The Queen's Handmaiden
Jennifer Ashley
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Buy *The Queen's Handmaiden* by Jennifer Ashleyonline

The Queen's Handmaiden
Jennifer Ashley
Berkley Trade
336 pages
October 2007
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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What has not already been written about Elizabeth I, both in fiction and nonfiction? One of the most popular subjects of the Tudor years other than her father, Henry VIII, the Virgin Queen is endlessly fascinating. In this historical novel, Elizabeth’s pre-coronation years are addressed through the narrative of her mistress of the needle, Eloise Rousell.

As the ward of Kat Ashley, Elizabeth’s loyal governess, Eloise holds a unique position, sewing in the shadows of her mistress’s quarters, witness to endless court intrigues. Born the same year as the princess, Eloise forges a special bond: dressing the monarch-to-be, she is privy to intimate conversations and trusted for her discretion.

Certainly, Eloise has need for discretion, especially when Elizabeth is welcomed into the home of Henry’s widow, Catherine Parr, and her new husband, Thomas Seymour. Happy in Catherine’s household, the princess, long shunted from place to place, is flattered by a stepfather whose eyes betray his lascivious interest in the girl.

Third in line for the throne after brother Ned, son of Jane Seymour, and Mary, daughter of Catherine of Aragon, this daughter of the infamous Anne Boleyn offers Seymour an irresistible temptation, a bridge to his overweening ambitions. His plot to marry Elizabeth after the death of his wife in childbirth uncovered by the Lord Protector, Seymour is escorted to the tower, there to meet his end.

This is but one of the intrigues that surround the succession for the throne, Elizabeth the rallying point for loyalists who have grown accustomed to Henry’s Reformed Church, wary of the Catholic Mary’s loyalty to the True Religion. But after Ned’s death, Mary assumes the throne, fervent in her restoration of the faith to her erring subjects, demanding Elizabeth’s acquiescence in public, a challenge the princess resists.

At no time is Elizabeth in such peril as during Mary’s reign, her freedom at the queen’s discretion, the princess moved from exile outside of London to the tower and back to the country, the schemes of factions discovered, heads lost in a tense contretemps between sisters. Only Mary’s husband, Phillip of Spain, stands in the way of Elizabeth’s demise.

Given her position, Eloise assumes the role of spy, hardly noticed in the flurry of activity, although her Aunt Kat is removed from Elizabeth’s household. Able to do little but exchange information with critical players in this dangerous drama, one sister seeking to outwit the other, Eloise keeps to her mistress’s side, ever ready in her defense.

From Elizabeth’s troubled childhood to her first disenchantment with love, the reigns of Ned and Mary, and finally her own succession to the throne, there is never a time when Elizabeth is out of danger. Eloise by her side witnesses events that change the course of history. With an added twist and unexpected complication, Ashley imbues her novel with the drama and tragedy of Elizabeth’s early years, a legend in the making who chooses country over happiness, her confidant, Eloise, hoarding a dangerous secret of her own.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2007

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