Category Archives: Robert Dudley

Her Highness, The Traitor by Susan Higginbotham

Good book. Hate this cover.

Her Highness, The Traitor by Susan Higginbotham
Sourcebooks Landmark; June 1, 2012
Historical fiction
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:

Frances Grey harbored no dream of her children taking the throne. Cousin of the king, she knew the pitfalls of royalty and privilege. Better to marry them off, marry them well, perhaps to a clan like the Dudleys. Jane Dudley knew her husband was creeping closer to the throne, but someone had to take charge, for the good of the country. She couldn’t see the twisted path they all would follow. The never–before–told story of the women behind the crowning of Jane Grey, this novel is a captivating peek at ambition gone awry, and the damage left in its wake.

In Her Highness, The Traitor Susan Higginbotham writes of the famous Tudor era during Edward VI’s short reign, and the struggle for the crown that followed King Edward’s death in 1553. Although the story is not a new one for Tudor fans, the author chose two intriguing figures of the time to narrate the story: Frances Grey, a niece of the old King Henry VIII, and Jane (Guildford) Dudley, who was married to John Dudley, father of the now famous Elizabethan courtier, Robert Dudley. The Tudor era is fraught with similar names (Robert, Henry, Edward) and nobles who’s titles can come and go on a king’s whim, which makes for confusing reading in any Tudor novel.

Higginbotham attempts to stay true to the story of the women she features, without too many detailed accounts that were going on behind the scenes. Frances Grey is popularly known as the witchy mother of the nine-day queen Lady Jane Grey and is rarely shown in a sympathetic light. If the author strove to right that wrong opinion of Frances, she succeeded. I loved the character of Frances from the beginning: she was stubborn, realistic, and not too fanciful as one may expect born with royal blood.

Jane Dudley’s story is similar to Frances’ as they each have children caught in the tangled web their husbands created. Frances’ daughter was put on the throne of England, attempting to bypass the Lady Mary. Bloody Mary did not get the moniker for nothing, as the novel will demonstrate. Frances and Jane each become Duchesses due to the political prowess of their husbands, but the titles end up having a high price.

The story is told in alternating first person point of views by the two duchesses, which caused me to think twice each time a new chapter began. I felt it may flowed better had the two narratives been told in third person, but eventually I took it all in stride. The author’s own witty sense of humor starts off quickly with the novel, with small joking statements being made which at times seemed out of place, knowing the subject matter to be would include a few deaths of family members, but the serious situations when they occurred were handled with due decorum and were quite emotive at times.

I enjoyed reading about the behind the scenes dynamics of the families of the two women, but felt there may have been a bit left out, but at 336 pages this was not meant to be a hefty historical. The reason for putting Lady Jane Grey on the throne seemed vague, the people who supported this decision were few, and a lot of the goings-on and would-be-drama simply seemed glazed over considering the myriads of upheaval that the women experienced during the reign of Edward VI, Jane Grey, and then Bloody Mary. The men in the main protagonists’ lives seemed to be represented well enough as characters in a novel and not much else, but I did get entrenched in the storyline enough that I wound up wishing for a happier outcome for the families despite what the history books tell us.

Yet, Higginbotham has a firm grip on her details and tells the story as close to fact as she can, adding in the personal details of the courtiers in such a way that they would be proud of. The traits of each of them could be imagined to the fullest, and Higginbotham presents a plausible and pleasurable historical account that all Tudor fiction fans would enjoy. Susan Higginbotham is one of the best accessible historical fiction authors out there and will soon be well known for very enjoyable and well-researched novels.

My cover review where I rant about this book cover to get it out of my system (& not into this review).
My other Susan Higginbotham posts, includes reviews such as Queen of Last Hopes which was a Best of 2011 for Burton Book Review.
Stay tuned for an alternative history (you heard me) guest post from Susan Higginbotham for her blog tour tomorrow, and a chance to win your own copy.


Filed under 16th Century, 2012 Releases, 2012 Review, Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey, Robert Dudley, Susan Higginbotham

Book Review: Elizabeth I: A Novel by Margaret George

Elizabeth I: A Novel by Margaret George
Hardcover: 688 pages
Publisher: Viking Adult (April 5, 2011)
ISBN-13: 978-0670022533
Review copy provided by the publisher, with many thanks!!
The Burton Review Rating:Five Gorgeous Stars!

Margaret George is one of those iconic historical fiction authors that even if you have not read her books, you have heard of her. I have been collecting her books but have not been able to read them as they look so daunting in size. This year, fans are treated to another tome by Margaret George as she brings us a novel on Elizabeth I. This is not your ordinary Elizabeth I novel for two reasons: 1. It is written by Margaret George. 2. It begins in 1588, when Elizabeth is fifty-five and about to face the Spanish Armada.

