Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sovereign by C J Sansom

Set in the autumn of 1541, this book follows on from 'Dissolution', where hunchback lawyer, Matthew Shardlake is trying to live down the fact that he was once one of Thomas Cromwell's Commissioners now that the greatest statesman in the country has been executed.

This story centres around the fictional events surrounding Henry VIII's and his Queen of one year, Katherine Howard, who travel on a ‘Progress to the North', a state visit to York with a vast entourage to formally accept surrender from those who had rebelled during the Pilgrimage of Grace.

Most of the novel is set in York, though events in London and on the return journey via Hull are also described.

Matthew Shardlake, and his assistant Jack Barak arrive in York ahead of the Progress, his official role is to handle petitions to the King from the citizens of York; but his real mission is to ensure the welfare of an important political prisoner, Sir Edward Broderick, so he can be brought to London for questioning in the Tower of London.

Events are quickly complicated when the murder of a York glazier leads Shardlake to the discovery of important documents that bring the King's right to the throne into question.

It doesn't take long before the bodies start piling up and Shardlake himself becomes a target for the conspirators who claim to have evidence that King Henry Tudor is not the rightful king at all.

Barak becomes attached to Tamasin, a pretty confectioner in the young Queen’s household, whose mistress is the formidable Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford.

The detail of the extravagant royal 'camp' set up in central York amongst beautiful church buildings which have been partly destroyed, is particularly poignant. It brings home what a terrible time it must have been in this part of the sixteenth century, for so many people who lost their way of life completely.

Not only the anti reformist Catholics found life a trial, but the monks who lived in closed orders and knew no other way of life, the travellers who sought rest and shelter, the sick who needed care as well as cooks, laundresses, glassworkers and other trades who earned their living under the auspices of monasteries throughout England.

C J Sanson is a master of painting a long ago time in all its fascinating detail and the story keeps the tension high all the way through to its unexpected conclusion.

One interesting detail is the Yorkists called the Londoners, 'Southrons', and would overcharge them and make fun of them, pretending not to understand what they said. No change there then!