The Other Queen
The “other queen” in Gregory’s new Tudor novel is Mary of Scotland, the bane of Elizabeth’s existence and the thorn in William Cecil’s side. This is the story of Mary’s captivity, one which is fairly well known, but the impact of that captivity on her hosts and jailers, newlyweds George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, and his indomitable wife, Bess of Hardwick, is not.
Bess, a wealthy widow who had moved up the social ladder by her amazing business acumen, has made her most successful marriage to a trusted confidant of Queen Elizabeth’s. She is now well-positioned to ensure her own future and that of her children. She knows every penny she earns and every penny she spends.
When Elizabeth puts Mary under house arrest, she chooses her trusted servant, George Talbot, as Mary’s jailer. Neither George nor Bess realize what they’re getting into. As the years of Mary’s captivity stretch on and George and Bess must fund Mary’s “court,” they find themselves verging on bankruptcy, caught in the web of intrigue promoted by Mary and her supporters and increasingly the target of Elizabeth’s and Cecil’s suspicions. Worse for Bess is the fact that it is obvious that George is infatuated with Mary.
Using the narrative technique she employed in The Boleyn Inheritance, Gregory alternates chapters from narrator to narrator, with Mary, Bess and George each telling their story. For some reason, though, I found that I was not engaged in this story as I have been in Gregory’s previous Tudor novels. And I had no patience for either Bess, who was harsh and money-hungry, for George who was – for lack of a better term – wimpy and pitiful, or for Mary, who was downright manipulative and conniving. I didn’t particularly like any of these people and didn’t feel particularly forgiving of their foibles and shortcomings.