The Tudor Throne
Beginning with the two sisters sitting at King Henry VIII’s deathbed, Purdy writes a pas de deux between the maturing Elizabeth and the steadily disintegrating Mary, both of whom would take their turns as queen of England. Purdy’s story revolves around Elizabeth’s journey, as she learns through bitter experience that the thrill of romance, for her, must always carry a threat not just to her heart but also to her country, and Mary’s sad decline.
Purdy wonderfully reimagines the behind-the-scenes lives of the two, both of whom speak in the first person. The language has an Elizabethan flavor yet goes down smoothly, with an exceptional attention to sumptuously described jewels, dresses, and sex. Here, for example, is Mary set to meet her husband-to-be, the king of Spain: “In a high-collared black velvet gown with a kirtle and plump padded under-sleeves of rich sapphire and silver brocade, with icy diamonds and sapphires dark as midnight adorning the crucifix at my breast and bordering my hood, I awaited my beloved… I know it was rather vain of me, but I arranged to be attended by my four oldest and plainest ladies…” And here is Elizabeth, accused of having had a secret lover and baby: “‘How dare you! How do you dare!’ I leapt to my feet and boldly gathered the loose folds of my full, shapeless white nightgown behind me, drawing the fabric taut against my slender body to outline my flat belly and small firm breasts. ‘Do I have the look of a woman who has ever borne a child, My Lord?’”
This is an old-fashioned read with florid action in which to revel and long flourishes of description that can either be savored or skipped, depending on a reader’s predilection. We know, after all, how the story turns out.