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Heaven, Earth or Hell

By Maeve Nolan
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A young nobleman struggles to balance honor with survival in the turbulent politics of the court of Henry VIII.

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, was one of the highest-ranking men in Tudor England. The son of the Duke of Norfolk and maternal grandson of the Duke of Buckingham, he was taught to hold himself to high standards of honor and chivalry. In his adolescence, he became close friends with Henry VIII’s illegitimate but much-beloved son, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond, and took advantage of the new learning to become a brilliant poet and scholar. Marriage and children brought him another great love, inspiring some of his most beautiful works. But the treacherous, shifting political world of Henry’s court did not always reward honor, and Surrey found himself forced to betray his own kin, slandered by powerful enemies at court, and eventually, brought to the executioner’s block despite his loyalty and courage.

HEAVEN, EARTH OR HELL is a well-researched, beautifully-written historical novel that brings its subjects to vivid life. Nolan deftly portrays a world in uneasy transition, with the inevitable conflict between old blueblood nobility and the “new men” raised to prominence by readily-available education and the Tudors’ need for loyal, and dependent, advisers. Surrey is presented sympathetically, of course, but with his faults as well as his virtues, a full, three-dimensional human being. His love affair with Frances, his wife, is touching and tender, a romance worthy of a poet – and it’s refreshing to see her calling him out on his arrogance, and his thoughtful reaction. Nolan’s Henry VIII is chillingly real, half Bluff King Hal and half petulant child, desperately trying to produce and safeguard a male heir, easily manipulated, quick to love and quick to lash out at perceived betrayal. Poems are interspersed through the text – Surrey’s own and the work of those he admired, like Thomas Wyatt, and inspired, like William Shakespeare – adding color and feeling to the story.

HEAVEN, EARTH OR HELL is a vivid, lively biography, which brilliantly captures the spirit of Henry Howard and his world of Tudor England.

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