THE VIRGIN QUEEN’S DAUGHTER by Ella March Chase
“Grace, whenever you may find this, I ask this solemn promise: You never forget that we weathered the storm captured in these pages, not by the strength of men, brave as your father was. Women made certain you came to be. Hepzibah Jones, your grandmother Thomasin de Lacey, and me. And perhaps her. The greatest queen England may ever know, the woman who ruled all but her heart.”
“Remember this, your legacy, as you face the world and its many dangers. We women. whether linked by blood or just by circumstances, whatever names history chooses to call us – Jones or de Lacey, Wyatt, Boleyn ot Tudor. We are survivors, all.”
Review by Jana L. Perskie (DEC 29, 2009)
In 1554, Lady Elinor de Lacey pays her first visit to London. She is five years-old. Elinor, (Nell), and her beloved nurse, Hepzibah Jones, accompany the child’s parents, John, Baron of Calverley, and his wife Thomasin, to the capital city for the express purpose of filling up chests with books and scientific equipment for the Baron to bring home to Lincolnshire. A brilliant and learned man, he studied with Dr. John Dee in Cambridge. Dr. Dee is a noted mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, occultist, and, much later in the story, consultant to Queen Elizabeth I. De Lacey plans to spend 3 weeks studying with the scientist. The family lodges with the Lieutenant of London’s Tower and his family.
The Baron believes his extraordinarily precocious daughter should be able to study and learn in an equal fashion as men and boys of the period. The Christian world, at this time, doubts that women have souls – “Let woman first prove they have souls; both the Church and the State deny it.” So, obviously, women were not considered to be worthy or capable of learning. There are a few exceptions, Elizabeth I is one. As a child, Lady Elizabeth, the future queen, was given an impressive education. Elizabeth, like Elinor, excelled at her studies. Famous scholars, such as William Grindal and Roger Ascham, tutored her, and from an early age it was clear that she was remarkably gifted. Roger Ascham will also become one of Elinor’s teachers.
Nell is another gifted female. Later in their lives, Dee would say, ‘”Elinor is the fiercest woman I have ever seen. There is something exceptional about her. Something I have wondered about all these many years. Some are destiny’s children. I cannot say why it is so. Mistress Nell is one of them.”
Now, however, Nell is only five and when she catches a glimpse of the fair, young Lady Elizabeth imprisoned in the Tower, walking in the Lieutenant’s gardens, she is entranced and determined to free her. The mischievous child finds an old key and manages to scrabble over the gate partitioning the official residence from the garden. There the child meets the Princess and gives her the “magic key” so she can escape. For a few brief moments, they chat and Elizabeth tells Nell she will never forget her or her loyalty.
Frequent flashbacks take the reader to the period of Elizabeth’s traumatic infancy and youth. The hurts and upheavals she experiences will strongly affect how she lives and rules as Queen of England. Most know the history of Henry VIII’s six wives and their terrible fates, but one marriage in particular has a major impact on Elizabeth. When her mother, the King’s 2nd wife, Anne Boleyn, failed to produce a male heir, Henry lopped-off her pretty head based on trumped-up charges of adultery, incest and treason. Elizabeth’s birth was one of the King’s biggest disappointments, and from childhood she knew this. The toddler, at age 3, and her half-sister, Mary, were declared illegitimate, after Jane Seymour, wife number three, gave birth to a son, Edward.
Henry dies in 1547, when Elizabeth is 13 years old. Edward VI succeeds his father. Henry had reinstated his daughters in the line of succession before his death. Mary is to follow Edward, and Elizabeth is to follow Mary. Elizabeth is now second in line to the throne. Nine year-old Edward is too young to rule, so his uncle, Edward Seymour, becomes Protector of England. Dowager Queen Catherine soon marries Thomas Seymour of Sudley, also Edward VI’s uncle and the brother of the Lord Protector. For Catherine, this is a true love match. Elizabeth, who has come to really care for her final stepmother, (and visa versa), is invited to live with the newlyweds in their house at Chelsea. This interval with the Seymours “should have been a time of happiness and security for Elizabeth.” Quite the contrary, however, as she “experiences an emotional crisis that historians believe affected her for the rest of her life.” The charismatic, ambitious Seymour, at age 40, possesses “a powerful sex appeal” and is a master at wooing and bedding the ladies. Historical witnesses verified that he frequently “fondled and touched” the 14-year-old girl. He was seen entering her bedroom in his nightgown, tickling her and slapping her on the buttocks beneath her own nightclothes. “There is a report of Seymour slashing and ripping Elizabeth’s gown in the gardens of the house.” After Catherine Parr discovers the pair in a compromising embrace, she sends Elizabeth away. Once more the young woman is abandoned and betrayed, her honor compromised by a man old enough to be her father.
