The first time I saw Philippa Gregory’s books, I was amused that the cover artwork followed the Chick Lit standard of clipping off the covergirl’s head (sample gallery here, in case you’ve never noticed the trend), even though these were, presumably, a bit weightier than the rest of the genre, what with the history and all. I’ve now read the book, and am considerably less amused to find the writing on the light end of the Chick Lit standard scale.
It started off well enough, setting up the contrasts between Elizabeth I and Lady Amy Dudley, fatal rivals for the love of Lord Robert Dudley. In the early going, it did a nice job of laying out the political landscape and making clear challenges facing the young queen, the struggle she faced to reach the throne, and giving interesting hints to the powerful monarch she would become. At her accession at 25, her throne and her very life depended on her marrying quickly and getting an heir; we know from history that she did neither, and yet ruled long and gloriously. This was a magnificent woman who faced down empires to retain her independence and power.
Too bad that in the latter half of the book, she becomes a simpering, nail-biting idiot who can’t say no to the domineering lover who seeks to usurp the kingship from her. Amy Dudley, a doormat of a female, does a better job standing her ground against Robert Dudley’s relentless ambitions than does Gloriana. The mighty queen, unwilling to share power and unable to refuse Dudley anything, whines and moans to her most trusted councillor, and he finally does something about the Dudley problem–after several times feeding Elizabeth her most famous “girl power” phrase–you know the one, about having the body of a weak and feeble woman, but the heart and stomach of a king? Yeah, Gregory gives that to William Cecil, later, presumably, to be cribbed by an Elizabeth dependent on the men around her for everything, right down to her self-image.
Were this an entirely fictional work, the weak female characterizations would be annoying enough; involving historical women who lived and suffered, triumphed or failed bitterly, is particularly repellent character assassination. Gregory has slain Amy Dudley again, and Elizabeth with her; well, I guess that’s one way to be certain it was murder.