When beautiful cloth merchant’s daughter Elizabeth Williams is widowed at the age of twenty-two, she is determined to make herself a success in the business she has learned from her father. But there are those who oppose a woman making her own way in the world, and soon Elizabeth realises she may have some powerful enemies – enemies who also know the truth about her late husband…
Security – and happiness – comes when Elizabeth is introduced to kindly, ambitious merchant turned lawyer, Thomas Cromwell. Their marriage is one based on mutual love and respect…but it isn’t always easy being the wife of an influential, headstrong man in Henry VIII’s London. The city is filled with ruthless people and strange delights – and Elizabeth realises she must adjust to the life she has chosen…or risk losing everything.
It’s always fascinating to be able to put flesh on the bones of a historical character who has, for so long, quite literally, been the woman standing in the shadow behind Henry VIII’s henchman, Thomas Cromwell. Those of us who devour Tudor history will know that there is very little recorded about Elizabeth Cromwell, and what is known is sometimes ambivalent. However, in The Woman in the Shadows, the author has taken the known facts about Elizabeth, that she was the daughter of a cloth merchant and that when she married her second husband, Thomas Cromwell, in around 1514, she was a wealthy widow, and by taking these facts and adding the author’s own interpretation, we have been treated to a fascinating story about the intricacies of Tudor life.
Reading about lives in the shadow is rather like having your very own cloak of invisibility as you get to witness both the intimate and the dramatic events of lives which have long passed. Reading a novel by a skilful author who has a natural ability for storytelling you are immediately immersed in past events. Spicy and strong, the sight, sounds and smells of a teeming city, with its cramped and crowded houses, and its spluttering gutters brings Tudor London to life in all its pungent glory. With skilful manoeuvring we walk the same streets as Elizabeth. We mourn the loss of her first husband and gently celebrate with her in her marriage to Thomas and in doing so we discover just what life was like in Tudor London for a woman of middling means and notable intellect.
Some authors have a natural ability to bring history alive and well researched and finely delivered historical fiction is a joy to read, as not only does it inform and educate but it also entertains on a high level. The Woman in the Shadows is one of those finely crafted stories by an author who knows and understands history and who gets right into the minutiae of Tudor life. This gives us a fascinating glimpse into the Cromwell marriage and allows us to see a very different side of the chameleon like statesman, and finally to get to see Elizabeth Cromwell as woman in her own right.
My thanks to the author and also to Kate at Accent Press for my review copy of The Woman in the Shadows.