Apr 29, 2009

Review: St. Thomas's Eve or The Kings' Confidante by Jean Plaidy

St. Thomas's Eve or Kings' Confidante by Jean Plaidy

Reissue of St. Thomas's Eve is called "The King's Confidante" and is available on Amazon with the following specs: (my copy is the one shown)


Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Three Rivers Press (April 7, 2009)
ISBN-10: 030734620X
The Burton Review Rating:4 stars


Blurb from my copy: "St. Thomas's Eve is a beautifully conceived story of Sir Thomas More - scholar, Chancellor or England, man of integrity - who was snatched from the peaceful life of his family home in Chelsea, to die on the scaffold as the price of the opposition to the wild desires of his King."

This was a pleasure to read about Sir Thomas More, a notable figure among the prolific Tudor court of Henry VIII. Thomas More was a brilliant scholar and wrote "Utopia." You can't read a Henry VIII book and not have mention of the infamous Thomas More. Yet, we never get to see him in a personal tone until you read "St. Thomas's Eve" by Jean Plaidy. This novel does not focus on Henry VIII, it follows Thomas More's personal life as he marries, has children, remarries and becomes a grandfather. His star rises in the courts, albeit unwillingly, because of his talented way with words, and as a lawyer King Henry enjoys his unique intellect. Thomas is portrayed as very religious and honest to a fault. He opened his home to others, housing an orphan and then a step-child, and taught several gentlemen on site as well.

There were several poignant scenes that I enjoyed that involved More's children. The novel features all of them quite well: the eldest Meg, Mercy Gigs (the orphan), Elizabeth, Cecily, Jack and the step-daughter Alice Middleton (Ailie). The story is about how this quaint little family evolves and grows, and even when the girls marry they all live under one family roof. There is emphasis placed on the bond between Thomas and his eldest daughter, Meg, who becomes a Mrs. Meg Roper. There are a few introductions to some of the other notable figures of the times, such as Erasmus, Hans Holbein, the Howards of Norfolk and the Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and many of the other names are mentioned in passing in a gossiping nature. We hear about the problems with Catherine of Aragon to the "Frenchified" and deformed Anne Boleyn and "The King's Secret Matter".

Plaidy seemed to be on a mission to make the novel not read like a book of the Court Life, but truly focused on the travails of this family who struggled to control the way the vengeful court affected it. The More family wanted for nothing but each other and the freedom of learning. Thomas More did not want to be a courtier but you cannot say no to a King. As the children grew, Thomas was away more and more at the beck and call of the King. His children had their premonitions that all would not be grand for long, one false step and tragedy would be theirs.

Once things were set in motion in Henry's love life, Thomas disapproved. He tried to step away, but the King did not want any of his towns people to flock to More's views. All Thomas had to do was to acknowledge King Henry as the Head of the Church, after the break with Rome due to the Pope's not allowing the divorce of Catherine and Henry. Thomas stayed fast to his virtue, would not sign the Act of Supremacy, and also would not condone the marriage of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. Plaidy successfully demonstrates the sadness the family feels when they realize that the humble happiness that they crave will not come to fruition.

Although history tells us what fate befell Thomas More, I was still emotional as Plaidy spelled it out for me. The love that his family had for him is palpable and heartbreaking, and I am glad to have had a glimpse of the personal side of Sir Thomas More. Plaidy shows us the family behind the martyr, and I feel much more enlightened about one of the greatest scholars of our time.