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The Other Queen - Philippa Gregory

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

PHILIPPA Gregory has received world-wide acclaim for her historical novels, among them the so-called ‘Tudor Court’ novels such as The Virgin’s Lover, The Boleyn Inheritance and The Other Boleyn Girl which, as many of you will already know, was recently adapted for film.

The Other Queen, which continues in similar vein, focuses on the relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots during the latter’s years in captivity.

Set against the great rising of the North which aimed to free Mary, restore her to the throne of Scotland, guarantee her succession to the English throne and provide freedom of religion for Roman Catholics, it begins in 1568, the year the young Scots queen was imprisoned by her cousin Elizabeth, and ends with her execution in 1587.

However, Mary’s prison was anything but ordinary for she was entrusted into the safe keeping of George Talbot, the 5th Earl of Shrewsbury, and his ambitious new wife, Bess of Hardwick.

Inevitably, the lives of Mary and the Talbots became inextricably linked, which means only one thing – The Other Queen also places the Talbots under the spotlight – in particular, George’s love for Mary and the subsequent breakdown of his marriage.

Accordingly, the story unfolds through the eyes of the three principal protagonists, which for the most part is all well and good. It does, however, lead to some unavoidable repetition.

But Gregory has researched her subject well – as the novel’s bibliography bears witness – and as always, her writing not only dramatically resurrects men and women long since dead but also brings 16th-century England vividly to life. Indeed, this is history as it never was in the classroom.

The Other Queen is an enthralling read and will almost certainly leave you eager to explore the subject for yourself. It therefore comes highly recommended. And yes, all is forgiven for the unexpectedly dire The Wise Woman.