Review: The Other Queen

Rating: 3 / 5

The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory is the story of Mary Queen of Scots one of the most romantic historical figures in Tudor history. The tale is told after an uprising by the Scottish lords against Queen Mary and her third husband Lord Bothwell (who plotted the murder of her second husband Herny Stuart, Lord Darnley) and Mary having been forced to abdicate the Scottish throne in favour of her son James I, has fled to her cousin Queen Elizabeth I of England for assistance.

Instead of restoring Mary to the throne of Scotland immediately, Elizabeth I and her steward William Cecil, fearing Mary's popularity with the English public and her claim to England's throne, ask the Earl of Shrewsbury and his newly married wife Bess of Hardwick to serve as her hosts until the court can decide what to do with her.

And so the book follows 3 POV's, Mary Stuart's, George Talbot the Earl of Shrewsbury and Bess, Countess of Shrewsbury, herself much married to improve her lot in life, from being the daughter of a humble farmer to the wife of one of the foremost earls of England.

The three years (1569-1572) which the book covers, go over a few plots to depose Queen Elizabeth - from the Northern uprising, to the Ridolfi plot and the execution for treason of the Duke of Norfolk who is pledged to marry Mary.

But, the more interesting portion of these years in Ms. Gregory's novel is the relationship between the three principals. George falls in love with Mary, while being slowly bankrupted by the cost of hosting her and her court, while his wife Bess can only helplessly watch on. It is these three peoples hopes and disappointments in each other that form the major portion of Ms. Gregory's story until the end with Mary being beheaded after being Shrewsbury's prisoner for 16 years.

Being very interested in Tudor history, I snapped up this book as soon as I saw it. I have not read much about the reign of Elizabeth I and since much of it was new, I was quite entertained.

However, once the three principals have their introductory chapters and we are presented with the central ideas - Mary the sacred and anointed Queen, Bess and her struggles to raise herself from poverty and her love of money and the property she has inherited and George being the man of honor conflicted between Mary and his wife and the Queen who commands his loyalty, I don't think I learned much from having the separate POV's. Mary and Bess are both certainly very interesting characters but I think Ms. Gregory missed the chance of exploring their characters completely.

From Ms. Gregory's account, Queen Mary is a tragically romantic figure. Stunningly beautiful and charming she is able to rally countless men willing to risk their lives in her cause. Mary herself is at the center of most of the plots and while being sly enough to spin various conspiracies, I thought her view that her person was sacred and could never be harmed, just because she was a Queen was remarkably naive. Certainly Tudor England had more than enough examples for her to be wary. Look at Henry the 8th's six wives (Mary's uncle, Elizabeth's father) - one queen discarded until she died of loneliness, two beheaded, one set aside because the king didnt fancy her and one dying in childbirth.

Ms. Gregory's Tudor novels have gained some notoriety because she often propounds theories which are different from other historians. I didnt like The Other Boleyn Girl for the same reasons. But, this time as far as I can make out there are no deviations, Shrewsbury being in love the sole small one, since it is not acknowledged as historical fact. I wonder if that is why the book, while being a good enough read, is sadly flat.


Smita said...

Nive review but girl how many more Historical romances will u read??

Though I shouldn't be asking that question....he he he ;-)

BTW I agree to what u said to me in the last post!!!

couchpapaya said...

smita - this isnt a romance per se, just a historical. i dont know, these authors keep writing the books and so i have to keep reading them :) i have william dalrymple in the queue somewhere, am really looking fwd to reading his books.

hey, my sister's keeper has released here. what abt in india? u planning to watch it? the trailer put me off for some reason .... the music etc made it seem very happy happy

avdi said...

I love historical fiction. But need to find really good one. OKee so this is the writer who wrote The Otber Boleyn Girl. I didnt like the movie though I loved the BBC series.

couchpapaya said...

avdi - yeah who wld have thought eric bana cld be in such a bad movie. didnt know there was a series, will look for it :) anyways, if u liked the story the book is much better. and if ur interested in other historical fiction look for these authors - jean plaidy, anya seton .... i just finished reading the same anne boleyn story by plaidy (murder most royal), i thought it was v. good.

ps. i found 2 series - u mean the other boleyn girl or the tudors? i watched a little bit of the tudors some time ago, very soap operaish ...

couchpapaya said...

avdi - have u read william dalrymple? he has some books on the mughals which i really want to read.

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