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Earthly Joys (Earthly Joys Series #1)

Earthly Joys (Earthly Joys Series #1)

3.6 47
by Philippa Gregory

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#1 New York Times bestselling author and “queen of royal fiction” (USA TODAY) Philippa Gregory brings to life the passionate, turbulent times of seventeenth-century England as seen through the eyes of the country’s most famous royal gardener.

John Tradescant’s fame and skill as a gardener are unsurpassed in


#1 New York Times bestselling author and “queen of royal fiction” (USA TODAY) Philippa Gregory brings to life the passionate, turbulent times of seventeenth-century England as seen through the eyes of the country’s most famous royal gardener.

John Tradescant’s fame and skill as a gardener are unsurpassed in seventeenth-century England, but it is his clear-sighted honesty and loyalty that make him an invaluable servant. As an informal confidant of Sir Robert Cecil, adviser to King James I, he witnesses the making of history, from the Gunpowder Plot to the accession of King Charles I and the growing animosity between Parliament and court.

Tradescant’s talents soon come to the attention of the most powerful man in the country, the irresistible Duke of Buckingham, the lover of King Charles I. Tradescant has always been faithful to his masters, but Buckingham is unlike any he has ever known: flamboyant, outrageously charming, and utterly reckless. Every certainty upon which Tradescant has based his life—his love of his wife and children, his passion for his work, his loyalty to his country—is shattered as he follows Buckingham to court, to war, and to the forbidden territories of human love.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Seventeenth-century England is the setting for this engaging historical novel based on the life of John Tradescant, a gardener of common birth who transforms plain plots of land into slices of heaven on earth. As vassal to the secretary of state, Sir Robert Cecil, Tradescant-who, as fate would have it, had no sense of smell-places his master's garden above all else, much to the chagrin of his wife, Elizabeth, and young son, J. Tradescant's affinity for botanicals is matched by his thirst for adventure; in the service of his lord, he travels to distant lands to defend his country's honor (and collect cuttings of rare and exotic plants). When Tradescant is summoned by King James I's closest confidante, the dark-haired and devious Duke of Buckingham, he is immediately taken by the nobleman's beauty. Devotion soon turns to erotic obsession, and Tradescant must face the consequences of loving a fickle, heartless man. Gregory (The Virgin's Lover; The Other Boleyn Girl) renders lush details of plants and clever commentary on the passions and power plays of the British royal court. Only the occasional detail-heavy battle scene slows this vibrant tale of a man grappling with the liabilities of loyalty and love. Agent, Melanie Jackson. (June) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The order of a 17th-century English garden stands in contradiction to the dissolution of a plague- and hunger-ridden land ruled by greedy Stuart kings and immoral courtiers. Gregory's (Wideacre) latest historical novel follows gardener John Tradescant, whose life entwines with the chaotic history of his time. Tradescant is in his 30's when he goes to work for King James' trusted adviser Robert Cecil, then observes the degradation as power passes from the honorable Cecil to the seductive, sexually cynical Duke of Buckingham. Tradescant's wife and son are suspicious of the pro-Catholic views of the court. Puritanical by nature, they conduct an ongoing argument with John about who owes allegiance where. The need for bright perfection -- a garden where nothing fades or dies -- requires enormous labor, a visibly costly attempt to impose decorative order on wilderness. For the gardener, the question of loyalty is initially simple, but his family is appalled by court excesses as people are taxed and slowly starved. The population grows more restive as court arrogance increases. This is a powerful parable for any period of history, but here the details of home life, travel and the attitudes toward human worth make it a potent statement about Stuart absolutism, pre-Restoration chaos and an empire on the cusp of colonization and trade. Gregory's skills as a storyteller give these issues a human focus and result in an absorbing narrative.
Library Journal
John Tradescant, gardener to Lord Cecil, depends on a well-ordered universe in which he serves a master, who serves the crown, who serves God. When James I succeeds Elizabeth, the social fabric begins to unravel. The disastrous rule of Charles I stirs more discontent among the people, including John's wife and son. As he searches for new plants and creates fabulous gardens for wealthy patrons, John witnesses court dissipation and corruption. His loyalty to Lord Buckingham, a man unsurpassed in beauty, ambition, and self-indulgence, changes John from servant to lover, bringing him guilt as well as pleasure before Buckingham's rejection. Gregory's (The Little House, LJ 10/1/96) strong plotting, intriguing characters, and rich evocation of a time and place will leave readers eager for the promised sequel about John's son. Highly recommended for historical fiction collections.--Kathy Piehl, Mankato State Univ., MN
Betsy Groban
This tale of forbidden love set against the turmoil of a country in chaos makes for both intelligent and satisfying reading. -- New York Times Book Review
From the Publisher
"I was entranced...Gregory promises us the continuation of the fictionalized story of the fortunes of the Tradescants in Virgin Earth. Personally, I can't wait."
— Lisa Jardine, The Times (London)

