A Constant Heart

Written by Siri Mitchell
Review by Susan Higginbotham

Facing an arranged marriage to the Earl of Lytham, a stranger, 17-year-old Marget is reassured somewhat when her betrothed sends her an astrolabe and a romantic sonnet. Yet when Marget meets her husband at last, the earl, still embittered from his first marriage to a beautiful, unfaithful wife, is barely civil to his new countess. Life is no better at Queen Elizabeth’s court, where the newcomer Marget is shunned.

Determined to win the affection of her husband by proving herself useful to him in his frantic quest for royal favor, Marget becomes friends with Lady de Winter, who advises Marget that in order to make her way at court, Marget must obscure her natural beauty with layers of white paint. Slowly, Marget finds acceptance among the queen’s ladies—but is Lady de Winter acting in her best interests?

Mitchell vividly depicts the atmosphere of Elizabeth’s court, as poisoned by jealousy, back-biting, and intrigue as are the women who damage their looks and their health with lead paint. Her newlyweds, struggling to build a successful relationship with each other and to maintain their integrity in a setting that is hardly conducive to such goals, provide an interesting—and fresh—perspective on a familiar period.