(Review) A Matter of Conscience: Henry VIII: The Aragon Years, Book One of The Henrician Chronicle by Judith Arnopp

Publisher and Publication Date: Feed a Read-independent published. February 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 335.
Format: e-book.
Source: I received a complimentary e-book copy from the Coffee Pot Book Club. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Tudor history readers.
Rating: Excellent.

Amazon link

Barnes and Noble

Author Bio:

Judith Arnopp is a lifelong history enthusiast and avid reader, Judith holds a BA in English/Creative writing and an MA in Medieval Studies. She lives on the coast of West Wales where she writes both fiction and non-fiction based in the Medieval and Tudor period. Her main focus is on the perspective of historical women but more recently is writing from the perspective of Henry VIII himself.

Her novels include:
A Matter of Conscience: Henry VIII, the Aragon Years
The Heretic Wind: the life of Mary Tudor, Queen of England
Sisters of Arden: on the Pilgrimage of Grace
The Beaufort Bride: Book one of The Beaufort Chronicle
The Beaufort Woman: Book two of The Beaufort Chronicle
The King’s Mother: Book three of The Beaufort Chronicle
The Winchester Goose: at the Court of Henry VIII
A Song of Sixpence: the story of Elizabeth of York
Intractable Heart: the story of Katheryn Parr
The Kiss of the Concubine: a story of Anne Boleyn
The Song of Heledd
The Forest Dwellers

Judith is also a founder member of a re-enactment group called The Fyne Companye of Cambria and makes historical garments both for the group and others. She is not professionally trained but through trial, error and determination has learned how to make authentic looking, if not strictly HA, clothing. You can find her group Tudor Handmaid on Facebook.

Social Media Links:
Amazon author page
Website: www.judithmarnopp.com
Blog: http://juditharnoppnovelist.blogspot.co.uk/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/JudithArnopp
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tudor_juditharnopp/?hl=en


‘A king must have sons: strong, healthy sons to rule after him.’
On the unexpected death of Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, his brother, Henry, becomes heir to the throne of England. The intensive education that follows offers Henry a model for future excellence; a model that he is doomed to fail.
On his accession, he chooses his brother’s widow, Catalina of Aragon, to be his queen. Together they plan to reinstate the glory of days of old and fill the royal nursery with boys. But when their first-born son dies at just a few months old, and subsequent babies are born dead or perish in the womb, the king’s golden dreams are tarnished. Christendom mocks the virile prince. Catalina’s fertile years are ending yet all he has is one useless living daughter, and a baseborn son. He needs a solution but stubborn to the end, Catalina refuses to step aside. As their relationship founders, his eye is caught by a woman newly arrived from the French court. Her name is Anne Boleyn.


