Merrimon Book Reviews

Richard of Shrewsbury
First Duke of York

Perkin Warbeck
15th century drawing

Henry Tudor of England


From Merrimon Book Reviews
The Pale Rose of England
The Pale Rose of England by Sandra Worth
by Sandra Worth


Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, and his beloved Lady Catherine Gordon, princess of Scotland, travel to St. Michael's Mount, anxious to return to their home in England.  Once young and in love, the world seems full of possibilities.  Richard would restore justice and law to England in the face of Henry Tudor's reign of terror.  Catherine believes he will succeed in his quest after she hears the prophecy that she will be loved by a king.  With the birth of her baby, Catherine begins to learn of the fragility of human life.  When Richard's plans go awry,  Richard does the best thing he can possibly do to protect his wife and new child.  Instead of the believed glorious future, Catherine lives her life as King Henry VII's prisoner.  Instead of becoming king, her husband is known as an imposter and a prisoner to a king determined to stamp out any threat.  Catherine's beauty draws the attention of the king.  With Richard still dear in her heart, she must defend herself against his advances while somehow not exposing those she loves the most to more danger.  With few allies in the Tudor Court, Catherine must make a life for herself. 

In THE PALE ROSE OF ENGLAND, Sandra Worth creates a stunning and memorable portrait of Lady Catherine Gordon, the woman whom King James IV of Scotland ordered to marry Yorkist Perkin Warbeck in 1496 and who later became
a favored lady-in-waiting of Elizabeth of York while imprisoned by Henry VII.  Sandra Worth imagines that Perkin Warbeck is indeed Richard of Shrewsbury, 1st Duke of York, the legitimate heir to the throne.  History records little about Lady Catherine.  Sandra Worth uses the few facts known about her life as well as an intricate knowledge of the times, combining both with fictional imagination, to create a portrait of a courageous, strong, and admirable woman.  Though others circumscribe the choices of her life, Catherine, nevertheless, makes daring and determined choices within those boundaries. 

THE PALE ROSE OF ENGLAND, Sandra Worth creates a central character with emotional richness, a richness that brings history alive in the heart and imagination.  Though the reader catches glimpses of other characters and their thoughts, the story is mostly told through the perspective of Lady Catherine Gordon.  Although written in the third person, other characters are mostly seen through her eyes.  History takes on a vibrant relevance as Catherine struggles against emotional and spiritual conflicts that are both timeless and also tied to her unique historical situation.  The romance within THE PALE ROSE OF ENGLAND takes away the breath with its depth of commitment.  This is not the love of the romance genre, but a love tested in the most extreme circumstances with little hope of a happy ending for those coming to the book with knowledge of the history.  Sandra Worth contrasts the intensity of this love with the maturity of Catherine's later life.  As she ages, Catherine's vision of the world changes as does her ability to guide her own future. 

Most moving is the spiritual struggle of her characters and the differences that mark each as the hope of earlier days turns to grief. 
Richard's decisions are made from penance as well as love.  Juxtaposed to Richard's more absolute experience of God, Catherine struggles more to reconcile her belief in God with the feeling of being abandoned by God as unfolding events develop. Her life becomes a living, incarnate meditation on Psalm 42 (Quia tu es Deus fortitudo mea: quare me repulisti, et quare tristis incedo, dum affligit me inimicus?).  Turning to Scripture, her thoughts and life become a dialogue with God in her heart, a dialogue that through time grows with new understanding and resolution.

Sandra Worth does not gloss over the cruelty of King Henry VII's actions.  Readers should be prepared.  Descriptions of torture might make the faint-hearted recoil, but the violence experienced by characters is not gratuitous.  The experiences of her characters are true to the times if not in detail then in overall historical veracity.  Furthermore, the strength of Catherine as well as her later life build from these events.  Without them, the ending would not bring the rich satisfaction in discovering the later part of Lady Catherine's life as her emotions and spirituality develop.  Historical fiction fans keen on the documentation of every historical minutia should look elsewhere.  Sandra Worth imagines a possible rather a documented history.  THE PALE ROSE OF ENGLAND is a book to be read with the heart and spirit as well as intellect.   Typically I find the best books I read either encourage me to read very fast or very slow.  In this case, I found myself slowing down my typical reading pace in order to savor the richness of the author's themes, characterization and their development.  I did not want to miss one detail.  I would encourage other readers to do the same.  In this book and her previous book, THE KING'S DAUGHTER, Sandra Worth fully integrates the literature and literary themes of the period into her story.  Outstanding!

Publisher: Berkley (February 1, 2011)
Author website

Reviewed by Merrimon, Merrimon Book Reviews
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