Sunday, 2 January 2011

Book Report - Philipa Gregory - The Virgin's Lover

Well I said I wanted to read more in 2011 and I thought I would use by blog as a way to make myself commit to that desire.  I'm planning on listing the books I want to read and then post a book report when I've read it.  I think it will be interesting to look back on the books I've read and see where they come from (recommendations,  presents, impulse buys etc) and which I've enjoyed.  I would love your feedback on books you loved and comments on my thoughts on the books I've read.

Last night I finished Philipa Gregory - The Virgin's Lover, I know that's cheating as 90% of the book was read in 2010 but I wasn't recording my reading then and it's my blog and I make the rules! 

I've read other Philipa Gregory books previously (The Constant Princess, The Other Boleyn Girl, The Boleyn Inheritance,  Earthly Joys, Virgin Earth) and I've always enjoyed the history intertwined with fictional plot turns.  Of course there is the basic outline of the historical fact and I know there has been much criticism of this style of historical fiction but I enjoy it.  I've found it an easily accessible entry into history and made me think about and appreciate British history in much greater detail than before.  The Tudor period is one of great upheaval, revolution, renew, scandal and politics.  We feel today that modern actions have massive repercussions (WW1 & 2, emancipation, sexual revolution, female equality, class wars, computer age, Gulf War, 9/11, Boxing Day Tsunami) but I think we forget all that has gone before, we forget the actions of Kings and Queens when they had political and religious power, sometimes the same thing and the consequences of these actions.  The breakaway from Rome by Henry VIII has changed the course of British history in an unprecedented way.  

The Virgin's Lover covers the early part of Elizabeth I reign.  Queen for 44 years her reign is now seen as a period of stability with the most famous Elizabethan undoubtedly Shakespeare but many other Elizabethan figures including Sir Francis Drake.  During the period of this book she had two great concerns and obsessions, Scotland and Sir Robert Dudley.  Due to the religious politics the French are threatening to invade Scotland on the pretence of defending Mary Queen of Scots but this would be a staging post to then invade England.  Having lost Calais back to the French in the previous monarchy Elizabeth was in great fear of the French and of losing the Kingdom she had waited and fought for so long to be the monarch of.  Coupled with that the fact of being a woman in a position of power at a time when women has no rights of their own and no power over their own lives.  This has been the aspect of Philipa Gregory books I've enjoyed the most, the study of how powerless the women were, even high-born women.  The powerful families of the day (Bolyen, Howards, Seymours, Dudleys) would use their women as political pawns to marry, seduce, entrap and breed with power makers to further the families positions.  Women had no say over who they were to marry, sleep with, befriend.  They had no possession, no means of support other than their families and therefore are slaves to their families desires.  Even Queen Elizabeth, supposedly chosen by God but still questioned by the men around her was expected to marry well to form an alliance to strengthen the English Crown and Country.  We know now that this didn't happen, she never married and portrayed herself in later life as the Virgin Queen,  although this book cast major doubt on that status!  

The Dudley family was a major political power family during Tudor times and due to the flip-flopping of religious power in England during years proceeding Elizabeths reign the family although close to the Tudors had fallen in favour.  Robert Dudleys father and grandfather has been executed for treason and he himself had spent time in the Tower of London condemned to death until a reprieve.  At this time Elizabeth was also incarcerated in the Tower and even if they did not meet at this time (having already grown up together) I'm sure this experience would have bonded them in a way no other would understand.  The Dudley family was power mad and although Robert had already married Amy Robsart he preceded to woo the Queen.  He was a renowned womaniser and was well practised in seduction and Ms Gregory would have them succumbing to their desires, Elizabeth to have a man to support her in the undoubtedly difficult role of monarch at a time of great risk and upheaval, and Robert by the temptation of being so close to the throne, in fact he came to see himself and King and making moves to usurp the Queen herself.  The slight problem on a living wife seems not to have stopped either of them much.  You would have thought the experience of Elizabeths mother, Anne Boleyn, would have steadied Elizabeth's hand in matter of the heart but she waded in and fell in love with Robert.  

The story winds its way to conclusion with political twists and turns and illuminating Elizabeth to be not a powerful decisive monarch as I previously would have defined her but more a indecisive, self-protecting individual, more of Blackadders spolit brat Elizabeth than Judi Denchs regal Shakespeare in Love Elizabeth! 

Coincidentally the film Elizabeth was on TV over Christmas which I have recorded but not watched yet.  It will interesting to see another version of Elizabeth and how that portrayal will differ from my previous image of her and this new version of her.

So that was my experience of this book, I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to reading another of hers The White Queen although the order I've read her books in sometimes can be confusing as they have not been chronological correct!  

Have you read it?  Have you read any Philipa Gregory, what do you think of dramatisations of historical facts, do you think we should just look at the cold facts or do you think its valid to apply dramatic licence to flesh out the facts into a story?

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