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The Virgin’s Daughters by Jeane Westin

Posted By Claire on October 29, 2009

The Virgin's DaughtersAuthor Jeane Westin is a regular visitor to The Elizabeth Files and wrote a wonderful guest article – “Did They or Didn’t They? Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester” – which got us all commenting our thoughts on Elizabeth’s virginity and her relationship with Dudley.

After chatting to Jeane and reading her article I was desperate to read her latest historical novel and review it for the site, so she kindly sent me a copy. Here are my thoughts on this novel set in the reign of Elizabeth I.

“The Virgin’s Daughters: In the Court of Elizabeth I” by Jeane Westin

I’ve been so lucky recently, I’ve loved every historical novel I’ve read and this one did not break my lucky streak. As an armchair historian, someone who spends all day reading biographies and text books and doing research, I sometimes find historical fiction hard work. Some novels are annoying because they pretend to be a reworking of fact, when they blatantly are not, and some just bung in stupid events for the sake of it or are so off-track that I have to give up on them. However, some historical novels are a joy to read and this is one of them. If I had a star rating system, this would get a resounding 5 stars because I loved it.

This novel offered escapism combined with history. Like when I was reading Robert Parry’s “Virgin and the Crab”, I was whisked away to another time and place, the Elizabethan court, and could really empathise with the characters. I got so sucked in that I read it in one day and thoroughly enjoyed my escape from the real world – who cares about housework anyway?!

The Story

Jeane Westin’s novel is split into two main parts, each with a different main character. In Part One, we are introduced to Lady Katherine Grey in the year 1562, sister of the tragic Lady Jane Grey, a woman who is heir to the throne by Henry VIII’s will because Elizabeth I is childless. We see court life and intrigues through her eyes, we see the passionate and volatile relationship between Robert Dudley and the Queen, which is beautifully told, and we hear Katherine’s own story. Katherine is such a tragic figure because she is so trapped. As heir to the throne and one of Elizabeth’s ladies, she is not free to marry who she likes and her love for Ned Seymour brings nothing but heartache as Elizabeth lashes out at the “star crossed” lovers and seems to punish them for the life that she herself cannot lead with her beloved Dudley.

I loved Katherine and spent the whole first part of the book praying that she and Ned would be happy even though I knew their real-life story. I also loved the portrayal of Elizabeth and Dudley’s relationship. Westin managed to convey the passion and the deep love they had for each other. Their arguments and Elizabeth’s rages are described beautifully and really brought to life. Dudley knew everything about his “Bess” and how to handle her and Elizabeth’s torment and bitterness over not being able to marry her beloved Robin is so real.

In Part Two, we jump into the future to 1599 and see things through another set of eyes at court, those of young Mary Rogers, whose family had cared for Lady Katherine when she had been released from the Tower. Like Katherine before her, she is now one of the Queen’s ladies, a dream come true for her, and it’s as if history is repeating itself when Mary falls in love with the charismatic ladies’ man, Sir John Harrington.

In this second part of the novel, we enjoy Mary’s love story and see how the Queen is coping after the death of her childhood sweetheart Dudley. Elizabeth I is now an old woman and Dudley’s place as favourite has been taken by his own step-son, the Earl of Essex, a man who also seems very interested in Mary. Can an innocent girl like Mary survive life at court? Can she protect herself from the advances of Essex and find happiness with Harington, or will she be forced into a loveless arranged marriage with a far older man? Will Katherine’s tragic story play out in Mary’s life? I won’t spoil the story for you but these are the things you will be wondering as you read this part of the novel.

The Test

So, does this novel pass my all important historical fiction test:-

  1. Is it “unputdownable”? – Well, seeing as I read it in one day, I have to answer yes! I forgot my chores and ignored my family when I was reading this book.
  2. Does it make you want to research the characters more? – Yes! I am obviously already researching Elizabeth I but I have just bought “The Sisters Who Would Be Queen” by Leanda de Lisle to find out more about Katherine Grey.
  3. Is it believable? – Yes. We will never know the ins and outs of Elizabeth and Dudley’s relationship but this novel portrayed it as I had imagined it. Court life was also brought to life beautifully and all of the characters behaved in a believable way for that period of history. Westin has obviously put an immense amount of time into researching both the era and characters, and not just the main characters either.

The Perfect Combination of Love Story, Intrigue and History

I wouldn’t quite say that this story was a love story because that makes it sound like a Mills and Boon book, but if you enjoy novels like those of Jean Plaidy, Robin Maxwell and Philippa Gregory, then you will love this book – love, intrigue and history, a perfect combination.

Further Details

“The Virgin’s Daughter: In the Court of Elizabeth I” is available to buy now in paperback from Amazon US or Amazon UK – just click on those links. You should also be able to get it at your favourite bookshop. It was published in paperback in August 2009.


2 Responses to “The Virgin’s Daughters by Jeane Westin”

  1. Jeane Westin says:

    Thanks so much Claire for your insightful review of my book, The Virgin’s Daughters:In the Court of Elizabeth I. It is always a distinct pleasure for an author to be reviewed by someone who “gets” what that author is attempting with the story.

    I continue to enjoy both the Anne Bolyen and Elizabeth I Files. I can believe you study and research all day because I find these sites to be places of entertainment and, above all, learning.

    I’ll continue to be a faithful follower.

    After seeing Elizabeth and her Sweet Robin from other eyes in my last book, I was swept into a book which I imagined from their viewpoints. Titled His Last Letter:Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leicester, I’m just entering into my last month of writing and revising.

    I hope you like it, as well, when it comes out from Penguin/NAL next August.

    Best wishes for your continued success,

    Jeane Westin

  2. […] their lifetimes. I was desperate to read this after reading Jeane Westin’s historical novel, “The Virgin’s Daughters”, and enjoying the fictional account of Katherine Grey’s life, and I also wanted to know what […]

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