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Book Review: The Secret Bride

By Madeline | April 21, 2008

I recently finished reading The Secret Bride by Diane Haeger - a novel written about the terribly romantic relationship between Charles Brandon and Princess Mary, Henry VIII’s favorite sister and figured I’d write my first book review.  I do still have intentions to finish the Worst Jobs in Tudor History, but the illness of my daughter and myself, and the massive amount of work that has accumulated on my desk at work as a result, have hindered my creative efforts.  My readers are forewarned that I will also be out of town on vacation for the next week and so will not be able to write anything then.  As a result, I will TRY to write two entries this week, but no promises. 

I have to say that I’ve always been intrigued by books that are based on the lives of the lesser famed people in history, such as Mary.  While reading books about Henry VIII and Elizabeth I are entertaining, it sometimes can get a bit tedious since you already know the events of their lives and are basically just reading over someone else’s perspective of how they perceive the infamous person’s reactions to such events.  I like learning the new, small intricate facts about the lesser famous persons life that the author is able to uncover and consider the personality and conscience of those characters to be refreshing since there is not much else out there to counter it.

Sorry for the digression - back to The Secret Bride.  The book follows Mary’s life from preadolescence to her marriage to Charles Brandon.  It portrays Charles Brandon as a power-hungry ladies man who really deep down has a heart of gold and is really just looking for the right girl, which he finds in Mary.  From Mary’s perspective, it portrays her as the dutiful daughter of the king and queen of England who knows her future, but still enjoys the freedoms Henry allots her once their parents pass on regardless.  Included in this freedom is the poorly hidden flirtation with Charles Brandon, whom Mary initially hates and then falls head over heels in love with.  While I’m sure it is difficult to portray the fickle nature of a young girls heart, I thought the author could have better portrayed the mental battle that would have ensued in Mary’s head.  As it was, it seemed that Mary hated him one instant and then thought of nothing else but Brandon the next. 

From a fact based perspective, it appears that the author really did her work in trying to ascertain all the points in the princesses life to guide her in the right direction for her book.  One of my only complaints is that she focused often on Henry’s perspective.  I don’t know if she did this because she was lacking researched guidance for that point in Mary’s life or if it was done to portray the ‘third person’ in the relationship between Charles and Mary.  I found it distracting and a little boring though.  I much prefer the vantage point of the story to be done from the main character’s perspectives. 

I did, however, thoroughly enjoy the way the book was written and loved the attention to detail when it came to the gowns Mary wore.  I know, I’m such a girl!  I also thought the personality she attached to Mary worked very well based on the knowledge that she had of her.  She came across as a spoiled child who knew her place in life, yet acted on opportunities as they presented themselves - a girl who enjoyed the court life from gossip and gowns to the basics of flirting and the power of obtaining masculine attention.  I also enjoyed the opportunity to glimpse deeper into the lives of Mary and Brandon as they once lived and the passionate love they shared.

There was one more part that I didn’t much care for and, I have to admit, soured the ending for me.  The entire novel painted these star crossed lovers that somehow manage to take fate into their own hands and find a deep and true love in one another.  It is poetic and beautiful and definitely sigh-worthy where the couple ends up happy and together at the end of the book with their three children.  Upon finishing the book, there is a final note stating when Mary dies in 1533 and Charles takes on another wife in 1534.  Well, if that doesn’t shatter a well laid romantic tale, I know not what does.  A year hardly seems a long time to wait to remarry after the one you love dies, especially when your fated partner has produced heirs for you.  I did the additional research and was even more crushed to discover that the wife he chose to take Mary’s place was a girl who had just turned fifteen, Catherine Willoughby.  She was initially intended for someone else, but Brandon, then 30, wished to marry her and so got her for himself.  What a raw ending to such a sweet tale. 

Regardless of reality getting in the way of romance, I still give this book 4 roses out of 5 for the attention to historic detail, the beautiful mental illustrations it evoked and the attention to detail in depicting such a strong woman, yet not so well known, woman in history.

Topics: Book Review |

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