The Queen’s Governess

Written by Karen Harper
Review by Phyllis T. Smith

Kat Ashley, who looked after Elizabeth I through much of her childhood and adolescence, and kept her love and loyalty ever after, seems like a fascinating central character for a historical novel. For one thing, she was accused of fostering Elizabeth’s first romantic entanglement—with Thomas Seymour—and spent some time in the Tower as a result. She stepped in when the young queen seemed to be dangerously falling for another married man, Robert Dudley, warning her in extraordinarily blunt language that she was endangering her reputation. Her impact on Elizabeth, as her first tutor and an important mother surrogate, was extraordinary.

It may be that I am not the best reader for this particular novel, because Elizabeth I exerts a special fascination for me; I’ve read just about every biography of her that is out there. I was hoping for a new perspective on the queen, but the novel went over well-charted territory. Kat Ashley did not come alive for me. The sense of her as a unique individual, one brilliant enough to school a young princess in everything from mathematics to history to embroidery, was lacking. But those who are less familiar with the basic storyline of Elizabeth’s early years may find this an interesting read.