The Queen’s Secret

Written by Victoria Lamb

In 1575, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, drains his coffers to put on an Entertainment at Kenilworth Castle for Queen Elizabeth I during her Summer Progression. He has suspended time by stopping the gatehouse clock. Leicester knows this will be his last chance to persuade the Queen to make him her husband.

Sir Francis Walsingham accompanies the Court; as royal spymaster he fears an attempt will be made on her Majesty’s life. Also travelling is one of the chief spies, Goodluck, who discovers that his young ward Lucy Morgan, a Moorish singer, is with the court players.

Leicester, meanwhile, although ambitious to be King, cannot resist the charms of Lettice Knollys, cousin to the Queen and wife of the Earl of Essex. When whispers of their liaison spread through the court they do not fail to reach the ears of Elizabeth. Jealous and enraged, she asks her songbird and new favourite Lucy Morgan to spy on the lovers.

The author Victoria Lamb has always dreamt of writing a series of novels about Shakespeare and his Dark Lady, and The Queen’s Secret is her debut. Within these three weeks at Kenilworth there are Catholic plots to assassinate Elizabeth, romantic couplings, hunting, bear-baiting, fireworks and murder most foul. Will Shakespeare himself makes his first entrance as a boy of eleven, but somehow the story seems contrived. The period with its smells and sounds is well described, and the characters both real and imagined mostly blend together, but Lucy, around whom the book revolves, appears too sophisticated and knowing for her modest 17 years and station in life.

The explicit relationship between Elizabeth and Leicester depicted here would have served history better if the mystery surrounding it had been maintained.