Rival to the Queen

Rival to the Queen

4.0 22
by Carolly Erickson

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From the New York Times bestselling author of The Last Wife of Henry VIII comes a novel about the bitter rivalry between Queen Elizabeth I and her fascinating cousin, Lettice Knollys, for the love of one extraordinary man.
Powerful and dramatic, this is the story of the only woman to ever stand up to the Virgin Queen—her own cousin, Lettice

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From the New York Times bestselling author of The Last Wife of Henry VIII comes a novel about the bitter rivalry between Queen Elizabeth I and her fascinating cousin, Lettice Knollys, for the love of one extraordinary man.
Powerful and dramatic, this is the story of the only woman to ever stand up to the Virgin Queen—her own cousin, Lettice Knollys. Far more attractive than the queen, Lettice soon won the attention of the handsome and ambitious Robert Dudley, a man so enamored of the queen and determined to share her throne that it was rumored he had murdered his own wife in order to become her royal consort. The enigmatic Elizabeth allowed Dudley into her heart, and relied on his devoted service, but shied away from the personal and political risks of marriage.

When Elizabeth discovered that he had married her cousin Lettice in secret, Lettice would pay a terrible price, fighting to keep her husband's love and ultimately losing her beloved son to the queen's headsman. This is the unforgettable story of two women related by blood, yet destined to clash over one of Tudor England's most charismatic men.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The Virgin Queen Elizabeth I and her heart’s consort, Lord Robert Dudley, the earl of Leicester, continue to exert a seductive hold on the imagination as fodder for fiction. Now Erickson examines a rival for Lord Dudley’s affections, Leticia “Lettie” Knollys, a Boleyn relative who, along with her sister, served in Elizabeth’s court and eventually became Lady Leicester. Erickson (The Memoirs of Mary Queen of Scots) paints Elizabeth as an enormously selfish, envious monster, and Dudley as a handsome rake who’s devoted to his own agenda and to his queen. But due at least in part to politics, his relationship with Elizabeth doesn’t end in the marriage he’s longed for, and the marriage he does have, to Lady Amy, ends with her untimely death, a possible suicide. Dudley’s marriage to Lettie produces a son who later dies, and a liaison with Lady Douglass Sheffield produces a bastard, or “base son.” Erickson writes gracefully, but his Elizabeth is too cartoonish, and Lettie, his narrator, reveals her history with a stereotypical dispassionate air that fails to engage the reader emotionally. (Oct.)
Library Journal
In her sixth historical novel, Erickson (The Memoirs of Mary Queen of Scots; The Last Wife of Henry VIII) again displays her remarkable ability to paint an exquisitely realistic portrait of Tudor England. Opening during the reign of Queen Mary Tudor, the book follows Lettie Knollys (1543–1634), the future Queen Elizabeth's cousin, from her exile in Frankfurt to her daring—and successful—outmaneuvering of Elizabeth for Robert Dudley's heart. While her boldness enables Lettie to find true love, it also subjects her to disastrous consequences. This is much more than a historical romance; Erickson's attention to historical detail and the depiction of Elizabeth's struggle to maintain her control over her kingdom make for compelling reading. Fans might also be interested in one or more of Erickson's four Tudor biographies. VERDICT Historical fiction fans can't get enough of the Tudors; this engaging story is a worthy addition to the genre. [Library marketing.]—Audrey Johnson, Arlington, VA
Kirkus Reviews

The Virgin Queen has competition for the affections of dashing Robert Dudley in the form of her cousin, lovely Lettie Knollys.

Erickson (The Memoirs of Mary Queen of Scots, 2009, etc.) charts the 16th-century Knollys siblings' affairs of the heart. While Cecelia makes a loveless marriage of convenience and Frank regrets an opportunity for love missed, fair Lettie ends up with the man she desires, Elizabeth I's reputed lover Dudley, later Lord Leicester. Because the Knollys are descended from Henry VIII's lover Mary Boleyn and Lettie's father is a royal councilor, the sisters serve at court, where Lettie encounters Dudley, whom she finds far more attractive than the husband selected for her. Although Lettie marries dutifully and bears four children, she later takes Dudley as her lover and, when widowed, marries him, incurring the queen's lasting displeasure. Yet Robert remains loyal to Elizabeth and fights for her against the Spanish. Meanwhile, Frank rediscovers his old love and Lettie is charmed by a younger man whom she marries when Robert dies. Finally she is permitted to return to court, where her son's fatal ambitions to the throne revive the enmity between the queen and her rival.

