The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory
This was the last book in the Tudor series by Gregory and I feel almost sad to see it come to an end. This book was about the life of Mary Queen of Scots whilst she was imprisoned by Elizabeth in England. It was an interesting read that I wasn’t expecting much from – But I was proved wrong.
The book opens with an introduction to a middle-aged woman called Bess – the is a successful woman who started out as a pauper and slowly built up wealth and lands from herself as she went from husband to husband who each taught her the wealth of keeping accounts. She has just gotten married to Earl Shrewsbury – a marriage of ambition and mild sweetness – but it soon becomes clear she is proud of what she has achieved independently and is more akin in mind to a modern woman. I liked her immediately. We hear from accounts from Bess, her husband George and the Queen of Scots herself as the newly married couple take in the queen by command of Queen Elizabeth as her jailors. George falls very quickly in love with Mary who is a beautiful, graceful and sharp young woman and this creates serious tension between Bess and himself and Bess and Mary. Mary in herself is very proud and completely convinced that she deserves to be queen of Scotland even though it was the Scots who took her from her throne. Though she struggles to cope with the separation from her son, Bothwell and the fact she is imprisoned in England, she soon becomes involved in a huge web of plots to put her back on the throne of Scotland, to get her officially declared as the heir to the English throne and to establish the ‘true’ papist faith. It becomes clear that she is a very determined and strong willed young woman and men cannot help but serve her as they fall in love with her on sight. She accepts a proposal of marriage from the Duke of Norfolk, Elizabeth’s cousin, so he can secure another link to the English throne and also to be King’s consort of Mary’s Scottish throne. A great uprising of his and her own making occurs with the Northern lords because of George’s negligence – he allows her to send messages, he allows her to ride out, he allows her to accept messages – all because he is hopelessly in love with her and cannot deny her anything.
Bess, meanwhile, despairs over her accounts – her husband, careless for where the money is coming from, squanders her fortune on looking after Mary’s own court – which he shouldn’t have allowed her to have anyway – and Bess’ fortune drains away like water as he spends and spends on all the Mary wants and expects. Famously, Mary washes her face with the most expensive white wines. Talk about excess. The plots grow, Bess’ anger grows alongside the feeling that her husband is naught but a fool and all the while they still don’t know what to do with the Scots queen.
I found this novel extremely interesting as I learned a great many things I didn’t know about Mary Queen of Scots – I have always been reluctant to read about her because of my sheer favouritism for Elizabeth and I was aware of the grief that Mary caused Elizabeth in the battle to kill her and take her throne. Nevertheless, I sympathised with this crushed but determined woman – she may have been imprisoned, but she fought tooth and claw for her freedom and for her throne. Though this is the case, I did find her rather ignorant and not particularly worldly. She wasn’t aware of the masses of money she cost to keep – she washed her face with wine for god’s sake – and she behaved like a queen in a queens court even when she technically wasn’t one. Maybe this was Gregory’s intention, maybe this is me striking out at her for wooing George away from hardworking Bess or, most likely, it’s because of my love for Elizabeth and I cannot stand the thought of competition for a woman I look up to. Nevertheless, I admire Mary in that she never gave up fighting but I loathe her for tearing England more or less apart for what could be said was her own vanity. She believed herself the true heir to the throne as she was the granddaughter of Henry VIIIs sister even though Elizabeth was his second child – That made me dislike her straight away….but no, I did admire her and connect to her but I scorned her ignorance – she wasn’t as clever as she seemed to think and personally I loved Bess for her own determination to own and manage her own land like a man in a man’s world – her independence was astounding.
A good read. Not Gregory’s best novel but I would still recommend it. it has fired my interests in this young woman and I am still unsure of how I feel about her but I intend to read a biography about her entitled ‘My heart is my own’ in the future.