Cynthia Harrod-Eagles ‘Dynasty’ series was first published in 1980, and book number 35 is now available. Sourcebooks has gone back to the beginning and reprinted the first books and being a CHE fan, I jumped at the chance to re-read an old favourite.
The Dark Rose is the story of French Paul, Eleanor Morland’s great grandson and the founders of the dynasty. Paul runs the Morland properties, but struggles with jealousy of his half-siblings and dislike of his wife. King Henry VIII has finally become tired of his wife, Catherine of Aragon and has fallen in love with Anne Boleyn.
Paul’s niece, Nanette Moreland, becomes lady in waiting to the King’s favourite, and is beside her as a beloved intimate when she becomes his ill-fated queen.
Nanette is also struggling with the fact she is in love with her uncle Paul and feels to be at court will diminish her feelings for a relationship frowned on by the church.
However the church is changing, and the country’s sense of right and wrong divides families, among them Paul’s. His son, Amyas, a harder taskmaster than Paul, clings to the ‘Old Religion’ and is prepared to make his feelings known in a rebellion against the dissolution of the monasteries that threatens to bring the King’s wrath down on Moreland Place.
Nanette’s fate, so closely tied in with Anne Boleyn’s, is destined to change when her mistress is executed. She returns to Moreland Place and marries Paul, a union Amyas abhors. Nanette is safe under Paul’s protection, but then his long lost son returns. Adrian is the son of the beautiful Ursula who died of the sweating sickness that took Paul’s own wife and Nanette’s parents and brothers. Although he loved Adrian Paul rejected him out of duty for his legitimate son, an act Adrian can never forgive.
Adrian begs his father to let him come home, but when he is rejected again, this proves a tragic decision for Paul, and the outcome leaves Nanette at the mercy of the new master of Moreland Place.
CHE’s portrayal of Anne Boleyn is masterful, and one I always compare with other interpretations. She is portrayed as coquette, child, lover and schemer all in one, and goes to her death as an innocent victim, mourned by few but her beloved Nanette.
Nanette herself is a little too perfect, whose exposure to the betrayal, lies and murders at the Tudor Court, leaves her as innocent as the day she arrived and with apparently no ill feelings towards the King, who murdered her beloved mistress. The only person she appears to resent is the ‘honey scorpion’ Jane Seymour.
The style of writing is different to historical fiction being published today, maybe a little romanticised, less gritty and true to life. However, the author’s research cannot be faulted in its detail and subsequent effect on the Morlands, whom CHE is not afraid to kill off in multiple numbers if it suits the plot. Together with her great characterisation, this fast moving story will keep you reading to the end.