I was ecstatic when I realized this was not another rehash of Elizabeth’s life from Thomas Seymour’s pats on her butt to her struggles during her sister’s Mary’s reign, though it does cover the rise and fall of the Earl of Essex in detail. I was then overly ecstatic when I realized that this novel also features Lettice Knollys, whom Elizabeth liked to call the she-wolf. My Enemy The Queen by Victoria Holt was one of my favorite Tudor reads and I loved Lettice as she tried to out-maneuver Elizabeth every chance she got. The rivalry was heightened when Lettice married Elizabeth’s favorite, Robert Dudley the Earl of Leicester.

Elizabeth I: A Novel read very much like the Dickens’ favorite A Christmas Carol. We see through the aged Elizabeth’s eyes the ghosts of the past from her parents to her favorites who flit in and out of her consciousness; the present with the younger courtiers who no longer have anything of value to Elizabeth except their looks; the future of England because of course this Virgin Queen left no heir for England. The decisions of the past and the present and how they affect the future of England are also an underlying theme for Elizabeth as she struggles to maintain her hold on the country that she married for richer or for poorer. The Spanish Armada was always a threat, and even though she was able to defeat it in 1589, by the time Spain had rebuilt its forces to strike again, Elizabeth’s most trusted advisors and the strongest fighters and nobles had withered away.

Elizabeth hated most of all Lettice Knollys, who had secretly married Elizabeth’s perhaps one true love Robert Dudley. Lettice was like Elizabeth in many ways as far as stubbornness and force of will, but promiscuous Lettice lacked the self-control of the Virgin Queen. Lettice was also the mother of Elizabeth’s next favorite after Robert Dudley, the Earl of Essex Robert Devereux. In and out of this story of Elizabeth we are treated to chapters devoted to Lettice, as she struggles in vain to regain all that she has lost since Robert Dudley’s death. Her one shining hope remains with her son the Earl of Essex, as he hopes for favors from Elizabeth I to help sustain his family. Robert Devereux is headstrong and unruly, and both Lettice and Elizabeth had difficulty with restraining Robert’s self-destruction, and this spiral of love and hate between the Queen and Essex became interwoven into the novel as a major theme.

There were many names and titles, and a few Roberts as Robert Cecil is also featured here. There were even surprising occurrences behind closed doors, including the famous Will Shakespeare. The cousins descended from the Boleyn family are a strong part as the old loyal favorites of Elizabeth who always stayed loyal. And yet there were always some who were tired of Elizabeth’s Protestant ways as more religious strife occurred with both Catholics and Puritans. The crisis in Ireland and the years of crop failure are another focus as Elizabethans struggled to maintain the Golden Age. The wax and wane of Elizabeth’s reign is well known to Tudor fans, but I have not read any novels that actually spotlight their entire work on the wane of Elizabeth’s life such as Margaret George’s does here. Names of courtiers are weaved in and out of the story like our own old friends, so that those readers familiar with the Tudor era will feel right at home without getting another monologue of the backstory of each person. It is only for that reason that newbies to the Elizabethan era may find themselves lost in the vague comings and goings of the important people of Elizabeth’s time, but as a lover of Tudor fiction I appreciated it as the minute details are lightly touched upon as a refresher.

The first person point of view of Elizabeth (and intermittently Lettice) seemed spot on.. the face on the outside to her subjects being different than the thoughts swirling in her head; slightly sarcastic and witty in her aging years even though she seemed a bit shocked that she was as old as she was. The magnificence of this tome is the way that George encompasses the era, without leaving out the other minor and major players of the court. This novel is by far the most human look at Elizabeth that I’ve ever read as the author brings Elizabeth to grips with her legacy that includes her executed mother and her tyrant father. I especially loved the secret garden scene at Hever Castle.

 This is a very detailed book and even though it is fiction I felt like I was being educated during the read. I loved this look at the last decade of Elizabeth’s reign, and admired the amount of facts and the imagery that were blended throughout the story. This is the epitome of a well-researched book, and since it was enjoyed on so many levels it would be remiss if you did not include this latest Elizabeth I novel on your Tudor bookshelf. Elizabeth I: A Novel is an absolute must read for Elizabeth I fans, as this novel is a fitting tribute to the woman and Virgin Queen that seemed to outwit many of her enemies and always made sure she was above reproach. This one is certainly going on my Favorites of 2011 post.

Other pieces that I recommend that deal with the fall of Essex and his relationship with Elizabeth are Elizabeth & Essex: A Tragic History by Lytton Strachey and  The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, a 1939 movie featuring Bette Davis. Also, I have yet to read The Walsingham Woman, by Jan Westcott, about Frances Walsingham married to Phillip Sidney first then the Earl of Essex. Frances is mentioned a lot in George’s novel which is why I include Westcott’s here. And as mentioned before, there is Victoria Holt’s My Enemy the Queen which I loved. 

