Review: A Matter of Conscience: Henry VIII, The Aragon Years by Judith Arnopp

‘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.

A Matter of Conscience: the Aragon Years offers a unique first-person account of the ‘monster’ we love to hate and reveals a man on the edge; an amiable man made dangerous by his own impossible expectation.

My Review:

I picked up this Judith Arnopp novel knowing it would be an effortless read. Of course I wasn’t disappointed! It was an interesting and enlightening experience to read a book about Henry VIII in first person. We have a young Henry here—before his life-changing accident—before his health started to fail. This was a Henry we can relate to. At first, he’s a pawn in his father’s political maneuvering, and he hates it. He’s never good enough to please the king, always second best to his dead brother. I couldn’t help but empathize with him. And his early love affair with his brother’s widow was as gratifying as I could have hoped. Too bad his story never stops here!

I move behind her, wrap my arms about her body and rest my chin on the top of her head. She reaches up to cradle my cheek and sighs with deep satisfaction.
“What a splendid day, my Henry. I shall never forget it.”
I kiss her hair. “It will be even more splendid tomorrow. We should take early to our bed or you may be too tired to enjoy it.”
I feel her torso shake with suppressed laughter. My wife has quickly come to understand me. She knows I am never tired. I often spend all day in the saddle, ride three horses until they drop with fatigue, and then dance all evening, but it never stops me from loving her until the sweet hours of dawn.

I pull away; she turns in my arms and kisses the cleft of my chin. “I am a little tired,” she says, but the lusty gleam in her eye informs me otherwise.  

It’s not surprising that he sees his vitality and excellence in all things as a natural gift. He doesn’t really brag about the fact that he conquers everything he puts his hand to; he accepts it as a given. It never occurs to him that perhaps his jousting and tennis rivals—Charles Brandon, most specifically—are letting him win. We know this happy state of affairs in love and luck won’t last long, and inevitably Henry suffers disappointment. His eyes wander and he finds it easy to take mistresses. He confesses his sins after every indiscretion, and that’s enough. He’s a man and these things are expected. He’s very good at making excuses, and when Kate starts to complain it’s all her fault. He’s never wrong. I found my early empathy fading, but not entirely. Once Anne Boleyn came along, I read with fascination as he ignored the red flags. Aren’t we all masters at deluding ourselves? He’s just more flamboyant than the rest of us.

Amazon UK:

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Meet Judith Arnopp

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. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Connect with Judith


3 thoughts on “Review: A Matter of Conscience: Henry VIII, The Aragon Years by Judith Arnopp”

  1. Thank you so much for such a lovely review. I’ve been jumping up and down – well, in my head anyway, my body wouldn’t let me. I’m really pleased you connected with my version of Henry. Now I am writing book two he isn’t so easy to push around.

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