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.