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The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory

Posted By Claire on July 10, 2009

UK Cover

UK Cover

As many of you know, I spend my days reading biographies, historical texts and researching Tudor history, so it was actually quite refreshing to get lost in a fictional novel for a change and this Philippa Gregory one did not disappoint.

In my opinion there are three vital elements of a top quality historical novel:-

  1. It’s “unputdownable” – My own word to describe a book that I just can’t put down. I wander round the house with it, it puts me off my work and I would even shower with it if I could!
  2. It makes you want to research its characters – It leaves you hungry for more information, it makes you “google” the main characters and order biographies.
  3. It is believable – Historical fiction is just that, fiction, but a good historical novel is inspired by real history and any gaps in the story (where there is no evidence telling us what happened) are filled in with a believable event or theory.

“The Other Queen”, I’m happy to say, has all three of these winning elements and got me completely hooked!

For those of you who haven’t heard of this book, it is a novel written by famous historical novelist Philippa Gregory, author of “The Other Boleyn Girl”. It is the last book in her Tudor series, which includes, in historical order, “The Constant Princess”, “The Other Boleyn Girl”, “The Boleyn Inheritance”, “The Queen’s Fool” and “The Virgin’s Lover”, and tells the story of the two queens, Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, also known as Marie Stuart.

These two queens both had claims to the throne of England – Elizabeth as Henry VIII’s daughter and Mary as granddaughter of Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister – and this novel tells the story of these women’s fragile relationship and the plots and conspiracies that involved them. It is a story told through the eyes and voices of three characters – Mary Queen of Scots, George Talbot (Earl of Shrewsbury) and his wife Bess, later known as Bess of Hardwick – all with their own feelings about what is going on in England.

“The Other Queen” is the story of Mary’s imprisonment in England, and the countless plots and escape plans that she is part of, and her prisoners, the Shrewsburys, who are commanded by Elizabeth to supervise the imprisonment of this other queen. The cost to the Shrewsburys is huge. As Mary’s jailers, the newlyweds suffer financially as they provide for a Queen and her court without any aid from Elizabeth, and their reputations and marriage are constantly put on the line as George swings from being loyal to his true Queen and trying to help the Other Queen who is reeling him in with her beauty and charm.

US Cover

US Cover

All three characters are compelling, but for me the women stole the show. The charismatic Mary Queen of Scots, who seeks to fulfill her destiny as Queen of England, Scotland and France, is juxtaposed with hardnosed “business woman” Bess of Hardwick who seeks only to keep her fortune and beloved Chatsworth House.

Both women are loved by George Talbot, a man who is much weaker than them and who flits from one to another trying desperately to always do the right thing. George tries desperately to balance his loyalty to his real Queen, as a nobleman, his love for his new wife and his growing love and admiration for his vulnerable prisoner. Can he really be true to everyone?

If you know anything about Tudor history, you will know how the story ends and how the destinies of Mary and Bess become intertwined, but I still found myself wishing for an alternative ending! The charms of Mary Queen of Scots even got to me, the reader, and I so desperately wanted there to be a happy ending for everyone!

My only minor criticism of Philippa Gregory’s “The Other Queen” is the fact that towards the end it suddenly jumps 15 years between chapters. I can see why Gregory did this, with Bess bringing the book to a close with her take on the fates of those concerned, but I was still hungry for more! I’m still hungry for information and this book has definitely sparked off my interest in this “Other Queen”. Was she really involved in a plot to kill Elizabeth I or is she yet another innocent victim of a Tudor monarch? I will be using Philippa Gregory’s fantastic bibliography at the back of the book to find out.

“The Other Queen” by Philippa Gregory was released in paperback in the UK in April and is due to be released as a paperback in the US on the 14th of July. Click here to order your copy from Amazon UK and click here to pre-order it from Amazon US. If you are interested in Philippa Gregory’s other novels, you should visit The Anne Boleyn Files Amazon US or UK special Philippa Gregory pages.


5 Responses to “The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory”

  1. Kimberly Eve says:

    Hi Claire,
    Wonderful review of “The Other Queen”. I agree with your summary and the character analyses. I am not that familiar with Bess so I feel as if I got to know her a little bit better
    via Philippa Gregory’s writing. I know that she became quite fond of Bess as a result of her research process. I have to say the last chapter was one of my favorites. Reading Mary Queen of Scots walk through the grounds of The Tower of London all the while waiting to find out whether or not she would be put to death or released. I truly felt as if I was walking every step along with Mary Queen of Scots.

    I have two novels to recommend that are favorites of mine. Perhaps you’ve read them as well.
    1. Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles by Margaret George
    2. Mary Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley by Alison Weir

  2. Claire says:

    Hi Kimberly,
    Yes, I loved that chapter too. Philippa Gregory definitely has a way of bringing characters to life and making the reader empathise with them. Ooooh, I must get those books – thanks for the recommendation. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Jenny says:

    Hi Claire,

    This book really piqued my interest in Bess of Hardwick. For me she stole the show, so I can understand Philipa Gregory becoming fond of her during her research and writing. I’ve since done quite a bit of my own research about Bess and found it most enjoyable :-).

    And thanks very much for the review, on other forums PG is pretty much dismissed or slagged off, but I do enjoy her books (even if she does get the off bit wrong) so it’s nice to meet someone else who does too!


  4. Hannah says:

    Despite PG’s tendency to ramble and drag events out in this novel, I still greatly admire her storytelling and absolutely fell in love with this book’s main characters.

  5. fleur says:

    It sounds like a good book accually! I did’nt like The other boleyn girl bur this one seems rather interesting.. I don’t know who bess of hardwick is do you have any articles on her at the files? Anyway great review Claire! 🙂

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