Sunday, January 17, 2010

Elizabeth and the Prince of Spain by Margaret Irwin

The final volume in Margaret Irwin's Elizabeth I trilogy focuses on the bizarre love (or should I say lust?) triangle between Queen Mary, her husband, Prince Philip of Spain, and her stepsister, Princess Elizabeth, though this is by no means a romance novel, in fact, some modern readers may find it a tad old-fashioned and dry compared to juicy, explicit modern-day fare. But keep in mind that this novel was originally published in 1953. That said, though in my opinion this is the weakest of the three novels in Ms. Irwin's Elizabeth trilogy, the book does a fine job of depicting the ever-mounting tension in Tudor England between the English people and their unwanted guests the Spaniards. Children throw stones at them in the street and chant "Spanish apes who stole our grapes," and vehemently protest the Queen's marriage.

As Philip and Elizabeth indulge in a taut flirtation in which Philip toys with the idea of marrying Elizabeth off to various other men, including his own mentally unstable son, Don Carlos, just so long as he can keep her as his mistress, or even marrying her himself should he find himself suddenly a widower, the woman who began her reign as "Merciful Mary" becomes increasingly determined to root out heresy in her realm "by blood or by fire" and thus earns herself the sobriquet "Bloody Mary," by which we still know her to this day. And as Mary grows more aware of Philip's attraction to Elizabeth her jealousy of her younger, prettier half-sister mounts as do her suspicions that Elizabeth is the hen who hatches the Protestant plots that aim to depose Mary and put Elizabeth herself on the throne. And Elizabeth finds herself once again at the center of a maelstrom of danger with the shadow of Death looming over her shoulder in the form of the headsman's axe.

Elizabeth also grapples with her own sexuality during the course of the novel, realizing that as much as she might like to surrender to a man, handsome Robert Dudley in particular, she values being in control even more. Something in her will not allow her to surrender to anyone, she must walk alone through life as "The Virgin Queen," always being the mistress of her own body, mind, and fate.

The novel ends with Mary's death and Elizabeth, "the people's princess," at last achieving her destiny and becoming Queen of England. And even then she still keeps Philip dangling as she entertains his offer of marriage.

Overall, despite being the weakest of the series in my opinion, the book makes a nice finale to the trilogy, though Elizabeth fans might find it a trifle slow-going at first as, except for in brief mentions by other people, Elizabeth herself does not actually appear until page 106.

The complete trilogy is also available in one volume, though if you have small hands like I do, you might find it too thick to hold comfortably.

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