Elizabeth I is one of England’s best known rulers and is often described as the ‘Virgin Queen’. This novel explores her early life when her future was uncertain and her reputation very different, damaged by a mother she barely knew. Anne Boleyn was executed for alleged affairs and for being a witch who enchanted men. Was she? Is Elizabeth the same?
After the death of her father, Henry VIII, Elizabeth’s younger brother has been crowned king, and powerful men vie to hold influence over him. Elizabeth is living with her stepmother, but the attentions of her stepmother’s new husband threaten to put her in serious danger. Her desire to know more about her disgraced mother leads her on a secret journey to the mental hospital known as Bedlam, where she will find out the truth.
Francis blends fact and fiction well, with a note at the end saying which is which. Through Elizabeth’s eyes we see not only the grand palaces of the Tudors but also the lives of the very poor and the desperate, locked in Bedlam or dredging dead bodies from the Thames. I particularly liked her use of the mental hospital as a place to put women you wanted silenced, sadly something that must have happened often.
My only criticism of the novel would be the constant reference by Elizabeth and other characters to the fact that she might be queen. Obviously she was, but at the time, it must have seemed a remote chance and involved the death of two of her siblings. It could even have been considered treason to discuss it. Other than this, I enjoyed the novel. Elizabeth is an engaging character, and the story is fast-paced with plenty of intrigue and secrets. It would appeal to girls of around 9+.