"A cleverly conceived and executed historical narrative spanning one of the most intriguing and turbulent eras in British history."
— Margaret Flanagan, Booklist

"This tale of forbidden love set against the turmoil of a country in chaos makes for both intelligent and satisfying reading."
— Betsy Groban, The New York Times Book Review

"When it comes to writers of historical fiction, Philippa Gregory is in the very top league."
— Val Hennessy, Daily Mail

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Earthly Joys Series , #1
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Chapter 1: April 1603

The daffodils would be fit for a king. The delicate wild daffodils, their thousand heads bobbing and swaying with the wind, light-petaled, light-stemmed, moving like a field of unripe barley before a summer breeze, scattered across the grass, thicker around the trunks of trees as if they were dewponds of gold. They looked like wildflowers; but they were not. Tradescant had planned them, planted them, nourished them. He looked at them and smiled -- as if he were greeting friends.

Sir Robert Cecil strolled up, his uneven tread instantly recognizable in the crunch of the gravel. John turned and pulled off his hat.

"They look well," his lordship observed. "Yellow as Spanish gold."

John bowed. The two men were near each other in age -- both in their thirties -- but the courtier was bent under a humped back and his face was lined by a lifetime of caution at court, and with pain from his twisted body. He was a small man, little more than five feet tall -- his enemies called him a dwarf behind his hunched back. In a beauty-conscious, fashion-mad court where appearance was everything and a man was judged by his looks and his performance on the hunting field or battlefield, Robert Cecil had started his life with an impossible disadvantage: crooked, tiny and struggling with pain. Beside him the gardener Tradescant, brown-faced and strong-backed, looked ten years younger. He waited in silence for his master to speak. It was not his place to prolong the conversation.

"Any early vegetables?" his lordship asked. "Asparagus? They say His Majesty loves asparagus."

"It's too early, my lord. Even a king new-come to his kingdom cannot hunt deer and eat fruit in the same month. They each have their season. I cannot force peaches for him in spring."

Sir Robert smiled. "You disappoint me, Tradescant, I had thought you could make strawberries grow in midwinter."

"With a hothouse, my lord, and a couple of fires, some lanterns and a lad to water and carry, perhaps I could give you Twelfth Night strawberries." He thought for a moment. "It's the light," he said to himself. "I think you would need sunlight to make them ripen. I don't know that candlelight or even lanterns would be enough."

Cecil watched him with amusement. Tradescant never failed in the respect he owed his master, but he readily forgot everything but his plants. As now, he could fall silent thinking of a gardening problem, wholly neglecting his lord who stood before him.

A man more conscious of his dignity would have dismissed a servant for less. But Robert Cecil treasured it. Alone of every man in his train, Sir Robert trusted his gardener to tell him the truth. Everyone else told him what they thought he wanted to hear. It was one of the disadvantages of high office and excessive wealth. The only information which was worth having was that given without fear or favor, but all the information a spymaster could buy was worthless. Only John Tradescant, half his mind always on his garden, was too busy to lie.

"I doubt it would be worth your effort," Sir Robert remarked. "There are seasons for most endeavors."

John suddenly grinned at him, hearing the parallel between his own work and his master's. "And your season has come," he said shrewdly. "Your fruiting."

They turned together and walked back to the great house, Tradescant a step behind the greatest man in the kingdom, respectfully attentive, but looking from side to side at every pace. There were things that wanted doing in the garden -- but then there were always things that wanted doing in the garden. The avenue of pleached limes needed retying before their early summer growth thrust wands of twigs out of control, the kitchen garden needed digging over; and radishes, leeks and onions should be sown into the warming spring soil. The great watercourses which were the wonder of Theobalds Palace needed weeding and cleaning; but he strolled as if he had all the time in the world, one step behind his master, waiting in silence, in case his master wanted to talk.

