Thursday, September 25, 2008

Pure bliss

Devoted Anglophile that I am, you can imagine my joy when The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory showed up on my desk this week. It is about Mary, Queen of Scots imprisonment (though, of course, Queen Elizabeth I and her advisors never referred to it as that) under the care and supervision of Bess of Hardwicke and her husband George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury. Mary, Bess and George share the narration and each narrator is distinct and easily identifiable. It is my by-the-bed book so I love crawling into bed at the end of the day.

I've had a very soft spot in my heart for Mary, Queen of Scots since reading Antonia Fraser's book back in the 1980s. I had chills running down my back when I got to visit the room, at Holyroodhouse (the royal palace in Edinburgh), where David Riccio was murdered. And I was very impressed by Mary's tomb (funded by her son James I) in Westminster Abbey which is far grander than Elizabeth I's (she has to share her final resting place with her sister Mary...I'm sure they are eternally happy together).

My favorite historical period is Tudor England and I've read a ton of novels about Henry and his various and sundry wives as well as Mary (aka Bloody Mary) and Elizabeth. Philippa Gregory's are absolutely the best. Rich in period detail and full of gossip and intrigue, they grab your attention and your emotions from the first page to the last. My favorite is The other Boleyn Girl
(which last year's absolutely dreadful movie was supposed to be based on...ugh). It is about Mary Boleyn who was Henry VIII's mistress and bore him a son and a daughter during their time together. I also enjoyed The Boleyn inheritance, the story of Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard, wives number 4 and 5 of the horrible Henry (last time I was in England, I stood by Henry's effigy in the chapel at Windsor Castle and whispered, "I spit on you" in his ear!).

It fascinates me and appalls me that daughters were so poorly treated by the upper classes in England (all of Europe, actually). They were strictly to be used as political and social pawns, meant to advance the cause of their families. And they bore the blame for every daughter born (those poor wives of Henry VIII who lost their lives when it was, genetically all his fault) and had no rights to property or expressing themselves. Outspoken and independent soul that I am, why am I so taken by that kind of life?

If you love historical fiction, please try Philippa Gregory...and let me know if you like her.

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