Inside the Tudor Court is the debut publication by Australian author and historian, Lauren Mackay. It recounts the story of Henry VIII and his six wives through the writings of the Imperial Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys.
For many, Chapuys symbolises the perennial thorn in Anne Boleyn’s side, working constantly to undermine her position as queen by doggedly refusing to acknowledge her as Henry’s lawful wife. He has been linked with the conspiracy which brought about Anne’s downfall, and in his dispatches, at times seems almost gleeful at the prospect of her bloody end. As a lifelong servant of Anne Boleyn, and the memory of her innocence, Chapuys has never been top of the list of my dinner guests! However, like many of the characters at Henry’s court, sound bites extracted from surviving papers, repeated over the centuries like Chinese whispers, has left us with a biased and often monochrome image of a man, who Lauren argues, deserves to be seen in a more discerning and holistic light. Believing that we surely all deserve such grace, I was looking forward to getting behind the veneer of most controversial of characters.
Indeed, it is this aspect of the book that I enjoyed most; encountering Eustace Chapuys anew, the man, the friend, the schemer, the ambassador, the reluctant participant of Henry’s court. In this, I think the book is a triumph. Alongside the well known and often dramatic machinations of the Henrician court, we are introduced to such things as Eustace’s personal taste in conversation, his lodgings in the city and his endeavours to leave behind a legacy in his native homeland. Gradually, I found myself drawn into the colourful, multi-dimensional character that emerges. I began to empathise with the ambassador’s almost constant desire to be released from his embassy and the king, who Chapuys clearly came to view with considerable distain, if not disgust. I was intrigued by the unexpected respect and intimacy shared with Cromwell – on the face of it, oftentimes his natural adversary; touched by his constant devotion to the Lady Mary, and amused by his desperation to cultivate a successor so that he might leave behind England’s shores forever.
The prose is easy to read. As I know Lauren personally, I also recognised her personal style in the author’s reflective moments of ironic wit and cynicism – something of which I am sure Chapuys would have enjoyed and appreciated. I also particularly liked her determination to call Chapuys, ‘Chapuys’ when discussing the man in his professional context, but ‘Eustace’ in those passage referring to his personal affairs. It seemed somehow respectful and an inspired choice.
Perhaps what I was left wondering at the very end was: ‘What do we know of Chauys’ reaction to the succession of Mary Tudor to the English throne?’ What is clear from the book is just how close the relationship between the two became during Chapuys’ fifteen years at the English court. In so many ways, he was one of the very few people Mary could absolutely trust. It is evident that he became like a father figure to her. Chapuys died in 1556, three years after Mary inherited the throne. Yet this event is only mentioned in passing on the final page. I am assuming that no correspondence remains but confirmation of that in the text would have been of interest and somehow comforting, completing the picture.
Overall, I found that the nature of the account, with Chapuys as the key protagonist, means that fragmented shards of information that we so often have to make do with, are finally brought together in one coherent narrative; Chapuys, that infuriating, patient, resilient, mercenary, educated, ruthless and caring individual emerges afresh in a mirror as a whole, a person we might not naturally all want to be bedfellows with, but certainly someone whose resilience, intelligence and loyalty we can admire.
A hugely enjoyable and very satisfying read. Well done, Lauren!
Inside the Tudor Court was published by Amberley Publishing on 11th February, 2014. You can purchase your copy via the Book Depository, which gives free worldwide delivery on all orders, on Amazon UK, or Amazon US.