Fantastically unusual. A must read for a British history obsessed like me.
Songbird (The Tudor Court, Book I) by Karen Heenan released in 2019 in the Historical Fiction, romance genre.
She has the voice of an angel… But one false note could send her back to her old life of poverty. After her father sells her to Henry VIII, ten-year-old Bess builds a new life as a royal minstrel, and earns the nickname “the king’s songbird.”
She comes of age in the dangerous Tudor court, where the stakes are always high, and where politics, heartbreak, and disease threaten everyone from the king to the lowliest musician.
Her world has only one constant: Tom, her first and dearest friend. But when Bess intrigues with Anne Boleyn and strains against the restrictions of life at court, will she discover that the biggest risk of all is listening to her own stubborn heart?
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Narrated by Jennifer Summerfield
Karen Heenan was born and raised in Philadelphia, PA. She fell in love with books and stories before she could read, and has wanted to write for nearly as long. After far too many years in a cubicle, she set herself free to follow her dreams—which include gardening, sewing, traveling and, of course, lots of writing.
She lives in Lansdowne, PA, not far from Philadelphia, with two cats and a very patient husband, and is always hard at work on her next book.
The Inspiration Behind Songbird
It seemed innocent enough at the time. I was reading a biography of Henry VIII—having been Tudor-obsessed since childhood, this wasn’t unusual—and in a section about Henry’s love of music, and his competition with Cardinal Wolsey over who had the superior choir, there was this sentence: “When Henry bought children, as he did in December of 1516, paying a stranger 40 pounds for a child, it is tempting to think that he purchased them for their musical gifts.” *
Hmm. Tempting, indeed.
I read on, but I kept returning to that sentence. Forty pounds was an unimaginable amount of money for a normal person in 1516. You would have to need that money very badly, I thought, to sell a child who had survived to an age where they might be of help to you and your family.
I finished the book and went on to other things, but that child just wouldn’t leave me alone. How would the parents have felt? How desperate must they have been? And what about the child? Would you feel better about having been sold, knowing that you brought security to the family you might never see again?
Who would you be, if you were no longer a member of your family? How do you know who to love—who to trust—when that is your past?
It was irresistible. Knowing Henry had most likely purchased the child to sing in the chapel choir, I still created the character of Bess. A chorister couldn’t be female, but I didn’t want to write this story from a male perspective, so instead she becomes a minstrel.
I took my girl, just before her 10th birthday, and dropped her into an unfamiliar world, with no one to rely upon but herself, and the voice that made the king by her in the first place. She has one friend, Tom, an older boy who came into the court in the same way several years before.
Eventually she makes a new family, attaching herself to everyone who is kind to her. Found family is one of my favorite themes, and Bess has the opportunity to surround herself with people she loves, always suspecting that her real family wasn’t that sorry to see her go. Because of (a) the vagaries of sixteenth century life, and (b) evil author intent, Bess doesn’t get to keep all her found family throughout the story, which just adds to her continuing inability to trust the world to keep her safe.
There’s also guilt. Once she’s been at court for a little while, warm and properly fed for the first time in her life, able to sing as much as she wants without punishment, Bess realizes she’s happy. She doesn’t want to go home, to cold and hunger and being punished for wasting time with music. But for a child, that’s not an easy realization.
She grows up in the court system, progressing from the child singer who Henry calls his “songbird,” to a valued member of the King’s Music, the name given to the group of musicians who traveled with the royal household.
But the question always remains: Who can you trust when the people who are supposed to love you are willing to give you up?
* Carrolly Erickson, Great Harry, ch. 14. Quoted source: Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII.
Illustration #1 Henry VIII, by Hans Holbein – Pixabay
Illustration #2 Fresco Mural – Pixabay
This post is part of a tour. Find the schedule here: www.coffeepotbookclub.com