Elizabeth and the Prince of Spain
1554: At the court of Mary Tudor of England, a man and woman are joined in a battle of words and wits. He is Philip of Spain, the Queen’s husband and son of Emperor Charles, the most powerful man in Christendom. She is Elizabeth, twenty-one years old, bastardised by her father King Henry and for years a survivor of plots and scandals, each one of which might have brought her to the block. She is now in her greatest danger from the jealousy – political and personal – of her neurotic and capricious half-sister. Philip must bear the extravagant adoration of his ageing, unloved wife and walk warily if Elizabeth’s execution is not to precede Mary’s death. But does he want to keep alive this unparalleled young woman whose fierce intelligence and allure make Philip – soon to inherit his father’s throne – sometimes feel a dullard but at other times capable of extraordinary achievements? For any reader unaware of the ending of these few momentous years this novel will be as suspenseful as any work of imagination. If the true story is familiar it is still riveting.
Elizabeth’s scenes with her greatest love, Robin Dudley, are a poignant delight, and all the great men are here: a procession of popes, cardinals and archbishops plus the unfortunate aristocrats of Philip’s entourage whose loathing of England is enthusiastically returned by its citizens.
I underestimated an author writing fifty years ago by expecting something more heavyweight and solemn. Instead, here is a writer blending compassion with a little irony who entertains readers with vigorous narrative and sprightly dialogue.