"The Man on a Donkey”, by H.F. M. Prescott, ISBN 978-178954-5111, 725 pages, first published 1952, republished 2016.

This is the kind of book that might appeal as much to someone like Hypatia as to me. Hilda Prescott (died 1972) was a historian as well as a novelist, which certainly allowed her to give real texture to this tome (originally published in 2 volumes) about an actual historical near-revolution in Northern England in the 1500s caused by King Henry VIII’s appointment of himself as head of the Church in England – the Pope be damned!

To be frank, I was never particularly interested in the machinations of a long-dead English king trying to sire a male offspring; the period in this book covers only Henry’s first three wives. But Ms. Prescott weaves a fascinating tale about the “Pilgrimage of Grace”, telling the story through a chronicle of the lives of various characters, most of them based on real historical figures. In an Afterword, she apologizes that the war (World War II) prevented her from consulting as many of the original sources as she would have liked.

It is no spoiler to say that the near-revolution failed, and that Henry dealt deceitfully and cruelly with both those who rebelled and those who had tried to contain the violence. The magic of the book lies in the author’s wonderful way of telling the tale. At times, it is like putting together the story of a movie by studying a succession of still frames. As the length of the book might suggest, she was given to long descriptive passages, including about the often dismal, occasionally glorious, English weather.

The title of the book refers to a vision which came to a strange woman who was rumored to have been a mermaid when she was brought to the Northern England convent that figures strongly in the tale. Of course, as a religious house, the nuns were dispossessed and the priory was despoiled of its treasures by Henry and his grasping sidekicks; once they had got rid of the Pope, they might as well help themselves to the winnings.

The vocabulary in this book is rich. Chirography (new to me) refers to penmanship, and is only one of dozens of archaic words which Ms. Prescott built into her tale. Some of that is because she was writing over 70 years ago, but more of it is due to her deliberate effort to use words appropriate to the 1500s.

For anyone with a love of literature – and a fair amount of free time – this book is worth consideration.