Royal Reprints: Margaret Campbell Barnes
~ Elisa Babel, MLS
A young English princess tries on her wedding gown with excitement only for her betrothal to the French Dauphin to be broken shortly afterwards. So begins the first chapter of The Tudor Rose, a novel about Elizabeth of York, wife of Henry VII and mother of Henry VIII. I knew who she was but what was she like? This wonderful novel by the late English novelist Margaret Campbell Barnes provided an answer for me.
Margaret Campbell Barnes (1891-1962) began her career by writing for various leading British literary publications before turning to historical fiction. Her agents at Curtis Brown Ltd. encourage her to write historical novels. She wrote ten novels between 1944-62. In 1944 her son Michael’s death in World War II combat operation devasted her and her husband Peter. Her love for her son shines in her writing. (A fuller biography may be found in any of her reissued novels)
I first discovered Margaret Campbell Barnes in high school. The copy of The Tudor Rose in my high school library wasn’t very distinctive on the shelf: it was a hardback rebound with the title engraved on the spine. (I don’t remember if any of Barnes’s novels were there) I went on to read other historical fiction novels but I didn’t forget this novel. Years would pass before I saw it again…
What I enjoy about Barnes’s novels is her writing style and how she brings her subject and the time period to life. As I read, I feel I’m watching what’s happening: the battles, political upheaval, murder, vying for the throne, feasts and royal pageantry, and domestic life. The individual people in her novels, both well-known and lesser known, come alive on the pages. Because it’s actual history, there are no surprises about the ending. The way Barnes tells the story will have you wanting to know. Barnes follows the historical records about her subjects accurately, and she includes an acknowledgement about her research in her novels. As an undergrad history major, I appreciate that.
If you enjoyed reading Margaret Campbell Barnes when you were younger, you’ll be delighted her novels have been reissued with beautiful covers after being out of print for many years. I’ve bought four of the reissues including The Tudor Rose. Three of them were new to me so I was in for a treat. (My second favorite is My Lady of Cleves) Below is a list of Barnes’s reissued novels in chronological order in English history and their original publication dates:
The Passionate Brood (1944)
Within the Hollow Crown (1947)
The Tudor Rose (1953)
Brief Gaudy Hour (1949)
King’s Fool (1959)
My Lady of Cleves (1946)
Mary of Carisbrooke (1956)
This is the first in a three part series about my favorite historical fiction novelists. Next installment: Margaret Irwin.
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