Book Review: The Concubine by Norah Lofts

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A richly woven story that captures the complexities of a turbulent period in English history and the real people who lived through them.  Poignant and moving at times, this is one of the best books I have read set in Tudor times. 4 / 5

Summary (from back of book)

‘All eyes and hair’ a courtier had said disparagingly of her – and certainly the younger daughter of Tom Boleyn lacked the bounteous charms of most ladies of Court. Black-haired, black-eyed, she had a wild-sprite quality that was to prove more effective, more dangerous than conventional feminine appeal.

The King first noticed her when she was sixteen – and with imperial greed he smashed her youthful love-affair with Harry Percy and began the process of royal seduction…

But this was no ordinary woman, no maid-in-waiting to be possessed and discarded by a king. Against his will, his own common sense, Henry found himself bewitched – enthralled by the young girl who was to be known as – THE CONCUBINE…

Favourite Quote

And the tunes had all been merry or sad in a pleasant way, sad like the scent of cowslips or violets when you were grown up and picking them for practical purposes, the cowslips for wine, the violets to crystallise, and to smell them reminded you of how eagerly you had gathered them just for themselves, when you were a child.

(The Concubine by Norah Lofts, pg 44)


He said, ‘I have been thinking about the English. You know them. Do you understand them?’

‘No. Nobody does. They do not even understand themselves. Of all people they are the most unpredictable – and the most hypocritical. Their King is typical of them all.’

(The Concubine by Norah Lofts, pg 80)


I’m not surprised at how well-written and engaging this story is. I’ve read some of Norah Lofts other books; the ones that come to mind are The King’s Pleasure and Eleanor the Queen, both of which I enjoyed immensely. The Concubine is certainly as good as those two examples.

We all have our favourites, I think, when it comes to the wives of Henry VIII.  Anne Boleyn is not one of mine, though I do find her story an interesting, if sad one.  A little ironic too, given how hard she worked to make it to Queen, only to fall as far as anyone possibly could a couple of years later.  So perhaps a story about Anne Boleyn might not at first glance seem like my cup of tea…and yet, the era and in the people who lived in it / through it are fascinating.

This story oozes historical fact and description, and where it is lacking due to no contemporary evidence or records, the author is quick to point out where she became inventive:

“I do not say that this is how it happened; I only say that this is how it could have happened.” Your Author.

Each chapter is prefaced with a quote about that chapter’s subject matter; many are written at the time, others written by later historians.  These help settle the fiction in amongst the fact so that the story reads as fluid and seamless between what we know occurred and what might possibly have.

And, it is not only from Anne’s POV that we are given her story, because all she is and all she does affects a great many people around her, as well as further afield.  There is of course, Henry himself, Catherine of Aragon, relegated to Dowager Princess of Wales, Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell, Mary Boleyn…the list goes on.  This doesn’t serve to complicate the story, though you might think it would.  What it does do is give the reader the fullest possible picture of what is going on in and around the main areas of activity.

The characters and personalities of the main players in this story are well-presented.  Anne is portrayed as very smart and very clever – which, by all accounts she very much was.  I’m not sure I completely agree with what is given as her primary motivation for setting her on the road to becoming queen – her forcibly broken engagement to Henry Percy by persons higher up the power chain.  Why?  Because if she didn’t actually want to become queen, she had ample opportunity – years – to get out of it.

As for Henry, he was also an intelligent man, able to understand and put across highly academic arguments when it came to some of the biggest issues of the day, namely religion.  And some of that intelligence comes through in the book, but it is often overshadowed by another side of his personality: his desire to get what he wants.  It’s sad that this comes at an extraordinary price; sometimes by shaming, humiliating and ruining those who cross him, at other times only a person’s death will satisfy him.  And it’s a price he’s willing to make others pay for his ambition.  His character in the book is very believable; of course, he doesn’t see himself in such negative terms but rather as a victim of others mistakes and schemes.

We all know what happened in the end to Anne Boleyn, but that doesn’t make the final chapters of this book any less moving or poignant.  The Concubine was an engaging, compelling read, that I recommend to those who are interested in the life of Anne Boleyn or those who enjoy fiction set during the Tudor period.  I’m hoping to get around to reading Alison Weir’s Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession soon, and am looking forward to see how she presents Anne, perhaps even comparing the two portrayals.

Note: A little bit of shameless publicity here.  If you are interested in The Tudor period, I wrote a Tudor ghost story centred on Anne Boleyn and Catherine of Aragon, for a competition last year, placing joint second.  If you would like to read it (it’s free!), follow this link.  Don’t forget to let me know what you think to it…


7 thoughts on “Book Review: The Concubine by Norah Lofts

  1. Sammi, I do declare you are totally immersed in this historical period. But that’s no bad thing.
    Are you aware that on BHOL (British History online) you can read transcripts of various royal communications? While they start a tad earlier than Henry VIII, his reign provides the most. I found them most interesting. Highly recommend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha ha – it does feel like that at bit at the moment, which is surprising, because although I do find the Tudors fascinating, I’m usually immersed in much earlier time periods.
      And thank you for the recommendation – I’ve still yet to check it out, but it is on my to do list! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think you’re right that this is unusual among those of us who enjoy historical fiction, but I really don’t have a favorite wife of Henry VIII. I’ve seen plenty of movies and TV series (which all blur together now, I’m afraid), and I love all the pageantry and clothes and drama, but the only royal characters that really captured my attention were Henry II and Eleanor in “The Lion in Winter”. And that was probably because of Katherine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole. 🙂 But I’m definitely fascinated with how non-royal people lived during this age. Recently I’ve been watching a series of videos while I exercise where they’re recreating was life was like for tenant farmers on a Tudor monastery (called Tudor Monastery Farm) — I’d highly recommend it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve seen some but not all of Tudor Monastery Farm, but definitely recall watching the Christmas episode. I think they’re a great bunch in those series. Have you seen the series they did on how to build a castle? I think it was called ‘Secrets of the Castle’. It’s fantastic; I’ve watched it a good few times now from beginning to end, and have learned so much. Ruth Goodman is wonderful. Earlier this year I bought a copy of her ‘How to be a Tudor’. Another book I have which I’ve yet to read but looks interesting is Alison Sim’s ‘The Tudor Housewife’.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’d forgotten there was a Christmas episode — and here I was about to finish off episode 6 and jump straight to the Secrets of the Castle series! I really like Ruth Goodman and the others, too. I got to know them by watching the Tales from Green Valley first — life on a farm in 1620, which in many ways felt more rural and less “modern” seeming than the life of a tenant farmer on a monastery in 1500. I am really enjoying actually SEEING them do all these things I’ve read about. I feel so much more prepared to include these everyday activities in my writing than I did before, and make them feel realistic (not to mention accurate).

        Liked by 1 person

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