I was also beyond excited to be able to see Margaret George speak for the Arts & Letters Lectures held at the Dallas Museum as part of her book tour for Elizabeth I. Yoy can visit this link to see if she will be coming to a town near you!

Read all about my fabulous experience of meeting Margaret George in Dallas here.


Filed under 16th Century, 2011 Releases, 2011 Reviews, Best of 2011, Elizabeth I, Lettice, Margaret George, Robert Dudley, Spanish Armada, Tudor

>Audio Book Review: The Virgin’s Lover by Philippa Gregory


The Virgin’s Lover by Philippa Gregory
ABRIDGED Audio CD, 0 pages
Published November 16th 2004 by Simon & Schuster Audio (first published 2004)
ISBN074353980X (ISBN13: 9780743539807)
Borrowed from a friend’s personal library, thank you!

The Burton Review Rating: I expect it would have been a 3 star read had I read it two years ago.

Longest synopsis ever:

“In the autumn of 1558, church bells across England ring out the joyous news that Elizabeth I is the new queen. One woman hears the tidings with utter dread. She is Amy Dudley, wife of Sir Robert, and she knows that Elizabeth’s ambitious leap to the throne will pull her husband back to the very center of the glamorous Tudor court, where he was born to be. Amy had hoped that the merciless ambitions of the Dudley family had died on Tower Green when Robert’s father was beheaded and his sons shamed; but the peal of bells she hears is his summons once more to power, intrigue, and a passionate love affair with the young queen. Can Amy’s steadfast faith in him, her constant love, and the home she wants to make for them in the heart of the English countryside compete with the allure of the new queen? Elizabeth’s excited triumph is short-lived. She has inherited a bankrupt country, riven by enmity, where treason is normal and foreign war a certainty. Her faithful advisor William Cecil warns her that she will survive only if she marries a strong prince to govern the rebellious country, but the one man Elizabeth desires is her childhood friend, the irresistible, ambitious Robert Dudley. Robert revels in the opportunities of the new reign. The son of an aristocratic family brought up in palaces as the equal of his royal playmates, Robert knows he can reclaim his destiny at Elizabeth’s side. Elizabeth cannot resist his courtship, and as the young couple slowly falls in love, Robert starts to think the impossible: can he set aside his wife and marry the young queen? Philippa Gregory’s The Virgin’s Lover answers the question about an unsolved crime that has fascinated detectives and historians for centuries. Philippa Gregory uses documents and evidence from the Tudor era and, with almost magical insight into the desires of Robert Dudley and his lovers, paints a picture of a country on the brink of greatness, a young woman grasping at her power, a young man whose ambition is greater than his means, and the wife who cannot forgive them.”

My first audio book ever is The Virgin’s Lover by Philippa Gregory. I have had the text version for several years but could not bring myself to pick up another story on Elizabeth that had a potential of being a let-down. Since I know the political upheaval that occurred during the transition of Queen Mary to the reign of Queen Elizabeth, I figured the test of my attention span to the audio version would be best served on this kind of average fiction.

The narrator was superb in this story. He enunciates well and with a British accent that was not too thick but just enough to make listening to his voice pleasurable. But I did find it difficult to concentrate on the audio, with my hands and eyes having nothing to do I had to force myself to concentrate on using my ears only. Which is difficult for this mind wanderer. I did enjoy hearing how some of favorite places were pronounced, as a sheltered American I have been butchering many British names and places in my mind. Oops.

As far as the actual story goes, there is not much to be said that is not expected. Amy Dudley, Robert Dudley, and Elizabeth are at the foremost of the story as their little weird love triangle evolved, with William Cecil looking on. The characterization of the “lovers” makes you shudder (fluttering eyelids, etc.), and the intensity of the love between Dudley and Elizabeth is bordering on absurd. Which is the reason I didn’t want to read the book before. But this is coming from someone who has read many, many Tudor themed books before, and perhaps for a newbie to the era who has not come to admire Elizabeth I as much as I do would not be so turned off from Gregory’s telling. It was Gregory, after all, who pulled me into the Tudor courts of intrigue and sexual exploits with her rendition of The Other Boleyn Girl in the first place. If I had read The Virgin’s Lover after Gregory’s The Boleyn Inheritance a few years ago, I may have had a much better chance of enjoying this one.

The supporting characters being Amy Robsart Dudley (who died from a questionable fall down the stairs) and William Cecil make the story less bawdy. Portraying Elizabeth as acting a lovesick teenager is not exactly the image I wish to explore of the monarch, but I am glad to finally cross this one off of my tbr list. Of Gregory’s novels, I disliked The Other Queen which featured Elizabeth I as well, so perhaps I should stay away from those stories that embellish and try to tarnish the virginal image that I admire of Elizabeth. I did enjoy Gregory’s last two novels in The Cousins’ war series, and The Queen’s Fool was very well done as well, so I am not one of those readers who despises the author.

