Thanks to the popularity of all things Tudor (The Other Boleyn Girl, The Tudors, everything Queen Elizabeth, etc. etc) many people know at least bits and pieces of that period of history. So, what keeps us turning the page while reading historical fiction when we know the ending (which for the most part ends with someone, or many someones, losing a head)?
This is a question I asked myself as I read Philippa Gregory’s novel The Other Queen which tells the story of Mary Queen of Scots, cousin to Queen Elizabeth, and also one of her greatest threats because she was both a legitimate heir to the English Throne, and a Catholic. Born and raised to be a queen (much like Catherine of Aragon), Mary spent her formative years living in the French court and married the Crown Prince of France only to become a widow one year after his coronation. She returns to Scotland as the Queen, marries, has a son, becomes a widow, and is overthrown by her half-brother (she also married the man believed to have killed her second husband, but was she in on the plot to kill her husband and marry the killer or did she marry him to “save face” – really I would like to read more on this portion of her life). Mary flees to England hoping for help and protection from her cousin, but instead is held and tried. (I think this is the basic distillation without going into all the he-said/she-said, and jumping quickly on Wikipedia).
The book begins as Mary is trying to escape following the first trial. It becomes a theme throughout the book. She firmly believes in her sovereignty and her right to be free – so she spends all the rest of her days planning her escape. The hold of the Protestant faith in England is still not strong, with many people remembering being raised as Catholics, so many are happy to help her, some in the hopes that she will in fact become the ruler of England and re-establish the Catholic faith. Well, I think you probably know how the story eventually ends for Mary. If you don’t, well … I won’t ruin it for you.
Gregory tells three years worth of Mary’s story in England through three very different voices: Mary, Bess of Hardwick and the Earl of Shrewsbury – George Talbot. Bess and George were a newly wed couple (this was in fact Bess’ fourth marriage) and as considerable landowners they were charged with holding Mary after she was found innocent from her initial trial. The main narrative of the story chronicles 1569 to 1572, when Bess and George were hosting (or holding) Mary while negotiations were underway to re-establish her to the Scottish throne, and while later investigating Mary’s involvement in the overthrow of Elizabeth, and summoning the Spanish to join in the attack.
At first Bess is very happy to be welcoming the Queen of Scots to her home, as a friend to the Court she thinks that this will establish her even further, and provide additional wealth and property from Elizabeth in thanks. As the months and years go by, the opposite is true – Elizabeth does not pay for Mary (who basically keeps an entire court with her during the length of her stay), and this nearly bankrupts George. George is a loyalist to the Throne, regardless of who is sitting on it, but while he will follow his Queen Elizabeth, he can not abide by her greatest counselor William Cecil, and then there is of course his house guest whose beauty and charms even he is not immune to.
There is a lot going on, a lot of intrigue and with three very distinct voices to tell their side of the story, a story that I now see that while I knew the end – I didn’t realize how much of the middle I didn’t know.
Overall, I enjoyed the book. I love historical fiction – it always piques my interest to read nonfiction of that period. I think The Other Boleyn Girl singlehandedly opened my eyes to my love of all things Tudor. So I really enjoyed it for that, and see a few history books on Elizabeth and Mary in my future. But, it took me a bit to get to that point.
This book had a very slow start for me, I was a good 100 pages in before I found myself getting taken in to the story. And throughout the book I found that I really did not like the chapters that George narrated. I understand that his chapters helped to move along the stories of what was happening at Court since Bess never went, and George was the head of the trials, but I would rather have had the narration go between Mary and Bess as it really is their story.
While there were a lot of differences, these two women could have been kindred spirits in another time and place – they both were smart and strong and wanted what was best for themselves and their children first. I think that Gregory is at her strongest as she gives voice to strong historical women, and those two women made this book for me, and were what kept me turning the page. Sorry George!
The Other Queen
Author: Philippa Gregory
MY FIRST CONTEST
So, I got this book a few weeks ago while out visiting my parents, but a few weeks later I was lucky enough to win a copy of this and The White Queen on a Twitter contest from @WhiteQueen_book. Since I now have two copies of this book – I am hosting the first ever giveaway on this blog!
Starting today, September 7 through next Tuesday, September 15 (6pm ET) enter to win a hard copy version of Philippa Gregory’s The Other Queen.
Leave a comment below with your email address if you would like to be entered in this contest.
And if you want a few more entry opportunities:
- Follow this blog
- Follow me on Twitter @BaileysandBooks
- Tweet about the contest on Twitter (be sure to note @BaileysandBooks so I can find you)
- Note this contest on your blog
So that’s a total of five possible entries. Please be sure to also leave me a comment below when you do any of the supplemental entries – and if you are a follower of the blog and/or on Twitter already, let me know and you’ll also get the supplemental entries.
All entries will be counted from your comments below and one winner will be randomly selected on Wednesday, September 16. This book will be shipped to a U.S. address only (sorry to all my overseas and across the border friends).
Thanks, and good luck!!