When Katherine Parr dies of childbirth fever, Thomas renews his attentions towards Elizabeth. She is a beautiful teenager and Seymour wants to be King. He is intent on marrying her. When Catherine Ashly, governess and close friend to Elizabeth is interrogated, along with Thomas Parry, a household attendant, Seymour’s behavior comes to light. Elizabeth, living at Hatfield House, refuses to comment, except to swear she is a virgin. She is to swear this throughout her life, and is known as the “Virgin Queen.” Seymour was arrested and beheaded for plotting to marry a princess of royal blood and overthrow the government. Did Elizabeth remain a virgin all her life? Given the number of men who seriously wooed her, especially Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, it is doubtful. For many years, Dudley hoped, with good reason, that the Queen would marry him. He was widely believed to be her lover.
For centuries rumors have circulated that Elizabeth bore Thomas Seymour a child during the period right after Catherine Parr sent her away. This event would not have been impossible to conceal. England was in political turmoil. Those at the royal court paid little attention to Elizabeth, whose face was not known in the countryside. She could have been sequestered with Cat Ashley and a few other intimates. The midwife who attended her wouldn’t have known who the young noblewomen was, especially if she were brought to the house blindfolded. It is a possibility Ella March Chase explores in a most believable fashion. She postulates that Elizabeth bears a daughter who is supposedly smothered at birth. The baby is secretly adopted by Thomasin de Lacey, a lady-in-waiting to Katherine Parr, who has just lost her own newborn. The girl child is named Elinor de Lacey. Her nurse, Hepzibah Jones, “Eppie,” was Catherine Parr’s midwife. Nell’s mother, and her nurse have every reason to keep this secret. Their lives and Nell’s depends it.
When Baron de Lacey dies, Nell secretly contacts Queen Elizabeth and wins a place at court. As a lady-in-waiting to the Queen, the lovely, red-head learns just how dangerous life at court can be, with the courtiers’ ambitious scheming, and political intriguing. She begins to understand why her mother obsessively wanted to keep her in Lincolnshire. Nell’s appearance and character, so similar to Elizabeth’s, draws the curiosity of those who surround the Queen. Elizabeth becomes increasingly suspicious of Nell’s origins and sends spies to all corners of her kingdom to gather information. Nell realizes her life is in serious jeopardy when she learns the truth of her birth. She wants nothing more than to return to Calverley, but there is no way out for her now. Her life means nothing. Protecting Queen Elizabeth, her reputation, and her reign is everything. The story builds in suspense and the author delivers a gripping and compelling ending. She also includes a romance between Nell and a courtier, loyal to Robert Dudley. Their relationship helps to bring the story to an extraordinarily surprising ending.
Ms. Chase brings Elizabethan England to life. Many historical characters figure in the storyline. Her research into 16th century England, is impeccable. I am very interested in this period and am impressed by her knowledge.
Above all, this is a story of two brilliant women trying to survive, on their terms, in the traditional world of men. They both share a love of knowledge and the truth, and rebel against a woman’s subordinate role. Elizabeth and Elinor are both strong heroines.
I highly recommend The Virgin Queen’s Daughter, for historical fiction fans who are interested in a different take on Tudor England.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 38 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Three Rivers Press (December 29, 2009)|
|REVIEWER:||Jana L. Perskie|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Ella March Chase|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||More Tudor fiction:|
- The Virgin Queen’s Daughter (2008)
- Three Maids for a Crown: A Novel of the Grey Sisters (2011)
- The Queen’s Dwarf (January 2014)