Uncomplicated characters joust predictably for love and power in a capable but unexceptional historical.

RT Book Reviews (4.5 stars)

Erickson turns her attention to the dramatic love triangle that changed history. One man, Robert Dudley, held Elizabeth I's heart and Erickson draws on that love to bring the life of Elizabeth's cousin and rival, Lettie Knollys, to readers. Erickson portrays Elizabeth as a jealous woman, Dudley as a rake and Lettie as the innocent, endearing her to readers. Rival to the Queen gives this forgotten woman a place in history.
Affaire de Coeur

Erickson's knowledge and exacting recreation of how it really was in the 1500's is astonishing and adds much to the story. (It also reminds me that royalty of that period is not to be envied.) Beautiful, intelligent and independent, Lettice leads a life of luxury, but because of the times in which she lived and because of her beauty, her life was always lived on the razor's edge. . . . If you are a fan of Carolly Erickson or historical fiction, this book is for you.
Night Owl Reviews

The romance between Queen Elizabeth and Robert Dudley is a story that has survived the centuries, but what about the woman who married Robert, Lettice Knollys, Elizabeth's own cousin. . . . A new Carolly Erickson novel is a wonderful and decadent treat, eagerly awaited and Rival to the Queen is no exception. . . . Rival to the Queen shows that political sex scandals and intrigue are not a new thing, and that murder, romance, and power don't mix well for a happy ending. Fans of Alison Weir and Philippa Gregory will want all of Carolly Erickson's books on their shelves, these are definitely novels you don't want to miss out on!
Romance Reviews Today

Rival to the Queen is a richly detailed telling of a woman who falls in love with the man whom Elizabeth loves to dangle and toy with. From beginning to end, the life and times of Lettice Knollys is intricately portrayed, from her service at court, throughout her first marriage to Walter Deveraux, and on to the days when she meets and falls in love with Robert. She could easily have died for marrying a man--the queen's favorite!--without Elizabeth's consent, but instead she is banished from court forever. In part, Rival to the Queen is historical fiction blended with nonfiction, with a sprinkling of romance to boot!

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Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
9.76(w) x 11.28(h) x 1.10(d)

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Rival to the Queen


Chapter 1

Flames crackled and rose into the heavy air as my father’s servants piled more bundles of brushwood on the fire. Smoke rose grey-black out of the flickering orange tongues, the heat from the rising fire making my younger brother Frank draw back, fearful that we too might be singed or burned, even as the stench of burning flesh made us put our hands over our noses and recoil from its acrid, noxious reek.

I did not step back, I held my ground even as I heard Jocelyn’s agonizing cries. I held my breath and shut my eyes and prayed, please God, make it rain. Please God, put the fire out.

It was a lowering and cold morning. The overcast sky was growing darker by the minute, and I had felt a few drops of rain. I thought, it wouldn’t take much rain to douse this fire. Please, let it come now!

A large strong hand clamped onto my shoulder—I could sense its roughness through the sleeve of my gown—and I felt myself pulled backwards.

“Get back, Lettie! Can’t you see the fire is spreading? Stand back there, beside your brother!”

“But father,” I pleaded, my voice nearly lost amid the roar of the flames and the sharp snapping of twigs and branches, “it’s Jocelyn. Our Jocelyn. I am praying that the Lord will send rain and save him!”

I looked up into my father’s anguished face and saw at once the ravages of pain on his stern features. His voice was hoarse as he bent down and whispered “I’m praying for him too. Now do as I tell you!”

The fire was growing hotter. I was sweating, my flushed face was burning though the day was cold and once again I felt a spatter of raindrops on one cheek. I moved back to join my brother, who was weeping, sniffling loudly, and took his hand. At first he had tried his best to be manly, to resist the strong tug of emotion that we all felt. But Jocelyn had been his tutor, our tutor. He taught us our letters, and our writing hand, and, later, gave us our lessons in Greek and Latin. I had studied with him for seven years, Frank for nearly six. We loved him.

