Review: A Matter of Faith by Judith Arnopp

I'm thrilled to share my review of A Matter of Faith – Henry VIII: The Days of the Phoenix by historical fiction author, Judith Arnopp

A Matter of Faith is Book #2 in The Henrician Chronicle. This episode focuses on his eventful years with Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour. 

I previously reviewed the first in this fascinating series, A Matter of Conscience, about his years with Caterina of Aragon. You can find it here.


A Matter of Faith

Henry VIII: The Days of the Phoenix

The Henrician Chronicle, Book #2

Judith Arnopp

Early on in A Matter of Faith, we meet a very upbeat Henry. His no-longer-so-young love, Anne Boleyn, is finally his wife and soon to be crowned Queen of England. Their days and nights are filled with excitement, dancing, passion – and anticipation. Surely, God will now grant him a son. Won't He?

But it wouldn't be Henry if he didn't get bored easily, and the haughty attitude of his new wife grates at his nerves at times. Still, she falls pregnant, and he's delighted to be expecting his son and heir. Yet why is Anne miffed when he eschews their marriage bed to seek his release elsewhere? He's only doing this to keep her safe during her pregnancy. But Anne is not amused, and the first cracks appear in their relationship.

When she gives birth to a daughter, Henry is baffled, torn. His inner turmoil is brilliantly on display here. What had he done wrong to displease God? Was Anne perhaps the wrong woman? After all, those youngsters snapping at her heels, paying her compliments, wouldn't be there without her prompting, would they? But they try again, and in time, Anne is pregnant again. This time he is even more distant, not wishing to risk his unborn's life. But at the same time, Anne's constant demands nag him. Could a king not reign in peace?

When Henry is injured at a pageant, Anne loses her child – a boy. Not caring about her obvious distress, Henry focuses instead on another option. A new wife who may give him what he craves above all else, to justify his lineage and secure the throne for him and his successors. Aided by Cromwell, who Anne has made an enemy of, Henry agrees to a devious plot...

A Matter of Faith shows clearly Henry's dilemma – a still virile king in his forties, powerful, but no longer in his prime, and without the coveted male heir. Ms Arnopp continues his journey through adulthood, showing his changing moods, the sneaky self-doubts that stem from his father's treatment of him, and his more and more fanatic desire for a son. A slowly declining health adds to his woes. As in the first book, Henry still blames everyone but himself for his plight. His new wife. Courtiers. His late father. Plantagenets. Catholics...

The focus of the series is very much on Henry's relationships with his wives, and less about the outward politics of the times. Yes, they seep into the story as it's unavoidable, but they remain firmly on the periphery. A Matter of Faith stays firmly in Henry's head, and that's less interested in the day-to-day running of the realm, but more about his duty, and his pleasure. Henry does what Henry wants, and woe betide those who dare to disagree.

I found this close 1st person point of view fascinating. It shows a spoilt man child, desperate for adoration, and full of his own self-importance. Everyone else is secondary, and Ms Arnopp reveals his strong views perfectly. I was so engrossed in the gripping plot, in Henry's head, that I read it over three consecutive nights, well into the wee small hours.

My only gripe was that, during Anne's trial, we read little of what he thought of it all. As if he'd closed his mind to the matter already. The story felt a little rushed there. But he must have felt something – perhaps envy at the young men, free to be so easily seduced, perhaps even reluctant admiration of his once beautiful wife who was nothing but a shell by that time. The only hint was at some of Cromwell's actions, but swiftly dismissed as it served Henry's own agenda. And then there was Jane Seymour. A sweet girl when he needed a sympathetic ear, but dull and boring after his swift marriage to her. 

A Matter of Faith is a roller-coaster of Tudor emotions and intrigues. The setting is exquisite, and meticulously researched. Ms Arnopp is one of the foremost writers of Tudor fiction, with deep knowledge of the era and its main players, and it shows! A sumptuous court. Pageants and fine gowns. The machinations and political ambitions. And the king's pleasure...

I'm very much looking forward to the next chapter in Henry's life. What will he make of plain Anne of Cleves? And how will young Catherine Howard wrap him around her little finger? I can't wait!

A highly recommended read.



Finally free of Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII is now married to Anne Boleyn and eagerly awaiting the birth of his son. In a court still reeling from the royal divorce and growing public resentment against church reform, Henry must negotiate widespread resentment toward Anne. He places all his hopes in a son to cement his Tudor blood line, but his dreams are shattered when Anne is delivered of a daughter.

Burying his disappointment, Henry focuses on getting her with child again, but their marriage is volatile and as Henry faces personal bereavement, and discord at court, Anne’s enemies are gathering. When the queen miscarries of a son, and Henry suffers a life-threatening accident, his need for an heir becomes critical. Waiting in the wings is Jane Seymour, a lady-in-waiting who offers the king comfort and respite from Anne’s fiery passions.

But, when Anne falls foul of her former ally, Thomas Cromwell, and the king is persuaded he has been made a cuckold, Henry strikes out and the queen falls beneath the executioner’s sword, taking key players in Henry’s household with her. 

Jane Seymour, stepping up to replace the fallen queen, quickly becomes pregnant. Delighted with his dull but fertile wife, Henry’s spirits rise even further when the prince is born safely. At last, Henry has all he desires but even as he celebrates, fate is preparing to deliver one more staggering blow. 

Henry, the once perfect Renaissance prince, is now a damaged middle-aged man, disappointed in those around him but most of all in himself. As the king’s optimism diminishes, his intractability increases, and the wounded lion begins to roar.

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About the Author:

Judith Arnopp

When Judith Arnopp began to write professionally there was no question as to which genre to choose. A lifelong history enthusiast and avid reader, Judith holds an honours degree in English and Creative writing, and a Masters in Medieval Studies, both from the University of Wales, Lampeter. 

Judith writes both fiction and non-fiction, working full-time from her home overlooking Cardigan Bay in Wales where she crafts novels based in the Medieval and Tudor period. Her main focus is on the perspective of historical women from all roles of life, prostitutes to queens, but she has recently turned her attention to Henry VIII himself.

Her novels include, amongst others:

A Matter of Conscience: Henry VIII, the Aragon Years (Book One of The Henrician Chronicle)

A Matter of Faith: Henry VIII, the years of the Phoenix (Book Two of The Henrician Chronicle)

Her non-fiction articles feature in various historical anthologies and magazines, and an illustrated non-fiction book, How to Dress like a Tudor will be published by Pen & Sword in 2023

Connect with Judith:


  1. Thank you, Cathie, for the lovely review. Regarding Henry’s reluctance to speak about Anne stems from humiliation because he believes Cromwell’s report. Henry blanks it from his mind and refuses to think about it but (without revealing too many spoilers) the whole thing comes back to haunt him in book three when he realised he may have been duped. The Henry in book three is not a happy man 😂

    1. My pleasure, Judith. It's a fabulous read.
      Now I'm intrigued about Book 3. Henry's already turned into a grump, so I'm looking forward to the next instalment. ;-)


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