The Virgin’s Lover is another historical novel by the popular British writer Philippa Gregory. Gregory has very obviously done a tremendous amount of research on British history in general, and the Tudors in particular. The Virgin’s Lover tells the story of the early years of the reign of England’s Elizabeth I.
Elizabeth was only 25 when she ascended to the throne. She was the daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. She succeeded her older half-sister Mary I, the daughter of King Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon. Mary died at the age of 45, leaving no heirs. For a time during Mary’s reign, Elizabeth had been imprisoned in the Tower of London. There were, of course, a number of other candidates with claims to the throne but, shortly before her death, Mary recognized Elizabeth as her heir. Elizabeth was crowned at Westminster Abbey on January 15, 1559.
Matters at the Court were not easy, particularly for a young and inexperienced Queen. Elizabeth relied heavily on her advisers, particularly William Cecil. These are the generally accepted facts. From this point on, Gregory takes the story into the realm of fiction. She presumes that Elizabeth falls in love with the married Robert Dudley (later named Earl of Leicester) and begins a passionate affair with him. This book follows the trajectory of their affair and its consequences.
Elizabeth, of course, never married (hence the sobriquet “Virgin Queen”) but, for much of her reign, she entertained various royal suitors. Most of these proposed matches were considered for political purposes. In The Virgin’s Lover, Elizabeth negotiated with emissaries from King Philip II of Spain (the widower of her late sister) as well as from the Hapsburg Archduke Charles of Austria.
This book doesn’t grab your attention like The Other Boleyn Girl. It took me a while to get into the story. For me the interest was more about life in sixteenth-century England. However, as more of the back story was revealed, and as the machinations of the Tudor court were depicted, I got more interested in the story. So, if you don’t care for this book at first, it is worth reading a bit further on.
Published in hardcover-Touchstone 2004
Softcover edition-Touchstone 2005