And now we were being forced to watch him die.

He was being burned for heresy. For professing the Protestant faith, as we did. For refusing to obey Queen Mary’s command that all her subjects attend mass and revere the pope and renounce the church of Luther, the church her father Henry VIII and her late brother Edward VI had officially embraced, in sharp opposition to the age-old Roman belief.

Many felt as Jocelyn did, but most hid their convictions, and attended mass despite them. My father, who was always a practical man, did as Queen Mary ordered and told us to do the same.

“What we do outwardly does not matter,” he told us. “It’s what we believe in our hearts that makes us members of the true faith. The Lord sees what is in our hearts, and protects and favors us.”

But Jocelyn, who was very brave, and very learned, a scholar from Magdalen College and a student of the ancient texts of the church, was not satisfied. To pretend allegiance to the pope and the mass was wrong, he said. To disguise the truth. And so he had spoken out against the queen and her Catholic mass, and had been seized and thrown into a dungeon. And now, on this day, he was condemned to die.

I had watched him, looking thin and gaunt, as they made him walk across the damp grass to where the reeds and split branches were being piled knee-deep. In the center of the pile was a three-legged stool, and he had been made to stand up on it. But before he did so he reached down to pick up some of the reeds and kissed them reverently.

“See how he blesses the reeds! See how he embraces his martyrdom!” I heard people in the crowd exclaim. “Surely he will be with the Lord in paradise!” But they kept their voices low, for they did not want to be put in prison or forced to submit to punishment, and we were all aware that there were guards and soldiers everywhere, listening for blasphemous words against the church of Rome.

Then the torch had been put to the twigs and branches, and the fire had blazed up, and Jocelyn, praying loudly for the queen who had condemned him and for my father and the servants who had built the fire, had at last been overcome by pain and began screaming.

I heard my father, in anguish, call out to Jocelyn, asking his forgiveness. But the only response was a loud wail of agony, and hearing it, I saw my proud, stern father shed tears.

Young as I was, only sixteen on the day Jocelyn was condemned to die, I realized that my father was being punished alongside our tutor. Queen Mary was making him suffer. She knew well that he had been a faithful servant of the crown ever since he was a very young man, serving in King Henry’s privy chamber and, after the old king’s death, serving King Edward as an envoy and councilor. He was unwaveringly faithful to the monarchy—but he did not, in his heart, profess the old religion, and she resented him for this. She was vengeful, everyone said so. Now she was taking vengeance against my father by forcing him to carry out the sentence of death against the young man she knew he was fond of, Jocelyn Palmer.

All of a sudden a strong wind blew up, I felt it lift my skirts and draw its raw breath against my neck. I let go of Frank’s hand for a moment as he pulled away from me, escaping the glowing sparks that blew toward us.

The wind was putting the fire out. I dared to look at Jocelyn. His hair was burnt away as was most of his clothing, and the skin of his face was scorched and blackened, but his lips were moving.

He was singing, a hymn tune. His voice was scratchy but I recognized the tune. Others joined in the singing as the fire died to embers.

“Dear Jesus, Son of David, have mercy upon me,” Jocelyn cried out. “Let it end!”

Soldiers approached my father and spoke to him, standing so near to him that I could not hear what they were saying. I looked up at the darkening sky. Surely it would rain soon, a hard rain. The sign of God’s mercy.

Then my father was giving orders and fresh loads of brushwood and branches were being brought and the fire rekindled. But not before a burly guard had reached up to strap two swollen sheep’s bladders around Jocelyn’s waist.

“No,” I cried to my father. “Spare him! Let him live!”

Once again my father grasped my arm, bending down so that he could speak to me, and to me alone.

“I must do as the queen commands. Otherwise we all face Jocelyn’s peril. But there is one last mercy I can show him. The bladders are filled with gunpowder. When the fire reaches them, they will explode, and he will die. He will be spared much agony.”

Torches were put to the wood and the fire began to blaze up, though I could feel drops of rain falling now, the rain I had prayed for, and smoke rose with the fire, black, choking smoke that was blown into our faces, and with it, the stink of Jocelyn’s flesh. I thought then, I cannot bear this.

