The Testimony of Alys Twist

Written by Suzannah Dunn
Review by Ann Northfield

This is very much a novel which demonstrates the experience and perspective of history from below. Royalty, in this case Queen Mary the First and her dangerously positioned half-sister, the Lady, sometime Princess Elizabeth, create and react to grand events on the world stage. These are the happenings written about in the history books and analysed and discussed even today. Here in this novel, however, we are focused on the effects of those big decisions on the ordinary people on the ground.

An enforced stay in the Tower of London for Elizabeth is a political act by Queen Mary, but we see the impact of this on laundresses Bel and Alys among others. No one is immune or distanced from the political and religious upheavals of the time. Alys herself is an orphan with secrets of her own, but she is pressed into spying on Elizabeth and is unable to resist or reject the commands of those above her. The atmosphere is one of suspicion and uncertainty, and this comes across very clearly. In the aftermath of the execution of the tragic Lady Jane Grey, it is clear that anything can and will happen.

If you have read and enjoyed other novels by Dunn, this will be no exception. It does help to have a background knowledge of the key happenings and issues of the time, as often the reader gets as much information as Alys, which works well as a narrative device to really see the tumult of history through the eyes of those who lived it without deciding or controlling anything to any extent.