The positive to this story was seeing how Robert Dudley was viewed, and disliked, in Elizabeth’s courts. Here he is portrayed as an upstart, or usurper, with eyes for the crown of England for himself. Whereas in previous reads, Dudley had intrigued me, here he disgusted me. He treats his wife Amy shabbily, and I could not help but pity the woman he ignored. If she left a diary, I would love to read it. After Amy is gone, Robert thinks his path should be clear to Elizabeth’s side as a King, but Cecil made sure that would not happen. I would have preferred a bit more insight or something more dramatic for the ending, as it all just seemed a bit unfinished overall and I wasn’t expecting the story to end where it did. Yet, viewing this as a simple story of Robert Dudley and his relationship with Elizabeth, it could be seen as a fair assessment of a specific political slice of a much larger picture during Elizabeth’s reign. The author also raised my curiosity regarding the mysterious death of Dudley’s wife and her theory bears credence. Those who revere Elizabeth should stay away from this weak portrayal of her, though. William Cecil, on the other hand, was the best part of the story. He was shrewd, calculating and a force to be reckoned with.


Filed under 16th Century, Elizabeth I, Phillippa Gregory, Robert Dudley

>Book Review: His Last Letter: Elizabeth I and The Earl of Leicester by Jeane Westin


His Last Letter: Elizabeth I and The Earl of Leicester, A Novel by Jeane Westin
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: NAL Trade (August 3, 2010)
ISBN-13: 978-0451230126
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating::Three Stars

One of the greatest loves of all time-between Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley-comes to life in this vivid novel.

They were playmates as children, impetuous lovers as adults-and for thirty years were the center of each others’ lives. Astute to the dangers of choosing any one man, the Virgin Queen could never give her “Sweet Robin” what he wanted most-marriage- yet she insisted he stay close by her side. Possessive and jealous, their love survived quarrels, his two disastrous marriages to other women, her constant flirtations, and political machinations with foreign princes.

His Last Letter tells the story of this great love… and especially of the last three years Elizabeth and Dudley spent together, the most dangerous of her rule, when their passion was tempered by a bittersweet recognition of all that they shared-and all that would remain unfulfilled.

Jeane Westin’s previous release of The Virgin’s Daughters: In The Court of Elizabeth I received much attention when it released last year. I have not gotten a chance to read that novel, though I did not want to miss this new release as it goes into the much discussed relationship of Elizabeth I and a favored courtier, Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. An undisputed fact is that Robert Dudley and Elizabeth had spent time together in their early years, and they maintained this friendship till his death. What is at the crux of the debate is whether anything sexual occurred during the relationship. There have been many speculations as to the nature of their relationship, and even rumors that Dudley had fathered a secret child with her. I was very curious to see where Westin would take us in this fictional telling of this fascinating courtship of a supposed Virgin Queen and a supposed lover. (I am one of those of the belief that Elizabeth was indeed a virgin, who flirted, perhaps outrageously, to garner attention and admiration).

The beginning of the novel features a small author’s note that advises to follow along the timeline using the chapter guide. I quickly learned why this was pointed out when I discovered that the story goes back and forth between Elizabeth’s younger years, her middle years, but had started when Dudley had died. Elizabeth clutches the last letter she received from Dudley and the story takes off. The entirety of the novel is not a typical Elizabethan read, as this does not focus on the events that occurred around Elizabeth during her long reign. The author focuses primarily on Elizabeth and Dudley, tapping into their minds and thoughts as she attempts to recreate the relationship between the two.

Westin takes liberties with her story, and those die-hard Elizabeth I fans may take offense to that. The other downside to the novel is the hopscotch across the timeline, as I could never fully grasp where they were and what was going on unless I specifically worked out the chronology in my head using the date that is provided at the beginning of each chapter. And some chapters would end with either Elizabeth or Dudley reminiscing back to a specific event in order to lead into next chapter, which would of course be another time and place.

Westin keeps her novel focused on the objective of spotlighting the romance between Elizabaeth and Dudley, yet she also takes time to cultivate the story behind the effects of the threat of the Spanish Armada and a little on the Mary Queen of Scots ordeal. Since the rest of the actual historic events took place as a behind the scenes nuance during the novel, newbies to the Elizabethan era may not appreciate or grasp the flow of the novel as much. And since Westin does not go in to the details of these smaller events, it is sometimes forced into inane conversations like the lady’s maid Anne telling Elizabeth what to call Lord Burghley since he used to be Cecil but was now made Lord. That whole conversation, and others, were among those that really would have been better off not happening at all as it simply took away from the novel and seemed ridiculous in the narrative. I think those middle-ground Elizabethan fans who have not yet felt that they have had their fill of Elizabeth I novels would enjoy the story for the entirely different point of view that it offers.

