The Virgin's Lover
I’ll admit up front that I do not like the Tudors. I loathe Henry VIII and dislike all the rest of them. Had I lived back then, I robably would have lost my head. That said, I do love a good historical novel. One of my friends has been telling me how good Phillipa Gregory is and I’ve been planning to read one of her books. So I was very pleased to find her latest novel in my shipment of review books.
The Virgin’s Lover is the story of Queen Elizabeth I at the beginning of her reign. As a new queen, Elizabeth has taken over a kingdom in a precarious state. The treasury is low, Spain and France are threatening, and there is turmoil all over the land on the subject of religion. Elizabeth has as her councilor Sir William Cecil, who is well-versed in statecraft and devoted to her. Elizabeth appoints Sir Robert Dudley as her Master of the Horse. Dudley’s father was executed for treason, and Dudley spent some time in the Tower of London (as did Elizabeth). Dudley is married to Amy Robsart, a sweet young woman who loves him and wants a home and family. But Dudley is very ambitious.
Dudley wants Elizabeth. He woos her, he beds her, he insinuates himself into her life in every way, and makes her emotionally dependent on him. But that’s not enough for the ambitious Dudley. He does not want to be just the Queen’s lover – he wants to be her consort and King of England. But Cecil is worried about Dudley’s increasing power, gossip is rife, and there is still the matter of Amy Dudley, who loves her husband and does not believe in divorce.
The Virgin’s Lover is an interesting novel of the first years of Elizabeth’s reign. Not yet the magnificent Virgin Queen that she was to become, Elizabeth is still young, impulsive and almost foolishly in love. For me, whose image of Elizabeth is the figure in the Ermine portrait, not a woman but an icon, this book humanized her. She is brilliant, but still naive at statecraft, a monarch – but still a woman. She is poised between Cecil’s vision of her as a great Queen over a great nation, and Dudley’s protestations of love.
Dudley is not a very admirable figure. He is proud, but his ambition is overweening. He loves Elizabeth in his own way, and might have married her had it not been for his overbearing pride, ambition, and insistence that he would be King. Elizabeth slowly realizes that she would lose power – not share it – if they married, and that she is already losing face with the court because of her lover.
Amy is the true innocent in this affair. She married Robert Dudley for love, and all through the book we see her as a woman who does not deserve what is done to her. She longs for a settled home and family with her husband by her side. But she is neglected, betrayed and eventually killed. The book does not try to give a definitive answer to the mystery of who killed her – but it strongly hints that it was done to cause enough of a scandal to prevent the queen from marrying Dudley.
Readers who like historical novels will love The Virgin’s Lover. I enjoyed it very much (though I still hate the Tudors). It really brings the period and the people to life.