1505 – Henry is informed by his father that he must withdraw from his betrothal to Catherine
of Aragon.
Most of my companions, the older ones at least, have tasted the pleasures of women but I have no desire to dally with whores. Instead, when the curtains are drawn about my bed at night, I think of Catalina and the delights we will one day enjoy. Since there are no tutors to instruct me on such matters, I listen to the tales my friends tell of their conquests. The prospect of bedding my future wife fills me with a mix of excitement and terror. And then, on the eve of my fourteenth birthday, the king informs me that I must make a formal protest against the union with Spain. “Why?” I exclaim. “I have no wish to protest against it!” Father rubs his nose, dabs it with his kerchief, rolls it into a ball, and glares at me. “Your wishes are of no moment. This is politics. You will do as you are told.” I am furious but I know better than to argue. It would do me no good. I can feel my ears growing red with resentment. I clench my teeth until I hear my jaw crack. Oblivious to my feelings, Father shuffles through the papers on his desk, picks one up and reads aloud the instruction he has written there. “You must declare, before witnesses, that the agreement was made when you were a minor and now you reach puberty you will not ratify the contract but denounce it as null and void. Your words will be set in writing and then signed and witnessed by six men. Protestations tumble in my mind but I cannot voice them. When he dismisses me with a flick of his fingers, I bow perfunctorily, turn on my heel, and quit the room. I find Brandon in the tennis court, loudly protesting the score while his opponent, Guildford, stands with his hands
on his hips. “You are wrong, Brandon, the point is mine. Isn’t that so?” He turns to the others, who are lounging nearby. Having only been half attending, they shrug and shake their heads noncommittally. “My Lord Prince,” Brandon, noticing my arrival, turns for my support. “You witnessed it, did you not? The point was mine. Back me up, Sir.” I pick up a racket, idly test it in my hand and emitting a string of curses, hurl it across the court. Silence falls upon the company. “What ails you, Sir?” Brandon is the only one brave enough to come forward. He reaches out, his hand heavy on my shoulder. There are few men I allow to touch me. At the back of my mind I am aware that Brandon is merely proving to the others how high he stands in my regard. I should shrug him off, but I don’t. “Walk with me,” I mutter between my teeth and then turn away, almost falling over Beau who dogs my every footstep. “Out of my way!” I scream and he cowers from me, tail between his legs. Tossing his racket to Thomas Kyvet, Brandon follows me. “Henry, wait,” he calls, and I slow my step, until he has caught up. “What has happened?” “My accursed father.” I am so angry, I can hardly speak; my lips feel tight against my teeth, my head pounds with repressed fury. “He demands that I denounce my union with Catalina.” I stop, rub my hands across my face, the blood thundering in my ears. “I don’t know if I am angry because I have lost her, or because I am so sick of being told what I must do. What will Catalina think? What will happen to her?” He shrugs. “In all probability she will be sent home to Spain.” I think of her leaving, imagine her sad little figure boarding ship for the perilous journey to her homeland. For four years she has lived at the mercy of my father’s generosity which, as we all know, is greatly lacking, and now is to be sent home like a misdirected package. “Sometimes I feel this … this limbo will never end, and I will spend my whole life under my father’s jurisdiction.” He flings a brotherly arm about me and I am suddenly grateful to have a friend. He speaks quietly, with feeling and I struggle not to weep like a woman. “We are all told what to do by our fathers, Henry, and we are much alike, you and me. I am also the second son. Had my brother not died, I’d like as not be languishing in the country, wed too young to some red-cheeked matron yet here I am, your honoured servant. One day, you will be king, and I will still be at your side. The future will soon be ours, and the time for following orders will be done with.”

My Thoughts:

A Matter of Conscience is told in the 1st person narrating voice. In other words, Henry is the narrator. I wasn’t sure that I’d enjoy this book once I realized this. However, I stayed with the story and realized this is a perfect form of writing to let me in on Henry’s thoughts, feelings, reasonings, desires, justifications, arrogance, pride, deception, obsessions, dogmatic, and prideful character. Through Henry’s voice I see a solid transition of maturity from a boy to a man. The transition of his growth is easy to envision. It is palpable. This is one example of why A Matter of Conscience is a story to become apart of-to fall into-to become invested and swept up in the story. Henry is king in the story and he is larger than life.

An interesting point is I do not consider myself a fan of Henry VIII. So, to read about Henry as if he is a swoon-worthy hero is not my response. I don’t have to love a character I am reading about. It is nice to like or love them but not necessary. I do like to see a transformation in the character-Henry has a strong transformation in his character and it is not positive. Readers of Tudor history know Henry VIII through his actions in history. But to get inside his head is surreal. Judith Arnopp has done a brilliant job of recreating Henry.

The spotlight is always on Henry. I am reminded of a line in one of Shakespeare’s plays-Macbeth:
“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.”

Henry is the one who “struts and frets” on the stage of his royal life. He is puffed up with pride and this increases with age.

The story is told linear or chronological.

I love the characterizations of Margaret and Mary the sisters of Henry. I love the characterizations of Bessie Blount and Mary Boleyn. I love the characterization of Thomas Wolsey, the archbishop and cardinal.

Catherine of Aragon is one of my favorite historical figures of this time period. Her plight is sad. It is up to her to deliver a healthy son. History has revealed the outcome. She is pious. She prays often. I wondered exactly how often she might have prayed? The schedule followed by monks and nuns of this time period was eight times a day. The times were: Matins or Nocturns-at midnight. Lauds-Morning Prayer at 0300. Prime-the first hour at 0600. Tierce-Midmorning Prayer at 0900. Sext-Midday Prayer at noon. None-Midafternoon Prayer at 1500. Vespers-Evening Prayer at 1800. Compline-Night Prayer at 2100.

One of my favorite scenes is Princess Mary is throwing a tantrum because she doesn’t want to marry the old French king. Henry watches her. He has seen this behavior of hers since she was a child. She rages and he simply watches.

Themes in the story: loyalty, jealousy, obsession, deception, conformity, justice, greed, power, temptation, and pride.


One thought on “(Review) A Matter of Conscience: Henry VIII: The Aragon Years, Book One of The Henrician Chronicle by Judith Arnopp

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