Both Dudley and Elizabeth are portrayed as completely and totally head over heels in love with each other, forsaking all others, yet unable to tie the knot due to politics. Although Dudley was married at least twice and had multiple affairs, Elizabeth still adored him, albeit in a jealous manner as she banished Dudley’s second wife from court. Those Elizabethan fans who have read every other Elizabethan novel might want to skip this one though, due to the confusing nature of the alternating timeline and the singular focus on the love match between the two which may seem to scream of jealous tirades from Elizabeth and Dudley as a spineless jilted lover.

Jeane Westin has a love for all things Tudor, and she graced The Burton Review recently with this interview (giveaway as well). She states that her love for historical fiction stems from the fact that known history is full of gaps and questions. She loves being able to pen a novel in her favorite genres to help to re-imagine a different perspective and to perhaps fill in some of those gaps. Westin has done that here with the love story of Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley by presenting these two in a way that is daring and provocative that demonstrates Westin’s love for the Elizabethan period.

The Tudor Mania Challenge which is here at The Burton Review ends this Saturday night. This will be my last entry into the linkfest of the reviews.I can’t wait to see who the winner is of the Challenge, who gets a book of their choice from The Book Depository!


Filed under 16th Century, 2010 Releases, 2010 Review, Elizabeth I, Jeane Westin, Robert Dudley

>Book Review: Elizabeth’s Women:The Hidden Story of The Virgin Queen by Tracy Borman

Elizabeth’s Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen by Tracy Borman
Non-Fiction; September 2009
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd ISBN-10: 0224082264
Review copy provided by the publisher
Purchase it from Amazon UK, Google Checkout,BookDepositoryUK,BookDepositoryUSA

The Burton Review Rating:4 Stars at The Burton Review

Product Description:

“Elizabeth I was born into a world of women. As a child, she was served by a predominantly female household of servants and governesses, with occasional visits from her mother, Anne Boleyn, and the wives who later took her place. As Queen, Elizabeth was constantly attended by ladies of the bedchamber and maids of honor who clothed her, bathed her and watched her while she ate. Among her family, it was her female relations who had the greatest influence: from her sister Mary, who distrusted and later imprisoned her, to her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, who posed a constant and dangerous threat to her crown for almost thirty years.

Despite the importance of women in Elizabeth’s life, most historians and biographers have focused on her relationships with men. She has been portrayed as a ‘man’s woman’ who loved to flirt with the many ambitious young men who frequented her court. Yet it is the women in her life who provide the most fascinating insight into the character of this remarkable monarch. With them she was jealous, spiteful and cruel, as well as loyal, kind and protective. She showed her frailties and her insecurities, but also her considerable shrewdness and strength. In short, she was more human than the public persona she presented to the rest of the court. It is her relationships with women that hold the key to the private Elizabeth.

In this original chronicling of the life of one of England’s greatest monarchs, historian Tracy Borman explores Elizabeth’s relationships with the key women in her life. Beginning with her mother and the governesses and stepmothers who cared for the young princess, including her beloved Kat Astley and the inspirational Katherine Parr, “Elizabeth’s Women” sheds new light on her formative years. Elizabeth’s turbulent relationships with her rivals are examined: from her sister, ‘Bloody’ Mary, to the sisters of Lady Jane Grey, and finally the most deadly of all her rivals, Mary, Queen of Scots who would give birth to the man Elizabeth would finally, inevitably have to recognize as heir to her throne. It is a chronicle of the servants, friends and ‘flouting wenches’ who brought out the best – and the worst – of Elizabeth’s carefully cultivated image as Gloriana, the Virgin Queen, in the glittering world of her court.”

My thoughts:

In a world inundated with modern biographies on Elizabeth I, historian Tracy Borman sets out to explore the world of women surrounding Elizabeth I in hopes of shedding light on Elizabeth’s character and personality. Who helped shaped Elizabeth into such a formidable female ruler, something that was an anomaly in itself? This is a proficient account of the story behind the stories of Elizabeth’s peers, elders and family members that helps the reader to better understand the nuts and bolts of Elizabeth’s mind, which was always skillfully at work.

Despite the bevy of information at our fingertips regarding Elizabeth, she is still one of the most intriguing figures of the Tudor era. Born to Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn, she was at first a disappointment to her parents and a kingdom by being a girl. Losing her mother at the age of 3, she was brought up in her own household under the tutelage of preferred women. It is with these women that Elizabeth begins cultivating her personality and understanding the way of the tumultuous world around her. Although we regularly hear of the men or the favorites in Elizabeth’s life, rarely do we obtain as much information about the women who constantly attended her and were with her behind the scenes.. until now.

Borman begins the story of Elizabeth with her mother, Anne Boleyn, and gives the standard biography of Anne. Although at first she praises Anne’s intellect, she soon writes of her haughtiness and the swift fall from Henry’s graces once they were finally married. Seemingly it was once they were married that Anne’s and Henry’s marriage fell apart. Elizabeth seems to have not had much of a relationship with Anne or Henry as a child, except for Anne sending gifts to Elizabeth.

