REVIEW: The Briar Rose by Dinah Dean
She’s a healer, but a broken church and a broken heart are beyond her skill
With the dissolution of the monastery that has been the center of her life imminent, Kate Cressy can’t help but resent Matthew Hartwell, the man sent to her father’s house to value every item of furniture, and his particular attention to her. Without the abbey, she will soon be homeless, and a visit from King Henry VIII himself makes her divided loyalty even more painful. Her one comfort is that among the courtiers will be her secret suitor, Amyas.
When Matthew Hartwell bravely saves the King’s life, Kate is called up for her knowledge of healing to aid him. She prefers the sunny charm of Amyas to the dark serious nature of the man who fate keeps putting in her path, but her life is destined to change whatever her choice…
TW – Kate’s father is a “spare the rod, spoil the child” man and Kate has spent many a week in her childhood in the cellar on bread and water. There is a serious injury during the court hunt that Kate treats.
This is a (mainly) sweet little book. It’s set in 1540 England during the dissolution of the last monastery by Henry VIII. Now, when’s the last time you read a book with that background? The heroine’s father has been the bailey of the monastery of Woodham which is to be surrendered to the King. I get the impression that a bailey was the man responsible for managing the monastery grounds, record keeping and such. Anyway, the hero is with the Court of Augmentations, the group of men who traveled around the country overseeing the handover of church lands and property to the king and guess whose house he’s come to inventory? Not an auspicious beginning for our love story.
Kate is in love with a showy courtier who’s come in the company of the king to Woodham (the fictional town and Abbey which is based on the real Waltham Abbey) to go hawking and enjoy rural life away from London for a few days. She’s upset about the closing of the monastery both for religious reasons and because her father is about to lose his job. Master Matthew Hartwell seems to her to just be itching to take over her home after he’s inventoried it. She hopes that Amyas, her love, will come for her one day despite the fact that she now has no dowry. But she’s beginning to worry that Amyas is more interested in his advancement at court than he is in her. And why won’t Master Hartwell leave her alone? He knows she loves another. Besides he’s too quiet and dull for her. No matter that he does seem to be a kind man who does her numerous small favors with, seemingly, no ulterior motive in sight. But Matthew is nothing if not persistent in the pursuit of his lady love and Kate has to learn to tell true love from dross.
Master Matthew Hartwell is smitten with Kate Cressy which I’d bet anyone in their mutual presence could have seen and told her. Kate, meanwhile, is in love with the idea of a man rather than the man himself though it will take the whole book for her to realize this. I read this book about 20 years ago when I got my hands on an out-of-print copy and reviewed it shortly after Dear Author started but now that it’s available digitally (YAY!), I thought I ought to reread it and see if there was anything little thing I wanted to spruce up about my original review. The answer is heck yeah.
I started out with the opening section of my old review and will stick this in as well. “Dean writes more quiet, slow romances. She takes her time to set the stage and gives lots of background info on the times and places about which she writes. But she does it in a very subtle, non-bashing-you-over-the-head style. However, she’s not one for lots of sexual tension and the love story in this one is played out very slowly. Maybe too slowly at times. Still, the period detail of Tudor England is fascinating. So many jobs (warreners, colliers) that don’t exist anymore, so many traditions that have fallen by the wayside, so much pomp and ceremony that has vanished with that age.”
I loved the period detailing again. I knew little to nothing about what a bailey did (this is, I think, what I believe an estate steward did) or how the religious houses and monasteries of England were dissolved after Henry VIII made himself Head of the Church and owner of all the wealth built up in church properties for hundreds of years. Matthew is part of the team (mainly lawyers, as he tells Kate) who were to close up priories, nunneries, and monasteries across the country. Some of his fellows were, like Matthew has been, concerned as much about the displaced religious as with toting up the value of what the king was raking in and handing out to favorites or those who could pay. At one point Matthew poured his dismay about it all out to Kate, thanking God that he had not been at some of the sites where resistance led to horrific deaths. Kate’s own brother, who chose a religious life over continuing the Cressy family tradition of working for Woodham Abbey, is one of the lost monks, adrift in a new life they don’t want.
Kate’s family are on either side of the wealth and status coin. Her father has worked for the Abbey and accepted “little tokens” but squandered his earnings which now leaves him and Kate in a bind. His brother studied law, earned a knighthood, and entertains the king when Henry and his court arrive for some “simple” country hawking and hunting. Poor Kate has dealt with her father’s sour attitude and carping all her life. When the king arrives and Kate again sees the man she thinks she loves, Amyas’s bitter discussion about how to advance at court (it’s what you offer them as much as who you know) makes her distrustful of Matthew. That she is distraught over the fact that Woodham Abbey will be dissolved rather than turned into a cathedral (as everyone had hoped) and that Matthew works with those employed to do this, doesn’t help his suit either. Oh, and her fat her pushing her to accept Matthew so that he might continue to comfortably live in the Grange also sets Kate’s back up.
I was to the point of wanting to shake Kate as much as applaud her for sticking to her guns and standing up for herself. I’ve probably given away who she ends up with but I’m not really giving anything away that won’t be known from early on. As I mentioned in “The Country Cousins,” the Hartwell men must earn the love of their heroines and Matthew begins that tradition. One thing I’d forgotten (among many) is that Kate gets pushed to the edge but is allowed to salvage her position and thus can make a choice from a place of security rather than desperation. She also uses her knowledge of herbs and gift of medical healing (if you’re bleeding, use cobwebs to staunch the blood but try to find ones with a minimum of dead flies in them) to help those in need which gives her a feeling of self-worth.
Kate is indeed a prickly briar rose and Matthew must get himself past her thorns but he’s such a beta/cinnamon roll guy (just ask the squirrels, they’ll tell you) that he allows her choice and time to make up her mind. And choice, for a Tudor heroine, is priceless. B