Thursday, April 23, 2015

"Lamentation" by C.J. Sansom, Book #6 in the Matthew Shardlake series

I'm addicted to C.J. Sansom's tales of Tudor-era lawyer, Matthew Shardlake, and have enjoyed all of them as audiobooks narrated by Steven Crossley. So it was a happy day for me when book #6 in the series, "Lamentation," became available -- it being one of the books I listed in "My Reading Wish List for 2015."

Hampton Court Palace exterior
Hampton Court Palace

At first, I had some concerns that the series might be running out of steam. There's missing book that might get someone (Catherine Parr, in this case) in big trouble. I've seen this plot before. Once I got into it, though, I realized that it might actually be the best book of the series to date.

It's 1546 and the aging Henry VIII is burning heretics. The king might be head of the church in England, but he won't tolerate deviation from the doctrine of transubstantiation -- the literal, not merely symbolic, transformation of sacramental bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. There are even rumors that Henry might return England to Roman Catholicism.

Hampton Court Palace gardens
Gardens at Hampton Court Palace
 Still traumatized by his experience (in book #5) of the sinking of the Mary Rose, Shardlake is forced to attend the burning of Anne Askew, which sickens and frightens him. Shardlake himself, once a reformist, has lost his faith but is willing to practice whatever the king commands. Despite his longing for tolerance and peace, religious factions insert themselves into his life at all levels -- from his personal friendships, to his legal practice, as well as the political machinations into which he (inevitably) becomes embroiled.
The question the reader is left with is to what extent political advantage drives religious fanaticism and the hunt for heretics, as opposed to the reverse. As might be expected, we see both cynical, self-interested courtiers and true believers at work. In the hands of those around the king, accusations of heresy against competitors for power and wealth were very handy. Even the queen was not immune, though Henry was seriously displeased by those who unsuccessfully tried to implicate her.

Hampton Court Palace, The Great Watching Chamber
Hampton Court Palace, the "Great Watching Chamber," where Henry VIII entertained high-ranking court members
 The book includes a lengthy and interesting historical epilog. Catherine Parr's "The Lamentation of a Sinner" is a real book that was published in the English language by the Queen in 1547. Catherine was of a reformist bent, but stopped short of actual heresy (as defined by Henry VIII at that time). You can find a copy of the book, which is a sort of spiritual journal, along with the rest of Catherine's known letters and other writings published by University of Chicago Press as "Katherine Parr; Complete Works and Correspondence."

As for Matthew Shardlake... It looks as though the next book will see him working on behalf of a new and exciting client. I can't wait to read about it!

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