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The Queen's Governess by Karen Harper
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The Queen's Governess

by Karen Harper

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2181282,554 (3.55)11
Katherine Ashley, the daughter of a poor country squire, happily secures an education and a place for herself in the Tudor court of Henry VIII. As a dying favor to the doomed Anne Boleyn, Kat becomes governess and surrogate-mother to the young Elizabeth Tudor ... ultimately emerging as the lifelong confidante to Queen Elizabeth I.… (more)
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"Anne Boleyn gave me life, but Kat Ashley gave me love."

The Queen's Governess is a novel in the voice of Kat Ashley, Elizabeth I's famous adviser, friend, and mother figure. I was so excited to read this book; anyone who loves the Tudors is familiar with Kat Ashley, but she has never had her own book. Finally, Karen Harper is giving her a voice!

This book made me appreciate just how little we know, really, about Kat Ashley. In Harper's Afterward, she mentions how difficult this book was to research. We don't know who Kat's parents were or exactly where she was from. What we do know is that Kat was incredibly well educated; she was appointed as Elizabeth's governess in 1537, when the little princess was four, and taught the future monarch astronomy, geography, history, mathematics, French, Flemish, Italian and Spanish (ref: Wikipedia). Knowledge of such diverse subjects was certainly not the norm for mid- to low-born noblewomen in the sixteenth century. Who was Kat Ashley? Where did she come from?

Harper imagines Kat Ashley as the daughter of a poor country squire whose life is forever changed when she meets Thomas Cromwell and his companions while the group is traveling on the road near her father's house. After a few brief conversations, Cromwell decides that Kat is an exceptional young woman and will serve his own cause as a spy. A spy! Kat is shipped, at Cromwell's command, to a distant cousin's house to serve the family. While tending to the children, Kat sits in on their lessons and acquires the vast knowledge that will allow her to serve as Elizabeth's governess later in life.

Cromwell allows Kat a few years to complete her education before calling her to court to spy on Henry VIII's love interest, Anne Boleyn. Kat quickly learns, thanks to Cromwell's inside scoop, and supplemented by palace gossip, that the plan is for Henry to divorce his wife and marry Anne, which naturally shocks Kat. She serves Anne Boleyn and grows close enough to the lady to gain her complete trust; before her execution, Anne gives Kat a piece of jewelry that has her portrait and Elizabeth's inside, with instructions to watch over her daughter and give her the jewelry when she is older.

Kat, as we all know, with complete loyalty, serves Elizabeth for the rest of her life. From Elizabeth's childhood estate at Hatfield, to imprisonment in the Tower, to Elizabeth's eventual triumph as Queen, Kat Ashley remains steadfast.

There were a few things about Kat Ashley that I wanted to know, but Harper didn't quite deliver.

Tell me more about Cromwell's spy network! The premise that Kat was an agent in Cromwell's pocket is fascinating, but Harper does not give us very much information. Kat doesn't give Cromwell very much information either. What exactly was he gaining from her? She never really comes across any intel that he doesn't already have, and this plot point ends when Cromwell dies.

Why was Kat so close to Anne Boleyn? We are told that Anne Boleyn entrusts Kat Ashley, over anyone else, to protect her daughter. However, Kat is just another one of Anne's ladies, and their interaction is very limited. When Kat first arrives at court, the two woman have an exciting, whispered conversation establishing that Kat is corresponding with Cromwell and is thus to be trusted. After this, they don't have any special relationship. I want to believe that they are very close, but Harper does not give us any reason to believe there is a special relationship between the two.

What I liked:

Kat Ashley and Elizabeth I's relationship was very believable. Harper did establish that these two women were very close and I very much enjoyed reading about the special bond Elizabeth I shared with Kat, who was very much her mother figure.

Thomas Seymour. This guy is so creepy. I loved that he and Kat had a history and how this drove Kat to fervently defend the young Elizabeth against him.

Overall, this book was an average work of historical fiction, but if you love the Tudors you will enjoy this new perspective. ( )
  bookishblond | Oct 24, 2018 |
I loved this book. I'm an avid Tudor history geek, but I admit I don't know a lot about Kat, and I was absolutely thrilled to get to know her better. The book is wonderfully well written, very well paced, shares details without being overwhelming, and does a wonderful job melding historical fact with a fictional story. ( )
  anastaciaknits | Oct 29, 2016 |


This book is about Katherine Champernown Ashley, governess of Elizabeth I. It is historical fiction and written in the first person in form of a diary. It was interesting enough in that it relates the history of a well known historical figure and how she became the early main influence of Elizabeth....

Harper did her research, and the book is very interesting..... I have one other to read by her: "Mistress of Mourning" focusing on the mother of Henry VIII...

I much prefer Harper's Elizabeth "mysteries", but it seems as though she has stopped writing them years ago..... ( )
  Auntie-Nanuuq | Jan 18, 2016 |
It was a quick read and is a good book to pass the time with. It's not the greatest book by any means, though.
There are a few historical inaccuracies (which are easily Google-able) that irked me. There was a bit too much use of modern day language. It was melodramatic is some places, and it ended way to abruptly.
( )
  Rosedgrdo | Jun 21, 2013 |
Interesting.

I enjoyed this retelling of the story of Elizabeth Tudor from the point of view of her much beloved governess, Kat Ashley. It wasn't quite as page-turning as a Philippa Gregory book (with whom she is compared on the back cover), but it was certainly an informative and satisfying read.

After a short prologue set at the beheading of Anne Boleyn, the author takes us right back to Kat Ashley's childhood. As she explains in the notes at the end of the book, Ms Harper had to make several valued judgments about Kat's childhood due to incomplete or conflicting accounts from the time. However, it seems likely that the governess came from fairly lowly parentage and rose to a much respected position in court. She was a close confidante of Queen Anne and was entrusted with the care of her daughter, the princess Elizabeth, after Anne's sad demise.
Kat Ashley's rise from poverty was orchestrated by Thomas Cromwell of Wolf Hall fame - not a book I enjoyed but I did have some extra background as a result of having read it.
As the narrative covers the various reigns of the queens that followed on from Anne Boleyn, plus the childhood and subsequent coronation of Elizabeth's half sister, Mary, I felt that I was left with a more complete picture of the times than by reading individual books on each of these women.

Well worth reading for lovers of historical fiction.

Also read:
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (1 star)
The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory (5 stars)
The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory (4 stars)
Dear Heart, How Like You This? by Wendy J Dunn (3 stars)
Tread Softly by Kate Pennington (4 stars)
Beware Princess Elizabeth by Carolyn Meyer (4 stars)
The Sixth Wife by Jean Plaidy (4 stars) ( )
  DubaiReader | Dec 1, 2012 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Karen Harperprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bronzino, AgnoloCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cavanaugh, MeighanDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fasciano, IsabellaCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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