The Keeper of the Queen’s Jewels.
Anne Boleyn laid stiff and cold in an arrow chest, buried beneath the Chapel of St Peter, and still she exerted control over our lives.The Keeper Queen’s Jewels.
The Keeper of the Queen’s Jewels is Adrienne Dillard’s new Tudor novel—and what a glittering jewel it is. Reading this novel, I could not help thinking about how important it is for us to write and read works which explore the ‘feminist Standpoint’. Snow, blood, enclosure and sewing all evoke powerful metaphors for the female gender. Snow symbolises female purity—a symbol of control imposed on women by patriarchy. Blood—the symbol of life, or death. Enclosure speaks of how women of the past lived their lives. Sewing—those important threads of empathy that connect us to one another. In her novel exploring the lives of Tudor women, Dillard handles the use of these metaphors so powerfully that they become keys opening the door to the collective consciousness. They are the sympathy of all things.
The metaphor of blood oozes and flows in The Queen’s Jewels. Anne Boleyn’s bloody but Tudor legal murder by her husband Henry VIII haunts the narrative. Her recent death leads to her famous pearl necklace being entrusted to Margery Horseby to keep safe for her daughter Elizabeth. But Anne continues to live in this story as a ghost of warning—the ghost no one can forgot—even the man who murdered her. Silenced in life, in death, her silence screams to all those women who knew her of the realities of their world. She not only haunts Margery Horsey, but also Henry VIII’s new wife, Jane Seymour:
“…Do you want to stay, Margery? Can you be loyal to me?”
Honoring her request for honesty, I gave it. “I’m not sure, but I will try.”
“I believe you will.” She rose from the chair. As she moved, the gold embroidery on her gown winked in the candlelight. “Is there anything else you would like to tell me?”
“Your sleeves… Skutt made them for her.”
“Yes, I thought as much.” She walked towards the bedchamber where Lady Seymour had retreated at the start of our meeting. Disappearing briefly, she reemerged with her brother’s wife in tow. “Lady Seymour will see you out.”
Dillard crafts the complicated past relationship of Margery and Jane with the dead queen with immense skill. The living women, both perfectly depicted, carry the heavy guilt of her death, desperate, in their own ways, to come to terms with their actions that may have led to Anne’s bloody end. Dillard also paints Jane’s complex character by showing her controlling the past to control the present. Knowing too well the fate of her predecessor, Jane is aware of the dance she must dance in this cruel Tudor world. It is a carefully choreographed dance of survival—a chilling dance, commanding her every move, every word. At the court of Henry VIII, it is dance Tudor high-born women learn from the cradle.
Dillard’s construction of Henry VIII is exactly as I imagine him — a man willing to consider executing his own daughter if she does not bow to his will. He is both loving and hateful, so often to the women close to him. He makes it clear to Jane that she must bear his son if she wishes to live. The king is also Janus-faced to his subjects—offering love and forgiveness on one hand, and cruel death on the other. The below scene shows this, as well as foreshadowing future tragic events like a diamond cutting glass:
“Then let us begin to repair this breach.” The king beckoned my brother. “Tom, fetch Master Aske’s gift, please.”
Tom flew from the room, returning a moment later with a jacket of crimson satin draped over his arm. Taking it from my brother, the king presented it to Aske with an effusive thump on the shoulder.
Awestruck, Aske traced the delicate embroidery. “This is too much, Your Majesty.”
“The feast awaits, Master Aske. Put it on and let us join in the merriment. Afterward, we would like you to write a history of the events in the north so we can further discuss the terms of our peace.”
Feminist Standpoint novels build places of empathy—and illuminate the importance of telling women stories. Historical feminist standpoint novels remind us why we cannot forget the past. Novels such as The Queen’s Jewels illuminate the pathways we have travelled, the pathways we must continue to travel for change.
Dillard is an amazingly gifted writer—and this novel will not disappoint her many readers. It is her best work yet—and ‘a must read’ for lovers of Tudor fiction. And a must read for any reader who loves powerful storytelling.
The Keeper of the Queen’s Jewels will be published on October 12, 2022.
Adrienne Dillard is the author of best-selling novels Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey and The Raven’s Widow: A Novel of Jane Boleyn, in addition to Catherine Carey in a Nutshell.
Read my interview of Adrienne here.