A young woman with red hair rides full tilt on a horse in the blazing sunshine. Where she is found, another is sure to be nearby. Elizabeth I is the subject of this historical novel in which a mysterious old women hands over a moth eaten diary to the Queen of England. It’s supposedly written in the hand of another Queen, her mother Anne Boleyn. What follows is a parallel tale of Anne’s extraordinary rise and fall from power and Elizabeth’s own personal struggle to assert her authority on the throne despite her growing closeness to her married favourite, Robert Dudley.
Anne is almost a stranger to her daughter; a name said in hushed whispers, usually in relation to the notorious crimes she was condemned for. Elizabeth was hardly known to mention her name nor is it known what she thought about the allegations brought against her. In contrast Elizabeth publicly revered her father, King Henry VIII. He represented to her everything a monarch ought to be. Elizabeth knew she had to rule absolutely as her father did and given that she was also woman, she couldn’t allow anything to taint her reputation.
Where the book succeeds is in representing Elizabeth’s complex character. At first glace proud, imperious with a steely determination, she carries an inherent insecurity which never left her since childhood. Through Anne’s own words she is discovered to her daughter as a woman worthy of admiration and we see Elizabeth’s emotional barriers breaking down in the knowledge that her mother loved her. It is also a lesson in hard truths for the young Queen, the great pitfalls of those raised high and the consequences of illicit love.
As Anne’s story heads towards its tragic conclusion, Elizabeth’s old certainties begin to unravel and she is seen to struggle with her perception of her long dead father. Yet Henry is not demonised. Nor does Anne come off lightly for her taste for vengeance and occasional bloodlust. She was not perfect and Elizabeth is mindful of her more unattractive qualities.
It is interesting to speculate if there was ever a catalyst for Elizabeth’s decision not to marry. Even the people closet too her were perplexed to her true feelings on the matter. Throughout her life Elizabeth basked in the love and affection of her subjects. Anne had been hated, her unpopularity becoming a ripe weapon for her enemies. Elizabeth believed her strength and protection came from the love of her people and resolved it wouldn’t be compromised. This novel gives an imaginative view of how Elizabeth related to her mother and gives a glimpse into the Queen who would become ‘Gloriana’.