The Virgin’s Daughters: In the Court of Elizabeth I by Jeane Westin
The trouble with being a Tudor monarch was the constant concern over keeping your crown. Elizabeth I, probably moreso than any other Tudor since Henry VII, felt the weight of this burden. If she married, her husband would have dominion over her and, as a result, her kingdom. She would never let that happen. A consequence of this decision is that she was without direct heirs. Subsequently, she had to constantly be on the lookout for those who might take her throne by force or, through a strategic marriage, create male heirs. As a result, Elizabeth I was emotionally alone, especially after Sir Robert Dudley died. Both Katherine Grey, sister of the tragic Lady Jane Grey and Mary Rogers find themselves devoted to their queen but powerless to close off their hearts to love as their queen demanded. Their stories highlight what it may have been like to fall in love at Queen Elizabeth I‘s court and how the age of the queen might impact their situations.
I enjoyed both love stories. I felt for Lady Katherine Grey. Her sister, Jane, was foisted on the throne against her will by her family and the Seymour family, scrambling for power after the death of King Edward Tudor. She lost her life. After witnessing what blind ambition did to her family, the last thing she even wants is to be at court. Her mother forced the position upon her, and I have to admit that I love reading Lady Frances Brandon as a conniving bitch. Her role isn’t large, but her appearances hit all the right notes. When Katherine falls in love with Edward Seymour, first Earl of Hertford, danger was everywhere. Elizabeth was young and in love, but she worked hard to keep virgin image and wanted the same from her ladies-in-waiting. On top of that, a match between the Grey and the Seymour family could mean the end of her reign, especially once there was a male heir. Not knowing the final outcome in reality really ramped up the drama for me. I wanted to know what happened and I hoped that Elizabeth would see their love and respect it.
Mary Rogers was a different woman than Katherine Grey. She learned about life at court and the nature of Elizabeth I from Katherine Grey. She, a young woman with no where near the pedigree of Katherine, wanted nothing more than to serve the sovereign she adored. Her family background was religiously conservative and she wanted to do well by her grandfather and her Queen. John Harrington, the Queen’s godson, was a man who enjoyed the ladies of court. He fell unexpectedly hard for Mary and had to work very hard for her heart. At the end of her life, Elizabeth seemed to want her ladies to remain her celebate daughters all the more. As much as she loved and respected Mary, she could not and would not consent to a marriage for her and John. Instead, she wanted to use Mary’s beauty to help secure the loyalty of one of her Northern lords. Despite John’s innovative ways of pleasing the queen (I had no idea that’s how toilets became known as “johns”) and softening her heart toward their match, the couple wondered if they were fated to end their lives as lonely as Elizabeth.
The Virgin’s Daughters was a fun read and it was exactly what I was looking for when I started reading it. You have the delight of being at court mixed with the fear of displeasing yet another moody Tudor monarch. I thought that showing Elizabeth at both ends of her reign through the eyes of her daughters was a great way to approach the Virgin Queen. Elizabeth was the right mixture of scared and menacing. How much different would her life have been had she had the ability to make choices without having to worry about England and the succession of its throne. Of all the novels I’ve read revolving around Queen Elizabeth, this has been my favorite. It gives me hope that there will be an Elizabeth I-centric novel that I will love as much as I’ve loved other Tudor novels. I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves Tudor history. It flows well and quickly and was just the fix I needed this summer.
To buy this novel, click here.