"I did right," Sir Robert said half to himself, half to his gardener. "The old queen was dying and she had no heir with as strong a claim as he. Not one fit to rule, that is. She would not hear his name; you had to whisper King James of Scotland if she were anywhere in any of her palaces. But all the reports I had of him were of a man who could hold two kingdoms, and perhaps even weld them together. And he had sons and a daughter -- there'd be no more fretting over heirs. And he's a good Christian, no taint of papistry. They breed strong Protestants in Scotland..."

He paused for a moment and gazed at his great palace set on the high terrace looking toward the River Thames. "I don't complain," he said fairly. "I've been well repaid for my work. And there's more to come." He smiled at his gardener. "I'm to be Baron Cecil of Essenden."

Tradescant beamed. "I'm glad for you."

Sir Robert nodded. "A rich reward for a hard task..." He hesitated. "Sometimes I felt disloyal. I wrote him letter after letter, teaching him the way of our country, preparing him to rule. And she never knew. She'd have had me beheaded if she had known! She'd have called it treason -- toward the end she called it treason even to mention his name. But he had to be prepared..."

Sir Robert broke off, and John Tradescant watched him with silent sympathy. His master often strolled into the garden to find him. Sometimes they spoke of the grounds, the formal garden, the orchards, the park, of seasonal plantings, or new plans; sometimes Sir Robert spoke at length, indiscreetly, knowing that Tradescant could keep a secret, that he was a man without guile, with solid loyalty. Sir Robert had made Tradescant his own, as effectually as if the gardener had gone down on the loam and sworn an oath of fealty, on the day that he had trusted him with the garden of Theobalds Palace. It had been a massive task for a twenty-four-year-old but Sir Robert had taken the gamble that Tradescant could do it. He was a young man himself, desperate to inherit his father's position at court, desperate for older and more powerful men to recognize his merit and his skill. He took a risk with Tradescant and then the queen took a risk with him. Now, six years later, both of them had learned their craft -- statesmanship and gardening -- and Tradescant was Sir Robert's man through and through.

"She wanted him left ignorant," Sir Robert said. "She knew what would happen to her court if she named him as heir; they'd have all slipped away from her, slipped away up the Great North Road to Edinburgh, and she'd have died alone, knowing herself to be an old woman, an ugly old woman with no kin, no lovers, no friends. I owed it to her to keep them at her beck and call to the very end. But I owed it to him to teach him as best I could...even at a distance. It was to be his kingdom; he had to learn how to govern it, and there was no one but me to teach him."

"And he knows now?" John asked, going to the very heart of it.

Sir Robert was alert. "Why d'you ask? Is there gossip that he does not?"

John shook his head. "I've heard none," he said. "But he's not a lad who has sprung up from nowhere. He must have his own way of doing things. He's a man grown, and he has his own kingdom. I was wondering if he would take your teaching, especially now that he will have his pick of advice. And it matters..."

He broke off and his master waited for him to finish.

"When you have a lord or a king," John went on, choosing his words with caution, "you have to be sure that he knows what he's doing. Because he's going to be the one who decides what you do." He stopped, bent and whisked out the little yellow head of a groundsel plant. "Once you're his man, you're stuck with him," he said frankly. "He has to be a man of judgment, because if he gets it wrong then he is ruined; and you with him."

Cecil waited in case there was more but John looked shyly down into his face. "I beg your pardon," he said. "I did not mean to suggest that the king did not know what he has to do. I was thinking of us subjects."

Sir Robert waved away the apology with one gesture of his long-fingered hand. They strolled together up the great avenue through the large formal knot garden toward the front terrace of the palace. It was done in the old style, and John had changed nothing here since his arrival as gardener. It had been laid out by Sir Robert's father in the bleak elegance of the period. Sharply defined geometric patterns of box hedging enclosed different-colored gravels and stones. The beauty of the garden was best seen if you looked down on it, from the house. Then you could see that it was as complex and lovely as a series of neat diagrams of cropped hedging and stone. John had a private ambition to change the garden after the new fashion -- to break up the regular square and rectangular beds and make all the separate beds one long whole, like an embroidered hem or scarf -- a twisting pattern that went on and on, serpentined in and about itself. When his master was less absorbed with statecraft John was going to suggest melding the beds one into another.

