Splendidly written, The Virgin's Daughters, by Jeane Westin, captures the essence of service, honour and love in the court of Elizabeth I. Stories of ladies–in-waiting and their relationship and attachment to their queen are really tops in my list of favourites to read, in both fiction and non-fiction. So, I was peeked with interest in this particular novel, where the author unravels the turbulent love stories of two such ladies living similar journeys leading towards different outcomes.
The story begins with Lady Katherine Grey, sister of the beheaded Jane Grey- and cousin to Elizabeth I. Kate was torn between her love of service for the Queen and her lifelong love, Edward Seymore (in direct lineage with Jane Seymore, Henry VIII’s third wife; hence first cousin of Edward VI). Let’s just say that with lovers of such high pedigree, Kate’s position at court was of more than particular interest to all. Not only did Kate serve the Queen-she was also named successor to the throne, in accordance to the will of Henry VIII, her uncle. A marriage to her beloved ‘Ned’ invited the possibility of future male heirs; whom, Elizabeth deduced, would have most certainly jeopardized her throne.
The second part of the book is about Mary Rogers, a distant (and decades younger) cousin of both Elizabeth I and Katherine Grey. ‘Mouse’ as Elizabeth often called her, was more of a country girl than a noble. With great aspiration to completely devote herself to her Queen, Mary never swayed. When love to John Harrington (Elizabeth’s godson), was forbidden in order to permit a promised marriage of which Mary wanted no part, loyalty to her Queen again prevailed.
In conjunction, The Virgin’s Daughters, takes us through the life of the young and beautiful Elizabeth I and her tumultuous relationship with Robert Dudley, her impossible, yet everlasting love. The second part sees an aged and less lustrous Elizabeth in her ending years, with the Earl of Essex playing the role of deplorable substitute as favourite to the Queen. Throughout the book, we can sense Elizabeth’s emotions and reactions towards these men and the importance they held in her life. Consequently, Elizabeth’s decisions regarding her ladies were exercised through the reasoning and beliefs she held about love and loyalty and all that it entailed. It would only be logical for her to expect no less from those in her service- sacrifice for a higher purpose. Elizabeth reigned supreme and ultimately, love for her country always came first.
I really enjoyed reading about the deceptions and triumphs of these young women who suffered honorably for a cause they remained faithful to, until the end. The Queen was everything to them, much to their demise. And, although I cheered them on and wanted happiness and love for them both, it was often difficult for me to understand this total devotion for their sovereign. Most times I found Elizabeth to be cruel and even coarser than Henry VIII ever was. In fact, Elizabeth seemed cold, unmoved, vain, self-serving and completely incapable of love in any form. Harsh? No, I think it’s ingenious. Westin, I believe had me exactly where she wanted …completely magnetized by Elizabeth.
Throughout the book I kept hoping for my desolate heroines, and every time, the unexpected happened. I enjoy it when a book keeps me this entertained. As for Elizabeth, her portrayal, which had me despising her, also led me to an unwitting, yet forceful need to admire her. I’ve never been a die-hard fan of Elizabeth (yeah, I’m one of those-sorry), but her portrayal in this beautiful novel, manages to bring forth her greatness as ruler and sovereign without ever undermining her vulnerability as woman, lover and ...mother. Unfaltering to the end, Elizabeth was faithfully committed for the sake of a higher purpose. When seen under this light, I began to comprehend Elizabeth’s difficult choices and their impact on history. In The Virgin’s Daughters, the Queen’s verdict always determined love’s fate, albeit at a cost to all those involved…even Elizabeth.
Historically accurate and beautifully written, you will find more than just love stories to remember along with the insuperable power of a queen. The Virgin’s Daughters takes you deeper –distinguishing itself by making a significant impression that will leave you pondering about forbidden love and royal reasoning in the times of Elizabeth I.
Special Thanks to Penguin Books:)
This week I will also have the pleasure of having Jeane Westin guest post here on Enchanted by Josephine. Look forward to a most insightful article on Elizabeth - along with a great Giveaway of her book!