‘I am only twenty-six years old and I have lived three lives already! I deserve the highest place in the world and yet occupy the lowest. But still I am a queen, I am a queen three times over. I was born Queen of Scotland, I was crowned Queen of France and I am heir to the crown of England. Is it likely I will wear anything but ermine?’
I’ve never yet been disappointed by a Philippa Gregory book, and whilst I don’t feel like this was one of her best, I enjoyed it nonetheless.
The Other Queen recounts the tale of the beautiful and enchanting Mary Queen of Scots, who when fleeing from a rebellion amongst the Scottish lords turns to her cousin Queen Elizabeth of England for help. Unfortunately the queen’s ear is poisoned by her chief advisor William Cecil, and instead of helping restore Mary to her throne, she imprisons her in a remote castle, under the care of the Earl of Shrewsbury, George Talbot, and his new wife Bess of Hardwick. Whilst the couple hopes that this duty will aid their rise in the Tudor Court, it turns out to not be so simple, as the Scots Queen is willing to do anything to escape her captors and take back her throne. In time she manages to snare the heart of hapless George, who soon finds his loyalty torn between his lawful queen, and the queen he loves.
The story of Mary Queen of Scots was one I knew only vaguely, and it was certainly interesting to find out more about her incredible, tragic story through this book. However, I don’t feel like her portrayal was particularly likeable in this book, and to be honest neither were any of the other characters in the book, which was my principle problem with it.
Unlike any of the other Philippa Gregory books I’ve read, this one was told from multiple viewpoints, with Bess, George and Mary all telling their side of the story. I liked this style, but in all of their cases, hearing in their own words what was happening was probably one of the biggest reasons I disliked all three.
In the very first chapter from Mary’s perspective she literally did nothing but talk about how queenly and divine she was, and absolutely nothing happened, other than me growing to immediately dislike her. Whilst I guess being a queen would possibly lead you to be relatively full of yourself, her characterisation seemed excessive, to the point where she seemed a little mad if anything.
As for Bess, I started out indifferent to her, and grew to greatly dislike her throughout the book. She literally seemed to care about nothing but money, and the fact that her main gripe with her husband was the loss of their fortune as opposed to the fact he had fallen in love with another women seemed a little bizarre. I feel like her characterisation was a little extreme as well, as she literally would turn every conversation she had with anyone back to money.
As for George, he was probably the most likeable character, as he did genuinely seem to be a good person, if a little naive and foolish. However, his foolishness and the way he clung to what was honourable no matter what grew annoying, as he made some very questionable decisions in the name of ‘honour’, and at times you just wanted to shake him. His adoration of Mary was also fairly cloying, as from her own chapters it seemed very much like she wasn’t deserving of it, and held no such feelings for him, despite her at times insinuating that she felt the same way.
I did quite like the portrayal of Elizabeth I though, even if she too was not a very likeable character. She seemed to be portrayed quite differently in this book than I have seen her in anything else, as she comes across as fearful, paranoid and easily led here, whereas I had always thought her to be a far more powerful figure in history.
I also liked the pacing of this book, as whilst the action was often at a standstill there was always some plot afoot that kept things interesting, and I was always intrigued to find out what Mary had up her sleeve next. The letters that often appeared throughout Mary’s sections were also something I liked, as they gave off a sense of intrigue as you grew to wonder about these characters she is writing too, who you never see, or hear from. Bothwell, for example was a mysterious figure throughout who I wanted to know more about. At times he seemed to be Mary’s captor and someone she feared and hated, yet she is constantly begging him to come for her, and speaking of him with love.
Overall this was an enjoyable read, although it was spoiled somewhat by the fact I didn’t really take to any of the characters. However, I liked learning more about Mary Queen of Scots, as it was an area of Tudor history that I didn’t known quite so much about, although my favourite Philippa Gregory books remain The Other Boleyn Girl, The Constant Princess and The Kingmaker’s Daughter.