Borman explains how Elizabeth interacted with a few of the children and caretakers, such as Blanche Parry (who ended up serving Elizabeth for over fifty years), and she goes into small biographies of these secondary women as she introduces them to us. Another woman who also stayed with Elizabeth a lengthy amount and therefore gets more attention is the governess, Kat Astley or Ashley, who joined Elizabeth’s household when Elizabeth was 3 and Kat was probably in her late twenties. Elizabeth was very close to her as Kat was one of the few people in her life that stayed with her in her younger years. I had not realized the extent of Kat’s own learning because of the ridicule she receives by historians due to the Thomas Seymour affair. After Lady Bryan it was Kat who had continued to instill a love for learning, which was further enhanced by her last stepmother, Katherine Parr and the tutors she chose for Elizabeth.

For some thirty, forty and fifty years these few women such as Kat Ashley, Blanche Parry and Anne Dudley stayed nearby with Elizabeth and were close confidantes and friends to the Queen. Borman details the relationships of the women with Elizabeth in a way that has not been done before, when before we had always heard of merely Cecil influencing Elizabeth’s political decisions. We now get a look on the inside, the female perspective of jealousy, vanity and courtly appearance.

One of the most interesting continuing relationships in Borman’s book deals with the sisterhood of Elizabeth and Mary. Borman tells of how Elizabeth interacted with her half siblings, and I was surprised to learn that her sister Mary had eventually grown fond of Elizabeth, probably out of pity, once Anne Boleyn was executed. Knowing of the strained relationship Mary and Elizabeth had once their brother King Edward had died, I had never assumed that they were in reality ever close, yet Borman portrays Mary as once being maternal to Elizabeth. They were 17 years apart, and with Elizabeth being 3 when she lost her mother, Mary may have felt sorry for her. But soon enough for Mary’s reign, Mary was calling Elizabeth the bastard, the daughter of the little whore, etc. A swift turn around for Mary’s feelings towards Elizabeth, but one wonders all the different mechanisms at play, such as Mary’s jealousy towards Elizabeth as Elizabeth grew into a pleasant looking young lady and Mary was soon eclipsed by Elizabeth’s sharp mind and looks. Anne of Cleves favored Elizabeth over Mary, and Katherine Parr did as well. Did Mary resent this? Once Mary was queen, she did not trust Elizabeth, and denounced her right to the succession. There was a long look at Mary Tudor here, but was appreciated for the fact that we were able to glean what Elizabeth learned from Mary’s reign.

One of the many people who helped shaped the progress of Elizabeth’s reign was her cousin, Mary the Queen of Scots. Most people know of the outcome that happened after Mary had been a burr in Elizabeth’s side for nearly thirty years, and the author devotes an entire 50 page chapter to this conflict. This is where the allure of the book started to lose its luster, but it picked up its interesting pace as soon as the Queen of Scots was dealt with. I had already read enough accounts of these two Queen’s relationships and there was not any new insight for me regarding the effects of their animosity towards each other. Those who are not acquainted with that story may not be as disappointed as I was to see so much time devoted to this, however.

Of some of the influencers and courtiers that we read about are the Seymour family, the Sidneys, and Lettice Knollys (who married Elizabeth’s favorite, Leicester, much to Elizabeth’s chagrin). We also are treated to accounts regarding Bess of Hardwick, married to George Talbot, both as she was a gaoler for Mary Queen of Scots and later when Arbella was growing up into an eccentric young lady. Other characters include Bess Throckmorton who shocked Elizabeth by becoming pregnant by Sir Walter Ralegh, and the cousins Katherine and Mary Grey who posed a threat to Elizabeth’s throne.

There are several color photos in the book as well which I enjoyed perusing. Most I had seen elsewhere but one in particular stood out: Queen Elizabeth in Old Age at The Bridgeman Art Library
Queen Elizabeth I, with time and death waiting, looking over her shoulder. Circa 1620
Those who are looking for more insight into the characters surrounding Elizabeth during her life will not be disappointed. Beginning with Anne Boleyn and continuing with the two Queen Mary’s, we are privy to the causes and effects that made Elizabeth who she was, Gloriana. This is thoroughly researched, with the footnotes to prove it, and it is put together effectively. Through the reign of Mary I, we are made to understand how Elizabeth learned from Mary’s mistakes and held fast to her beliefs on how to rule exclusively without a husband or even an heir, as opposed to the hard and unbending rule of her sister. We begin to understand Elizabeth’s decisions on the refusal of marriage when Elizabeth witnesses the catastrophic effects of most marriages of those in power, from her father to her sister. We learn that Elizabeth had a strict expectation of the women in her chambers and wished for them to not marry at all, and was hard on those that strayed from the virginal status.