Once he had persuaded Sir Robert to follow the new fashion for the knot garden he had an ambition to go yet further. He longed to take out the gravel from the enclosed shapes and plant the patterns with herbs, flowers and shrubs. He wanted to see the whole disciplined shape softened and changing every day with foliage and flowers which would bloom and wilt, grow freshly green, and then pale. He had a belief, as yet unexpressed, almost unformed, that there was something dead and hard about a garden of stone paths edged with box-enclosing beds of gravel. Tradescant had a picture in his mind's eye of plants spilling over the hedges, of the thick green of the box containing wildness, fertility, even color. It was an image that drew on the hedgerow and roadside of the wild country of England and brought that richness into the garden and imposed order upon it.

"I miss her," Sir Robert admitted.

John was recalled to his real duty -- to be his master's man heart and soul, to love what he loved, to think what he thought, to follow him to death without question if need be. The image of the creamy tossing heads of gypsy lace and moon daisies encased by hawthorn hedging in its first haze of spring green vanished at once.

"She was a great queen," John volunteered.

Sir Robert's face lightened. "She was," he said. "Everything I learned about statecraft, I learned from her. There never was a more cunning player. And she named him at the very end. So she did her duty, in her own way."

"You named him," John said dryly. "I heard that it was you that read the proclamation which named him as king while the others were still hopping between him and the other heirs like fleas between sleeping dogs."

Cecil shot John his swift sly smile. "I have some small influence," he agreed. The two men reached the steps which led to the first terrace. Sir Robert leaned on John's sturdy shoulder and John braced himself to take the slight weight.

"He'll not go wrong while I have the guiding of him," Sir Robert said thoughtfully. "And neither I nor you will be the losers. It takes a good deal of skill to survive from one reign to the next, Tradescant."

John smiled. "Please God this king will see me out," he said. "I've seen a queen, the greatest queen that ever was; and now a new king. I don't expect to see more."

They reached the terrace and Sir Robert dropped his hand from John's shoulder and shrugged. "Oh! You're a young man still! You'll see King James and then his son Prince Henry on the throne! I don't doubt it!"

"Amen to their safe succession," John Tradescant replied loyally. "Whether I see it or not."

"You're a faithful man," Sir Robert remarked. "D'you never have any doubts, Tradescant?"

John looked quickly at his master to see if he was jesting, but Sir Robert was serious.

"I made my choice of master when I came to you," John said baldly. "I promised then that you would have no more faithful servant than me. And I promise my loyalty to the queen, and now to her heir, twice every Sunday in church before God. I'm not a man who questions these things. I take my oath and that's the end of it for me."

Sir Robert nodded, reassured as always by Tradescant's faith, as straight as an arrow to the target. "It's the old way," he said, half to himself. "A chain of master and man leading to the very head of the kingdom. A chain from the lowest beggar to the highest lord and the king above him and God above him. Keeps the country tied up tight."

"I like men in their places," Tradescant agreed. "It's like a garden. Things ordered in their right places, pruned into shape."

"No wild disorder? No tumbling vines?" Sir Robert asked with a smile.

"That's not a garden, that's outside," John said firmly. He looked down at the knot garden, the straight lines of the low clipped hedges, and behind them the sharply defined colored stones, each part of the pattern in its right place, each shape building up the design which could not even be seen clearly by the workers on the ground who weeded the gravel. To understand the symmetry of the garden you had to be gentry -- looking down from the windows of the house.

"My job is to make order for the master's pleasure," Tradescant said.

Sir Robert touched his shoulder. "Mine too."

They walked together along the terrace to the next great flight of steps. "All ready for His Majesty?" Sir Robert asked, knowing what the answer would be.

"All prepared."

Tradescant waited to see if his master would speak more and then he bowed, and fell back, and watched Sir Robert limp onward, toward the grand house, to supervise the preparation for the visit of the Lord's Anointed, England's new, glorious king.

Copyright © 1998 by Philippa Gregory

Meet the Author

Philippa Gregory is the author of several bestselling novels, including The Other Boleyn Girl, and is a recognized authority on women’s history. Her Cousins’ War novels are the basis for the critically acclaimed STARZ miniseries The White Queen. Her most recent novel is Three Sisters, Three Queens. She graduated from the University of Sussex and received a PhD from the University of Edinburgh, where she is a Regent. She holds two honorary degrees from Teesside University, and the University of Sussex. She is a fellow of the Universities of Sussex and Cardiff and was awarded the 2016 Harrogate Festival Award for Contribution to Historical Fiction. She welcomes visitors to her website, PhilippaGregory.com.

