You can see by my fairly recent post on the TV series “Reign” that I am a huge fan of Elizabethan historical fiction. So to continue this surge in theme, I read the novel Rival to the Queen written by the magnificent historian Carolly Erickson. One of my favorite, if not my favorite, historical author, Erickson weaves intrigue, whit, and history into every tale. She also stays exceptionally true to the times and never contributes to titulating affairs between her characters. I pretty much have read most of her novels, which include biographies of famous female monarchs, and her style stays true from fiction to non-fiction.
Rival to the Queen describes Lettie Knollys’ rise to being a favored lady of Queen Elizabeth to the wife of Robert Dudley. As you may know, and if not, shame on you, Dudley is the Queen’s favorite nobleman and when he marries Lettie, that is the end of her presence at Court and she is forever known as “She-Wolf.” The novel does not just concern Lettie’s duties at Court, but also her children, how the English defeated the Spanish Armada, and how Queen Elizabeth grew to be ugly both inside and out towards the end of her life.
The one aspect of this novel that I really enjoyed was that Erickson painted a different picture of Queen Elizabeth then I have read previously. The woman was crazy, selfish, and materialistic. She loved Robert Dudley, but only loved him since her provided her with a ton of attention. She also had no problems with taking a person’s life, even if their attack was an accident. This is very reminiscent of Henry VIII, Elizabeth’s father, who didn’t care a lick for a human soul. From the biographies I have read I always knew she was a tough woman, but this portrayal really was heartless. I really wonder how she was. How was her personality? Was she as cold and crazy as people assumed? Obviously, I won’t be able to ask these questions, but they would be fascinating to find out.
If you are a fan of historical fiction, especially concerning this era of British history, I think you would find Erickson’s novel a wonderful escape from reality. It’s historic so you learn a bit of trivia, catching from the fictional story-telling Erickson describes, and easily readable. I finished in less than a week and could have done more if I wasn’t so busy at work. Either way, it’s always a welcome escape from reality to dive into a novel, and this one definitely is a winner!