Saturday, August 29, 2009

"None such in the land"

Susan's recent post on The White Queen got me to thinking about Nonsuch, the royal palace built by Henry VIII, and a novel I once read about its history. In the 1530s, the king chose a site on the Surrey plain for the location of a magnificent hunting lodge. The lands were already owned by the Cuddington family, and had been for hundreds of years, but no matter -- King Henry annexed the entire village, along with a manor house, church, and priory, and had all the structures torn down to construct a Renaissance palace "as there would be none such in the land." The Cuddingtons were properly compensated for their troubles and given lands in Sussex in exchange. No doubt they were less than thrilled by this demonstration of the king's munificence!

Nonsuch Palace, which never merited more than a few visits by Henry VIII, proved more popular with his daughter, Elizabeth I. It remained standing until 1682. By this time it had fallen into the hands of Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland, the notorious mistress of Charles II. Her gambling habits left her short of cash, so she had it demolished, the building materials sold to pay her debts.

Mary M. Luke's The Nonsuch Lure focuses not on the Tudors themselves, but on the Cuddingtons, the family dispossessed by the king's decision. It's a time-slip novel about star-crossed lovers, a beautiful 16th-century woman thought to be tainted by witchcraft, a curse that lasts over generations, and a mysterious lost treasure known only as the Lure. An irresistible combination for an escapist historical read.

The novel begins in the 1970s, as Andrew Moffatt, a wealthy American architect who spends his time jet-setting around the globe, comes across an old journal in a Virginia bookstore. Andrew gets caught up in reading the diary entries of Julian Cushing, a young teacher from colonial Williamsburg, who became so enraptured by a painting that it drew him across the Atlantic and to the ruins of Nonsuch Palace. Curious, Andrew travels to England to visit the Nonsuch excavation site, and finds that his life and Julian's are running in parallel. He begins seeing ghosts from the Tudor era, and there's an evil presence at Nonsuch that seems to have lingered...

I first read The Nonsuch Palace about twenty years ago, and after a quick reread, I found the storyline just as captivating now as it was to me then. Parts are dated, like the 1970s-era slang, and then there's Andrew's occasional cigarette-smoking (in a historic building, too, for shame!). But it's still a wonderful book, and you won't soon forget the history of Nonsuch Palace after reading it. My copy's a 1977 paperback, and it's long out of print, but you can find copies on ABE and, among others (kind of pricey, though), as well as at many public libraries.


  1. Stop that, just stop it. The only thing stopping me from ordering it right away is the price. Hoping for an ILL.......

    Hope it's not as dated as Anya Seton's 70's timeslip. Smoldering Embers I think it was called.

  2. That Seton wasn't her best by a long shot. This one reminds me more of Green Darkness though with more sympathetic characters and a less sprawling plotline. I was shocked at the prices it's going for now, because I didn't remember its being rare, but maybe word has gotten around. Pretty decent Amazon reviews for an OOP book.

  3. Will have to look for this one!

  4. I first read this in the 1970s and loved it. I finally found a library copy and re-read it 15 years or so ago. I agree wholeheartedly with your review! It is one of those rare books that really stuck in my head. And you are right, the only downside is that 1970s slang that dates it a bit.

  5. I still have my hardcover copy that I bought when it was published in the 70s. I really enjoyed this book!

  6. Anonymous1:21 AM

    great great book, love it when I was in high school which was 30 years ago and will always love to read it again and again...........