THE VIRGIN'S LOVER
Philippa Gregory

 


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Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, October 2004

Reviewer Sissy Jacobson

 

Tudor England 1558

 

Across the countryside bells are ringing and people are rejoicing. The dark days of Queen Maryís reign have ended with her death. Now Princess Elizabeth, daughter of King Henry Vlll and Anne Boleyn, is the uncontested heir to the throne.

 

In Norfolk, the ringing of the bells brings dread and fear to one person, Amy Robsart Dudley. Even now her husband, Robert, is on his way to the palace, leaving Amy in the country. Robert and Amy lost everything -- lands, title, and money -- when Robertís father was disgraced and beheaded; and Robert was thrown into the tower, along with Princess Elizabeth, his friend since childhood. Now Elizabeth will be queen and Robert sees his chance to restore the family honor and wealth. At court, he begins to ingratiate himself into Elizabethís inner circle, reminding her of their childhood together, flirting with her, and flattering her. It isnít long until they become confidants and lovers, and Amy Dudley is seldom remembered.

 

Almost immediately Elizabeth learns of the problems she has inherited along with the throne. Englandís treasury is empty, making the coins in circulation all but worthless; the French are at the Scottish border, poised to invade England; and the country is in turmoil over religion. Queen Mary had restored the Catholic Church to the Popeís leadership. Now Queen Elizabeth has ordered the church stripped of papist trappings, and set herself as head of the church. Treason and rebellion are whispered throughout England. There are constant threats of assignation brought to Elizabethís ears. Elizabeth can only trust a very small handful of people.

 

Sir Robert, in his scramble to grasp that elusive quality he calls grandeur, makes enemies right and left as he worms his way into Elizabethís affections, gaining her love. He begs her, as head of the church, to grant him a divorce from Amy so he and Elizabeth will be free to wed. He hustles her into the chapel and a hurried betrothal ceremony before two witnesses whom they can trust. He is now all but her husband. If his conscience pricks him now and then, reminding him of Amy and how he married her for love, he fights it down and hushes its voice.

 

THE VIRGINíS LOVER by Philippa Gregory covers the first two years of Elizabethís reign and the love affair that could have cost her the throne. Ms. Gregory helps us to see the different sides of Elizabeth. The young queen, deeply in love with a married man, whom she knows she cannot marry, but states time and again, ďI cannot live without him.Ē We see her fears and nerves expressed in the way she rubs her cuticles raw in times when tension runs high. Elizabeth is intelligent, but doesnít trust her own judgment. She relies on her advisors, although their advice often runs counter to each other with Sir William wanting what is best for England and Elizabeth, and Sir Robert wanting what will bring him to the throne to rule beside Elizabeth. Time and again Elizabethís insecurity causes her to issue orders then second guess herself, and rescind them. She is constantly prodded to marry someone worthy to be her consort and produce an heir.

 

We know that Amy loves Robert with her whole heart. But what about Robert? Does he really love Elizabeth as much as she loves him? Or is he mixing love and infatuation with the thought of wearing the crown. Does he even have a plan for ruling England beyond obtaining a crown? What will eventually happen to these two? Robertís insecurity is shown through his thoughts. He tries desperately to forget Amy, but he needs her and Elizabeth and other women to stoke his confidence and ego.

 

THE VIRGINíS LOVER is third in the Tudor series, preceded by THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL and THE QUEENíS FOOL. We can only hope that Ms. Gregory continues this series. I want to know what becomes of Robert Dudley and get a glimpse of the queen Elizabeth eventually becomes.

 

For lovers of English history, I canít recommend this series highly enough. Ms. Gregory makes the characters and events come alive for us, using fiction to bring the accounts that really happened into our sphere of understanding and imagination.

 

January 2005 Review

 

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