Posted By Claire on April 15, 2013
I first came across the heroine of Roses Have Thorns, Lady Helena Gorges (born Elin von Snakenborg) when researching Elizabeth I’s household. I was immediately intrigued. Why was there a Swedish lady in Elizabeth’s household? How did she get there and what was her story? Well, Sandra Byrd tells her story in this wonderful novel.
The novel is obviously fiction, but Sandra is committed to staying as close to the real history as possible and then filling in the blanks with things that make sense. She also makes use of historical researchers to help her get the details right.
At the start of the novel, Elin von Snakenborg is a sixteen year-old girl due to marry a man who seems more interested in her sister. Instead of marrying him, she travels to England in Princess Cecilia’s entourage and is offered the chance of staying there and serving Queen Elizabeth I, the famous Virgin Queen. Elin jumps at the chance of settling in England and changes her name to Helena to appear more ‘English’. At the English court she meets the kindly William Parr, Marquis of Northampton and brother of the late Queen Catherine Parr. Unlike her former Swedish beau, Northampton is besotted with Helena and is a real gentleman. Unfortunately, although he and his wife have been estranged for many years and she has been unfaithful to him, the Queen has not allowed him a divorce. Will Helena ever find true happiness?
If you know your history, then you’ll already know what happens to Helena, but I won’t spoil it for those of you who don’t know her story. What I can tell you is that Helena is such a warm and likeable character that you will be crossing your fingers and toes for her, hoping that she will find happiness and fulfilment.
As well as Helena’s story, we also get Elizabeth’s story told through the eyes of her lady-in-waiting. The novel touches on Elizabeth’s relationship with Robert Dudley, her tricky relationship with Mary, Queen of Scots, and the way she treated those who served her. I really enjoyed this view of Elizabeth.
All in all, it’s a well-written historical novel and perfect escapism.