I just finished a six-week course on the Tudor dynasty, offered (free, with some payment options) by the University of Roehampton in London. The course covered British history from 1485 to 1603, roughly the period from Henry VII through Elizabeth I. It was a fascinating look at a tumultuous period, including the English Reformation, Henry VIII and his six wives, the religious conflict that continued even with the Reformation, and how all three of Henry’s surviving children occupied the throne.
It was a good introduction to reading The Bastard Princess, a historical novel by British author Gemma Lawrenceabout the life of Elizabeth from childhood to her half-sister Mary becoming queen.
It is one compelling novel.
The story begins in 1603, the last year of Elizabeth’s life. She’s looking backwards at her family, her times, what she accomplished, and, most of all, how she learned to survive. Lawrence writes the account in the first person, reading almost like a journal or diary, and that perspective provides a sense of immediacy, urgency, and individuality. The Elizabeth that emerges from these pages is a girl who loves her father, understands early on how easy it is to make a misstep that can lead to imprisonment or death, and quietly mourns her mother, executed when Elizabeth was a young child:
“They said my mother had never my father; she had never been the Queen. They said she had done bad things. And then…they stopped talking of her at all. Her pictures and portraits disappeared from the walls…
“I was no longer to be called My Lady Princess or Your Highness. I was now just the Lady Elizabeth, the King’s bastard daughter. It was though I had never had a mother. But I remembered her…”
We walk with Elizabeth in her gardens, sit with her in her rooms, listen as she considers all that has happened and is happening, and become shocked when she falls in love with her stepmother’s husband. We see her learn from her tutors and how she teaches herself the art of survival. The story captures our attention and doesn’t let go. It shows Elizabeth as a highly intelligent, highly observant young woman.
Lawrence, an independently published author living in Cornwall in the U.K., is the author of a considerable number of historical novels. Her series include The Story of Catherine Howard, The Chronicles of Matilda, Lady Anne, and Elizabeth of England, of which The Bastard Princess is the first of eight.
Gemma Lawrence has told an enthralling story here. The Bastard Princess gives us an Elizabeth who is flesh and blood, always conscious of who she is, and always watchful of those who might both help and harm her.