This is not just another biography of Elizabeth I or the history of Elizabethan England. In fact, Borman successfully dodges that bullet by not repeating many of the historical events that happened during Elizabeth’s life, and even skips those that greatly effected her. For instance, the author does not discuss the fatal period of Lady Jane Grey’s reign, nor does she go into the Dudley plot which scared Elizabeth half out of her mind as she was imprisoned when her sister was Queen and there is no mention of the burning of heretics. This is a fulfilling account of the women who definitely instilled Elizabeth’s characteristics and beliefs into her heart and mind. Moreover, I would recommend reading a biography on Elizabeth I before reading this one due to the nature that this is more of a study and commentary on those surrounding her who helped to shape the character of Elizabeth. It would be hard to understand the ramifications of some of the things that Elizabeth encountered in her relationships that are discussed here without knowing any of the political and biographical history of Elizabeth I. If you do not feel intrigued by the persona of Elizabeth I, this is not the book for you. I had hoped for more of a finishing commentary as a summary on Elizabeth from the author’s opinion; but overall I was sad that I had completed this book because I was enjoying my enlightened status of understanding Elizabeth as a woman, as the Virgin Queen, and why she chose that status for herself. There was the blurb about George and Jane Boleyn having a son which I disagree with, and the excessive information on the Queen of Scots negated a star for me. I enjoyed 95% of this book, being a Tudor fanatic that I am, and I definitely recommend this book for anyone who has an interest in the workings of Elizabeth’s mind, and of the many supporting or bothersome women in her life.

Heather from The Maiden’s Court was my Buddy-Reader for this read, and we interacted with these questions (*please see Part Two at The Maiden’s Court):
Before opening the book, Elizabeth’s Women, what are your expectations and what do you hope to learn?
Heather: I don’t really know all that much about Elizabeth yet, so I hope that I can learn a lot. One thing that I would like to learn more about is more about the relationship between her and her sister, Mary.

Marie: I am hoping for an otherwise unknown look at some of the ladies that surrounded Elizabeth. I would love to know if these women shared any secrets that now reveal interesting traits of Elizabeth.

(Before reading the book) Who are you most interested in as far as a peer or friend to Elizabeth?
Heather: The two books that I have read about her so far have mentioned a lot about Kat Ashley – that is definitely one. I would also like to see how she interacted with her numerous step mothers.

Marie: My favorite contemporaries of Elizabeth are Lettice Knollys, and Bess of Hardwick (AKA Elizabeth Talbot). I would love to learn more.

After the first chapter on Anne Boleyn, what are your reactions to the book so far?
Heather: It definitely did not give Anne any sort of a break – she is portrayed as someone who only looked out for herself and moving up. It also seems to be more sympathetic to the Princess Mary.
Marie: I was a little perturbed that the moles and extra fingernail were pointed out, but that reasoning or other theories were not used as well. Anne is portrayed as haughty.

Was there anything new that this author presented about Anne Boleyn that you didn’t know before?
Heather: There were only a couple small things – she was only the second Queen of England who came from an aristocrat family since 1066. Also, she kept his sister Mary’s child away from court because it had a mental disability – this was not something I had ever heard.

Marie: I hadn’t fully grasped that Anne had been at Henry’s court in Queen Katherine’s retinue for four years before Henry started to pay attention to her. She probably had no idea during those years how much would dramatically change for her. What were Anne’s hopes and dreams during those years? Was she focused on Henry Percy, who had broken a previous betrothal to be with her?
Most of the details were the same types of things in other biographies of Anne, but I was intrigued at the intellect Anne had shown at an early age, as this was the same for her daughter Elizabeth. Anne was chosen over her sister Mary to attend the French courts because of the superiority & presence of mind that Anne had over her sister.

What do you think of the role Lady Bryan played in raising Elizabeth, especially after the loss of her mother?
Heather: I think that she was very instrumental in making sure that Elizabeth was shielded as much as possible from the outburst of anger at Anne and what happened after her execution. She was one of the most stable things in Elizabeth’s life and think that she should really be commended for keeping things relatively the same for her when everything was changing rapidly. It could have been a very different outcome for Elizabeth if Lady Bryan had not fought for her.
Marie: In the tumultuous world of being a daughter of the slandered queen, Elizabeth seems lucky to have had someone to care for her so diligently regardless of the status of her mother and Elizabeth being called a bastard by her own father. She provided a stable environment for the child which is a blessing for Elizabeth.

What are your opinions of the relationships of Elizabeth with her stepmothers?
Heather: It doesn’t surprise me that Jane had little interest in Elizabeth – after all, she had just replaced her mother in a horrible way. It does surprise me a little that she favored Mary, almost over the children that her and Henry would have. It always surprises me to hear how Anne of Cleves had such an influence on the girls and had a good relationship with Henry after their marriage was annulled. Katherine Howard’s relationship is exactly how I imagined it. She was young and liked gifts and showered these on Elizabeth. She was also similar to Anne Boleyn in these ways. The similarities were probably what led Elizabeth to be very shocked at the loss of Katherine in the same manner as her mother. I think Katherine Parr had the greatest influence in the ways of thinking that Elizabeth manifested. Katherine oversaw her education and through that Elizabeth learned Humanism, the reformed religion, and how to rule among other things. She also gave her someone stable to relate to.

