Review of Cor Rotto, a novel by Adrienne Dillard

Cor Rotto tells the story of Catherine Carey, a woman who was the eldest daughter of Mary Boleyn, the sister of Anne Boleyn. Very early in the novel, Catherine discovers she is the bastard daughter of Henry VIII – a fact that will shape her whole life.

Leaving her mother’s side at fifteen, Catherine goes to England to serve Anne of Cleves. Since Catherine is of noble birth, she is married at just sixteen, meeting her future husband, Francis Knollys, for the first time on the day of their wedding. It is the beginning of a loving, passionate relationship, which also results in an almost yearly pregnancy. This does not prevent Catherine from serving not only the three last queens of Henry VIII, but also – with great dedication and love – the final Tudor queen: Elizabeth I. Dillard guides the reader from Catherine’s girlhood to her death in middle age. By then, Catherine has birthed over a dozen babies and seen her older children grow into young adults taking up their own roles at the court of Elizabeth I.

The first person narration entices the reader in believing we are hearing Katherine’s voice echoing down the centuries of history. Dillard tells Catherine’s story with great empathy, building up a picture of a selfless, loving woman. Dillard’s thorough research is likewise apparent throughout her ambitious first novel. Since Catherine lived closely to her royal half siblings, she is the perfect choice for a character well able to not only observe and recount the stories of the three last Tudor monarchs, but also reveal their human faces. This novel left me emotionally moved.