When two queens reign, it is similar to having two women in the same kitchen. Queen Elizabeth I of England finds herself hostess to her cousin, Queen Mary of Scotland, who has had to flee the insurrection in her own country. Since Queen Elizabeth is the illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, her right to the throne is in question. The mother of Mary, Queen of Scots is the sister of Henry VIII which gives Mary a more legitimate claim.
Philippa Gregory’s research on this awkward situation unearthed facts that most historians did not dwell on. Mary was placed in the keeping of George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury and his wife, Bess of Hardwick. They were all consigned to Tutbury Castle where the cost of housing Mary and her large retinue fell on Shrewsbury and his wife, Bess. Bess kept meticulous records of the costs which were then sent on a regular basis to Queen Elizabeth, requesting payment. The Shrewsburys never received any reimbursement for their expenses.
To add to the difficulty, George, the Earl of Shrewsbury became enamored with his beautiful prisoner Mary which he could not hide from his wife Bess. Mary fully believed that she would soon be receiving safe passage back to Scotland where she would reign as the legitimate queen of that country. She also recognized that she had claim to the throne of England, at least upon the death of her cousin Elizabeth.
While she reigned as Queen of Scotland, Mary had one child by her first husband, Lord Darnley, an English nobleman. This child lived to be James I of England. Not long after Darnley was murdered, Mary was married to a powerful Scottish nobleman, the Earl of Bothwell, whom many believed was responsible for Darnley’s death.
Mary’s correspondence with Bothwell and other family members during the time of her imprisonment was intercepted by the masterspy William Cecil, who was the chief counselor to Elizabeth I for his entire life. Cecil managed to conspire with Bess Shrewsbury to spy on her household during the time Mary was confined there.
Philippa Gregory’s portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots is quite different from that of most historians. Mary is often pictured as a saintly, religious queen who was unjustly held prisoner by her cousin Queen Elizabeth I. Philippa Gregory’s research brings to light her duplicity in seducing the men in her life to do her bidding when they fall in love with her. This tragic story of the downfall of the Earl of Shrewsbury, caught in Mary’s web of deception, tells a side of Mary with which we are unfamiliar.
Castle intrigue is always captivating. The Other Queen is presented to us from the viewpoint of three of its characters – Mary herself, the Earl of Shrewsbury, and his wife Bess of Hardwick. Each chapter unfolds circumstances which could only be known by one of the three characters who speaks at that time.
For Royal watchers, this is a must read, and we as prestigious Britain newspaper society highly recommend this one.