Category Archives: Philippa Gregory

The Other Queen – Philippa Gregory

Bess of Hardwick is one of my all time favourite historical figures and Chatsworth and Hardwick are two of my favourite stately homes. So when I saw that Philippa Gregory’s ‘The Other Queen’ was indeed about Bess and the time that she housed Mary Queen of Scots for Elizabeth I, well it seemed like my perfect read. So when the lovely people at Harper Collis sent it to me it went straight to the top of my TBR.

I had read ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ for book group back in February so was keen to see if I loved this as much as my previous foray into the world of Philippa Gregory and historical fiction. My criticism, which was minor, with ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ was that in places it was too long and that the sudden climax of the novel was over and done with too quickly. This was my main issue with ‘The Other Queen’ but more of that later.

The Other Queen is set from 1568 to 1571 in the reign of Elizabeth I. Mary Stuart is under guard in the UK only she keeps insisting on trying to escape. Elizabeth decides to send her to Lord Shrewsbury and his wife Bess of Hardwick where her loyal subjects can be sure to keep an eye on them, for they know what happens to traitors. During this time Mary treats her prisons as a palace and bringing debt as well as controversy to the household and putting pressure on the recently married George and Bess in many other ways.

The book is written from the aspects of Bess, George and Mary, each taking it in turn to tell the tale from their side and their eyes, each mistrusting or loving the other and you are slowly weaved into the webs of their deceit, betrayal and desire. I really enjoyed the sides of the story from Bess and Mary; however George I just didn’t really feel like I got the character of. Philippa Gregory admits herself at the end that ‘George is not a man who features heavily in history books’ possibly because he isn’t very interesting. I personally would have written the third party as Elizabeth as you could have seen the ‘possible’ love story of George and Mary through all three of their eyes and her account would have been fascinating.

I do as ever admire Gregory’s detailed research, yes it is fiction but she stays as close to the truth as she possibly can. She researches meticulously to the point she found out a few knew facts about Elizabeth staying in the tower on the night of another of her cousin’s executions. This is all brilliant and makes a favourite part of history for me all the more real. It does sometimes go on a bit too long especially all the horse riding that seemed a bit overly done along with the she will go back to Scotland she won’t go back to Scotland scenes, particularly as you read it through three peoples eyes. That’s a very small moan though in what is another great Philippa Gregory novel.

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The Other Boleyn Girl – Philippa Gregory

This has taken me quite a while to read, not because it’s too complicated or too heavy but because I just wanted to savour every last word of this novel. This is my first Philippa Gregory and was the latest book group choice; I had wanted to read it anyway before the movie comes out (as you will note I have not bought the movie cover version as you will all know I loathe them). The story is that of Mary Boleyn, no not Anne Boleyn the famous wife of Henry VIII but Mary her sister and Henry’s lover. Naturally the story also heavily features Anne who for some reason I have always been drawn to and as my favourite periods of history are Victorian and Tudor this was perfect.

We all know the fate of Anne Boleyn, what we don’t know is the story of her sister Mary which Gregory has based on as much fact as she could as she actually came upon the story after seeing the boat the Mary Boleyn in a history book and researching it thinking it was a mistake. Research is something that you can tell Gregory has done endlessly. From Tudor birth control to the ways of court not a single detail of costume or of scenery is missed and not in the over descriptive style I hate either, just very well written. The scene is set wonderfully from what it would be like as a youth in the court of Henry VIII up to being Queen and the ins and outs of Henry’s favour.

I thought that Gregory really brought to life the characters, none of them were depicted thinly they had depth even if nearly every character was selfish and out for themselves. I thought Anne was wonderfully calculating and malicious. I also thought the way Katherine of Aragon was written was very interesting, I have heard one of Gregory’s other novels concentrates on her and will probably give that a go at some point. A few moments made me laugh, the hindsight effect I called it, such as when Jane Seymour passes Anne and she says ‘I curse her I hope she dies in childbirth’ which of course she did it does add to the myth that Anne was a witch. It never mentioned her six fingers and yet dealt with incest and homosexuality interesting that.

I do wish there had been more of the end of the novel rather than so much of the beginning as suddenly it was all over and all too soon. It is a long book and does meander along here and there but never drags and when you’re reading something this good you don’t really care. Yes I am officially a fan of Philippa Gregory and unashamed.

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Filed under Book Group, Books To Film, Harper Collins, Philippa Gregory, Review