Tudor Christmas Tidings
Normally, I find a wide range of quality in an anthology. Tudor Christmas Tidings, however, is consistent from start to finish. That’s great for the strengths – every novella in this anthology has a wonderful sense of setting, with well-integrated historical figures. However, the main weakness of inadequately-developed romances is present in every story as well.
Each novella here takes place during a different Tudor reign (or, in the case of the first story, Tudor conquest):
Christmas at Court by Blythe Gifford
Sir John Talbot and Lady Alice’s families are secret supporters of Henry Tudor against Richard III, so they are betrothed in order to guarantee family support for Henry’s invasion. This romance is the weakest of the three. It’s set across multiple Christmases, and each follows the same ‘can we trust each other? Court is so treacherous!’ showing-without-telling arc. However, I enjoyed the appearance of Edward V’s widow Elizabeth Woodville. Watching Woodville’s daughter Elizabeth endure a courtship (?) by her murderous (?) uncle Richard III was truly tense.
Secrets of the Queen’s Lady by Jenni Fletcher
Anne of Cleves’ widowed lady-in-waiting Lady Phillipa (Pippa) meets Sir Christopher Lowell (Kit) when he delivers a message to the former queen at Richmond Palace. The main obstacle lying in the path of their romance is Pippa’s traumatic first marriage and basically resolves with a ‘OH WAIT Kit isn’t my first husband!’ forehead slap. Once again, though, I liked the depiction of Anne and her tightrope-walking in front of Henry VIII and his vivacious wife (Anne’s former lady-in-waiting!) Catherine Howard.
His Mistletoe Lady by Amanda McCabe
Queen Mary Tudor has inherited the throne, and she and the entourage of King Phillip of Spain are passing Christmas of 1554 merrily as they await Mary’s delivery of her baby in the spring. Don Diego de Vasquez of Spain is in King Phillip’s party, while Catherine Greaves, daughter of one of Catherine of Aragon’s Spanish ladies-in-waiting, is at court hoping for a royal pardon for her father, who took part in Wyatt’s Rebellion. As you can see from my description, this is the most delightfully detailed historical of the three, as the author explores the Protestant-Catholic tensions of England, but also the English-Spanish tensions of Mary and Phillip’s awkwardly combined courts. Again, the romance is a bit lackluster, but this is a solid B+.
The long-story-short version: In Tudor Christmas Tidings, the settings are the selling point. If you would like to get a strong sense of life at court in early modern England, this is definitely your book. I especially enjoyed the integration of Christmas, and the ways the authors explore how royal celebrations differed at different times due to budgets, grief, and political messaging. Just don’t expect the romances to be as strong as the history.