Marie: I was impressed at how Elizabeth and Anne of Cleves had forged their relationship even after Henry had chosen another wife after Anne of Cleves. Elizabeth was ever the pragmatic, and was kind to the succession of her father’s wives, and one can base many theories on how this formed Elizabeth’s opinions of marriage altogether. The relationship with Catherine Howard was glazed over in the book, but the fact of the closeness in age to the two Borman states that this would have a profound effect on Elizabeth. Besides the kindness shown by Anne of Cleves to Elizabeth, Katherine Parr was probably the most influential as far as political ideas and religious theories, and through Borman’s recounting of the relationship I see just how important Katherine Parr was to the development of the basis of Elizabeth’s beliefs regarding state policies and religion.

For the Chapter titled Governess, what was the most interesting thing you learned?
Heather: I couldn’t believe how involved Kat was in the Seymour Scandal. She continually kept pushing for Elizabeth to marry Seymour. Also being a gossip, she wasn’t able to keep her mouth shut, which got them into a lot of trouble. For someone who was supposed to be looking out for Elizabeth she made some huge errors in her judgment. I had never heard that there had been rumors when Elizabeth left the house of Katherine Parr and Thomas Seymour that she was pregnant – I kind of think they were just that, rumors.

Marie: Kat Astley/Ashley was also brought up with an education which was unheard of in most families, but the use of the intellect did not bleed through to her common sense. I had known she was involved in the Thomas Seymour affair and did not know how to act properly and with the proper airs, but the fact that she was indeed and educated girl was not known to me before. Elizabeth at age 15 showed more common sense and intelligence than Kat did when she was in her forties at the time of the Seymour scandal.

See Tracy Borman‘s site for upcoming events in the UK, her friend and fellow historian Alison Weir are hosting several discussions regarding Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I. Borman is also the author of Henrietta Howard: King’s Mistress, Queen’s Servant.
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Filed under Anne Boleyn, Anne of Cleves, Arbella Stuart, Bess of Hardwick, Bloody Mary, Elizabeth I, George Talbot, Henry VIII, Lady Jane Grey, Lettice, Review, Robert Dudley, Tracy Borman, Tudor

>The Captive Queen of Scots


MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS.. Found this photo of ‘her’ at the Reader’s Advisor. One can never tell what is factual but this has got to be the most flattering portrait I have seen of her. The books go on and on about how beautiful she was, and perhaps it was also due to her supposed charismatic nature, so this one does her justice more so than others.

I am about halfway through with Jean Plaidy’s “The Captive Queen of Scots”.. again, I am enjoying it very much as expected. Jean Plaidy must have been a wonderful woman to know; she has written so many books in the Historical Fiction genre, I wonder if she ever set a book down (or wasn’t writing one). Jean Plaidy is a pseudonym for Eleanor Hibbert; her other well-known pseudonym is Victoria Holt which dealt more on the romance side. Born in 1906, Eleanor wrote around 200 novels! I own about 52 of those. My project is to own all of the Historical Series. It will not be easy, as many of these are now only found in the UK and of course these are older titles. As I mentioned in my last post on Fotheringay, that book was slowly disintegrating in my hands. We are fortunate that some are being reprinted in both the UK and USA as the English History Buzz has hit the USA since “The Other Boleyn Girl” movie and “The Tudors” television series.
I have read this author’s “My Enemy, The Queen” written under Victoria Holt, and enjoyed it very much as well. It is told in first person by Lettice Knollys, Elizabeth’s cousin once-removed. I bring this up because I am now at the part in “The Captive Queen of Scots” where Mary is brought to England’s Carlisle and Bolton Castle and is cared for by Sir Francis Knollys (May 1568). Francis is Lettice’s father. And Lettice was a wonderful character to read about in “My Enemy the Queen” which dealt with her and Elizabeth’s relationship and their mutual love for Robert Dudley, Earl of Leceister. Through Lettice, we enjoy a unique view on Elizabeth I. (Lettice is also in The Virgin’s Lover by Phillipa Gregory.) Lettice’s fate is entwined with Elizabeth as much as Mary’s was.. the Queen of England rules all.
Back to the book “The Captive Queen”.. Mary will leave the care of Francis Knollys and go to Tutbury, despite horrible weather. It is at Tutbury that we meet the Earl of Shrewsbury. And guess who he is? He is married to Bess of Hardwick, who I wrote of in earlier posts. Such a fine web I’m weaving and loving every minute of it!!

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Filed under Elizabeth I, Jean Plaidy, Knollys, Lettice, Mary Queen of Scots, Robert Dudley