I am a huge fan of Alison Weir’s non-fiction so turned with great interest to this, her second work of fiction, and was not disappointed. When the story opens, the future Queen Elizabeth I is only three years old. Tall, slender, with the red hair that marked her as a Tudor, she was already showing signs of the intellect and perspicacity for which she would become renown. In this novel, Weir chooses to focus on Elizabeth’s early years and adolescence against the backdrop of her father’s tempestuous marriages, other relationships and struggles with the church and his nobles. All the characters familiar from history appear only, this time, the reader sees them mainly through Elizabeth’s eyes, thus painting them in a new and often fascinating light.
Though a strong young woman, it’s made clear that luck played a huge role in not only Elizabeth’s survival against all odds, but also her ascension to the throne. The manoeuvring and play for power of other families and individuals in the constant jostle for the throne of England and the spiritual welfare of its people is mind-boggling and when viewed through young eyes, takes on sinister implications – what some of the nobles will do for favour, power and the promise of more. Ripe for exploitation, the royal children are simple pawns in a never-ending game and it’s not until they learn this (some never do), that they are able to begin to steer their destiny. Of great interest is the way the relationship between Mary, Elizabeth and Edward is depicted – closer and more loving than is generally thought, laced with regret and sadness, it is the heart and soul of the novel in many ways – they spring literally from the same seed and yet are more rivals than siblings. Their burgeoning awareness and deliberate ignorance of this fact is delicately explored. Another surprise in the novel is the notion of Elizabeth’s “virgin queen” status which is given, as historians of the era do too, a different and very powerful meaning. Headstrong Elizabeth is revealed to be a young woman with a big heart as well, one that is poised for breaking.
This may be fiction, but it keeps close to the facts as they’re known, offering wonderful insights and imaginings into the female mind, the endless machinations behind the throne of England and the woman who became one of the greatest monarchs in British history. A terrific read.