Sunday, December 2, 2012

Rival To The Queen by Carolly Erickson

Ms. Erickson’s latest foray into her light, fluffy, fantasy-laden series of “historical entertainments”  tells the story of the woman Queen Elizabeth I probably hated most, her own cousin, Lettice Knollys, the younger, prettier, sexier version of herself who captivated and later married Elizabeth’s own great love—Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, a man who coveted the throne so much he was even rumored to have murdered his wife, Amy Robsart, in order to free himself to become Elizabeth’s bridegroom and king.

In this novel “Lettie” and her family return from Frankfurt after “Bloody” Mary dies and Elizabeth comes to the throne, making England once again a safe place for Protestants. At court, where she and her sister Cecilia, are appointed maids of honor, to serve the Queen, Lettie soon arouses the queen’s jealousy. The Elizabeth of this novel is a plain, shrill harpy prone to rages, in the throes of one she orders Cecilia’s head shaved to make a wig for herself.

Despite her attraction to the Queen’s lover, Lettie’s family fears that her beauty will lead her into licentiousness and arranges for her to marry hunting obsessed dullard named Walter Devereux, the Earl of Essex. Children swiftly follow and Lettie finds a contentment of a sort managing her husband’s estates while he is away hunting or on business for the Queen in Ireland.

Lettie catches Robert Dudley at just the right moment, after he has had a lovers’ tiff with the Queen, and the two embark on a casual affair and when her husband dies the two decide to marry in secret. Though when the truth comes out Elizabeth’s rage erupts like a volcano and Lettice spends the rest of her life exiled from the court. Although Elizabeth does her best to keep them apart, she and Robert manage to make a good life for themselves, enduring the death of their only son, the Spanish Armanda, Lettice’s attraction to their handsome young Master of the Horse, Christopher Blount, and the decline of Robert’s own health.

After Robert’s death, Lettie isn’t a widow for long, but she has other problems to contend with when her hot-headed son Robert Devereux, the Earl of Leicester, seeks to take his stepfather’s place in the Queen’s heart and take her throne in the process.

If you are looking for more fact-based historical fiction, Ms. Erickson’s “historical entertainments” probably won’t appeal to you, but if you like historical fiction with a lighter, sometimes outrageous or whimsical touch, and don’t mind facts being thrown out the window, sometimes in very large measure to make room for fiction, these books can be quite fun. I think I’ve read them all so far; you can find most of them reviewed on this blog.

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