Brief Biography

Yorkshire, England
Date of Birth:
January 9, 1954
Place of Birth:
Nairobi, Kenya, East Africa
B.A. in history, Sussex University, 1982; Ph.D., 18th-century popular fiction, Edinburgh, 1984

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Earthly Joys 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 47 reviews.
lmbernier More than 1 year ago
Sometimes writers are good at venturing outside their comfort zones. Sometimes they are not. In this case, Gregory is not. Attempting to write from a male perspective, Gregory falls flat in this slow moving historical drama about the rise of the Stuarts to the English throne. John Tradescant is the best gardener in England. He is a man who gives his entire heart and soul to the lords he chooses to serve. First it is Robert Cecil, and then he pledges himself to the Duke of Buckingham, transcending from a lowly gardener to a confidante of two powerful men as the political face of the nation changes. Living in a time of such social and political upheaval, it is ironic that Tradescant is a stick in the mud. His love and loyalty remains pledged to characters far beyond when they should. There is action--but it is few and far between. Mainly this book is a series of conversations and then traveling, and then more conversations. The set up for a sequel at the end is awkwardly done as well. Gregory has done better with her women. She should stick to them.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I tried, I really, really tried!! I have read so many other Philippa Gregory books that I was excited about finding this one, however I found this one so disappointing. After thoroughly enjoying the other books by Ms. Gregory I thought this one had to get better, I kept reading and waiting for it to get better until I finally had to give up. Like another reviewer I just couldn't get through the book. So boring, everything just dragged, I just kept waiting for something to happen and it never did. I'm not ready to give up on Phillipa Gregory however, I found almost all of her other books enjoyable. Don't bother with this one look for her other books.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love historical novels and this was a good read. However, I find it disturbing that the events of history were changed. Charles I was executed yet in this book he died in his bedchamber of sickness. Creating characters is one thing, changing history is another.
Susan Bowman More than 1 year ago
This will remain one of my favorite reads! I have found the 2 or 3 other books I have read by Ms Gregory to be very good. As a gardener myself, I found this one captured my soul. I would not call it great, but full of heart.
MELKI More than 1 year ago
A passable and totally forgettable book by an autheor I normally admire.
Not the best in historical fiction but still above many others.
Don't expect too much.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I bought this book months ago because I enjoyed some of her other books. I have not even finished this book and will probably not ever pick it up again. It did not hold my interest at all. I even gave it a few chapters. Lost cause.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read all of Philippa Gregory's historical novels. I was a little leary when purchased this book, but I became quickly engrossed. I loved reading and learning about the plants almost as much as I enjoyed learning about the Tradescant family. I liked reading from the male perspective, as typically her books are written from the female perspective. The sequal to this book is also outstanding! I was very plesantly surprised!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
First , if you ate Only looking for a Tudor book Get out Of Here! This book is told by the viewpoint of the greatest gardener of all time. A Real mam, John Tradescant. This book is very good nd very well told. No, you do Not get a lot about that scoundral cur, George Villiers, The Duke of Buckingham. He is only a minor player in this book. John Tradescant the Elder was his gardener until the Dukes assination. If you are not into gardenening in medieval times, this is not your book. Ms. Gregory is about more than just the Tudors. She is a Historian. A real historian is interested in all of history. Even gardening ! So before pre ordering your books without the description, lol, then writing bad feedback about a five star author who forgot more than you will ever know, why don't you just wait? Do us all a favor and keep your typing finger to yourself. Some of us like all history. Not just happy lil princesses !
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I found the topic fascinating..but i do love gardening and plants. It was slower than others but the topic was more unique. Was not able to get into sequel at all. Never was able to get into virgin earth...and i devoured all her other books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was awful! Slow moving, boring and homosexual relations, when that story line started I deleted the book immediately. Expensive lesson, sorry I purchased.
NolaGirl83 More than 1 year ago
However, if you are not sure you want to read about a man instead of a women this go around with Gregory then this book isn't for you. However It is very well written but please do hesitate when you realize whats going on between this Gardener and his Male Friend.
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