' and cartoon-like and the narrative begins naively, recounting the early life of the main character. However this is not an innocent telling of this historical period! As the life of the feisty red-headed Eliza progresses, we are taken into the somewhat risque and adult world of King Henry VIII's court. Lucy Worsley does not leave out detail about adultery and the coquettish role of the Ladies-in-Waiting and even detail about the King's bedroom behaviours are included. For a sub-teen, this detail is confronting and although the history is so well known that it is expected, it is not easy to recommend this for a naive, immature reader. (How early is too early to lay bare the rampant behaviour of the Henry VIII court, with adultery and sexual exploitation as part of the norm? I am sure that Worsley has toned this down for the book, but it is still perhaps too scandalous for the under-12 audience suggested by the cover.) Katherine Howard's ultimate fate and execution might be well known to an older reader, but this too is fairly clearly detailed.
Having given warning, I can still say that this is an interesting tale and a compelling novel for an older reader, written from the perspective of Katherine Howard's fictional cousin. We get a good look at life for those who were attempting to marry well by being placed in the Royal Court in a position that could lead to a profitable marriage. The Royal life and the surrounding entourage and life-style of grand dresses and feasts are all interesting when seen from the perspective of the female Courtiers, trained from a young age to 'play their part' in adorning the Royal world. King Henry VIII is revealed with all his flaws, and the central character is uncomfortably close to the grieving King after Katherine's death. Worsley has written in a youthful and simple style, but the mature content does not translate well for a child audience.
Carolyn Hull
Editor's note: Teacher's notes are available.