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His Last Letter by Jeane Westin

Posted By Claire on August 2, 2010

His Last Letter by Jeane WestinHaving previously read and loved Jeane Westin’s “The Virgin’s Daughters: In the Court of Elizabeth I”, I was really excited when I found out that Jeane was writing an historical novel based on the relationship between Elizabeth I and her childhood friend and favourite Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. Like many other people, Elizabeth and Dudley’s relationship intrigues me and I was keen to see how Jeane would handle it and I was not disappointed.

His Last Letter: Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leicester

by Jeane Westin

As soon as I received “His Last Letter” through the post I stopped reading everything else and spent my weekend reading it and not doing a lot else. I was hooked from the very beginning and I am not exaggerating when I say that the Prologue had me in tears! To be in tears in the first few pages just shows how Jeane was able to get me empathising with the characters straight away and how I was already part of their lives.

The Prologue is set in September 1588, just after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, and Elizabeth is waiting for the Earl of Leicester to return to join the court celebrations. Instead, a messenger arrives to tell the Queen that Leicester is dead:-

“She opened her mouth to shout down his lie, but at that moment came a great boom of cannon from the Tower and what the queen howled was neither heard nor understood by anyone in the presence chamber, least by herself. It was a cry of denial from the deepest well of her heart.”

Those words perfectly described the raw emotion, the grief and heartbreak that Elizabeth felt and they struck a chord with me and I too felt her emptiness, her anger and her sense of betrayal. Her best friend, the love of her life and her soulmate, her “sweet Robin”, was gone, he had left her and she was left with just memories and a letter, his last letter. I hope you can see how and why I was instantly hooked!

The Prologue sets the scene for the book which is the story of Elizabeth and Leicester and the marriage that could never be. The novel travels through time, rather than a chronological retelling of their relationship, skipping about and touching upon all of the scenes of importance between the two of them and how they each felt about them: the wedding of Robert and Amy, Elizabeth’s time in the Tower in 1554, Elizabeth’s coronation, the marriage question and Elizabeth’s suitors, including the Duke of Alencon, Robert’s relationship with Lettice Knollys “the she-wolf” and his other “dalliances”, Robert’s desire to go to the Netherlands to fight the Spaniards, the fall of Mary Queen of Scots and her execution, Elizabeth’s visit to Kenilworth, Robert’s illnesses, the Spanish Armada and Elizabeth’s visit to Tilbury. Although the novel skips about, it is never confusing and each chapter starts with either “Elizabeth” or “Earl of Leicester” and the date and place so you know exactly where you are and whose perspective you’re getting.

The last chapter comes all the way back round to where the novel started, with Leicester’s death and Elizabeth’s reaction:-

“All love was dead to her. Love was a face inside her head, a hundred – nay, a thousand pictured memories. Without Robin, there was no other love in her.”

With her beloved Robin’s death, Elizabeth loses it, she lets the mask slip and shocks her advisers with her unqueenly behaviour. She locks herself away in her room with only Leicester’s last letter for company and forgets her title, her country and duty and grieves for the man who she was never able to lead a normal married life with. Not only is she grieving for the loss of this man, she is grieving for the life she never had. Again, the writing in this chapter has the reader crying (well, I did!) along with Elizabeth and feeling the depth of her loss. Elizabeth is finally broken out of her wallowing by her door being beaten down and she picks herself up and commands “normalcy” to return. The Virgin Queen, Gloriana, Leicester’s “Bess” is ready to be Queen once more and you admire her for this.

“Did they or didn’t they?” is what many of you will be asking about this novel, “does Jeane Westin allow Elizabeth and Leicester to consummate their relationship?”. Well, I don’t want to spoil your enjoyment of this novel by giving too much away, but Jeane does give the couple a moment of happiness and reckless abandonment and although I do feel that Elizabeth truly was the Virgin Queen I had no problem with this storyline. As the reader of what is, at the end of the day, a fictional novel, you want Elizabeth to have that passionate encounter, that joy. Who knows what really happened between Elizabeth and Leicester? There is no evidence either way and this scene was perfectly in keeping with the storyline.

Final words: I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. I fell in love with Leicester, just as Elizabeth did, and Elizabeth’s character was vividly brought to life. In fact, Jeane did a wonderful job at bringing all of the characters – Walsingham, Cecil, Dee, Lettice Knollys etc. – to life, along with the times they lived in, the Elizabethan world. As someone who has just visited Kenilworth Castle and read up about Elizabeth’s visit there, I was happy to see that episode described so beautifully , with all of its pageantry and the efforts Leicester went to to win Elizabeth’s heart once and for all – pure magic! This book will have you smiling and crying, it grabs you, draws you in and tears at your heartstrings. It is a joy to read and I now want to repeat the experience and read it all over again!

Readers Guide

“His Last Letter” also includes an “Author’s Historical Note”, which includes a copy of Leicester’s last letter to Elizabeth, “A Conversation with Jeane Westin” which is a Q&A session with the author, and “Questions for Discussion” which are perfect for book clubs. I was very humbled by Jeane’s mention of The Elizabeth Files in one of her answers – thank you, Jeane.

Availability

“His Last Letter: Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leicester” by Jeane Westin is released straight into paperback by NAL (New American Library) on the 3rd August 2010. Click here, or the book cover above, to purchase it from Amazon.com or click here to purchase from Amazon.co.uk.

Comments

9 Responses to “His Last Letter by Jeane Westin”

  1. Jeane Westin says:

    Thank you, Claire, for this lovely review of His Last Letter. I put my heart in it and you read it with your heart.

    Jeane Westin

  2. Claire says:

    Hi Jeane,
    It’s a pleasure, it’s such a fantastic novel. I could tell you had put your heart and soul in it.

  3. Rob says:

    Cor! This sounds good!
    Congratulations to JW, and thank you Claire for bringing it to us.

  4. Anne Barnhill says:

    Hi Claire,
    This sounds like a wonderful book and I will order it right away! Thanks so much for the great review!
    I’m doing reviews for Fiction Addict and will try to review it there, too. Great work and thanks again!
    Best,
    Anne

  5. Tina says:

    Thank you for the wonderful review and I’m looking forward to reading what sounds like a beautiful novel.

  6. Carol says:

    Oh Claire, I cannot wait to read this book. I am in tears just reading your review. I have always had a real soft spot for Robert Dudley and trully believe he was the great love of Elizabeth’s life. Many thanks for the great review.

  7. Daphne says:

    I really enjoyed this one as well!!

  8. Kate says:

    Since the day i read your review ive been desperate to read this book.
    Im finally in posession of it !!! I will be starting it next week after i finish Alison Weirs The Lady Elizabeth.
    P.S…I have just noticed this Book Review page …very excited to read more reviews 🙂

  9. Barnettbuff says:

    Thanks for the review. Strange that I happen to be reading that very book (His Last Letter) at the time of your post. It is indeed a good read, and being the first book of Westin’s I’ve read; I enjoy her writing a lot and will not be the last of her works I’ll no doubt enjoy.

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