I felt my gorge rise. I doubled over. My legs felt heavy, and it was hard to breathe. Minutes passed. All around me I could hear people weeping and sighing and coughing from the thickening smoke. I glanced at Frank. He had closed his eyes and bowed his head. His fists were clenched at his sides.

With a bright flash and a loud crack the bladders of gunpowder exploded, but there was to be no mercy for Jocelyn. The blasts went outward, tearing away part of one of his arms but leaving his blackened torso intact.

How I found the courage to look at Jocelyn then, in his last extremity, I will never understand. His legs were burnt, blood seeped from the fingers of one arm and his eyes were charred sockets. Yet his swollen tongue moved within what was left of his gums, and I knew that he prayed.

“Lord Jesus,” I heard my father say in a broken voice, “receive his spirit!”

Then with another loud crack the skies opened and rain began to pour down in thick sheets, flooding the grass and quenching the fire and turning the ground to thick squelching mud underfoot.

It was the rain I had prayed for, but it came too late. What was left of Jocelyn’s body hung limp and lifeless, the flesh of his face—a face I had loved—so burned away that I could not have said whose face it was.

I felt Frank reach for my hand and we clung to each other, standing there in the drenching rain, until the crowd scattered and my father gave the order to wrap the body in a burial cloth and take it away.



RIVAL TO THE QUEEN. Copyright © 2010 by Carolly Erickson. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

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Rival to the Queen 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Bloody Queen Mary orders Francis Knolly to kill the family tutor. Having no choice, he does his duty to the horror of his loved ones especially sixteen years old Lettie. However, Francis also understands in spite of his loyalty the Queen and her late father, he and family are condemned because they are related to Mary's imprisoned half sister Princess Elizabeth. Several years later, Elizabeth is now the queen and Lettie returns to court to serve her cousin. There she meets the queen's consort Sir Robert Dudley. She falls in love with him and he persuades her to secretly marry him though he would have preferred to be Elizabeth's husband; not out of love but to obtain more power. She is his second wife with rumors that Lady Any either was murdered or killed herself. She bears him a son who is royally executed and he also has an offspring out of wedlock with another lady of the court. Each of Dudley's women feels the wrath of the queen. The latest Carolly Erickson Tudor historical fiction (see the First Elizabeth and The Memoirs of Mary Queen of Scots) is an engaging tale that focuses on a rival for the affection of Dudley. Lettie is a courageous individual who knows she risks her life for love; while ironically her beloved comes across as a selfish hedonist. However, it is the portrait of Elizabeth that is difficult to accept as she is treated as a jealous angry beast with no redeeming virtues. Told by Lettie, sub-genre readers will enjoy her tale as The Rival to the Queen for Dudley's affection. Harriet Klausner
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Yvonne35 More than 1 year ago
No review.
cmc4118 More than 1 year ago
I thought this story was told from a great perspective, about a player in Elizabeth's court you hardly ever hear anything about. I'm an avid reader of anything Tudor. While my true love is everything Anne Boleyn, I have never had much love for historical fiction about Elizabeth. Everyone knows her only love was for Robert Dudley, and how many times can you hear that not-so-grand-a-story before you know everything? This book gave me an entirely new perspective! While I knew him and Elizabeth were suspected of killing his first wife, the way this story is told gives an entirely new twist to the life and loves of Robert Dudley. I had barely heard of Lettice Knowley before this. The story is shown through Lettice's perspective. She is Elizabeth's cousin and therefore is given a place in her court only to be exiled for loving and marrying Robert Dudley without Elizabeth's permission. While both are exiled at first, Lettice is banished forever, while Robert is taken back by the Elizabeth, only to leave Lettice behind. The story makes you love, hate and pity Elizabeth for loving Robert. Beautifully written and engaging, I could not put this done until I finished. Thoroughly enjoyed it!
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BCYorkieLover More than 1 year ago
A great book by Carolly Erickson. This is the first book I have ever read written by her. I was impressed. She takes the Tudor court with King Henry VIII and makes it come alive. I love this time period and Ms. Erickson does it much justice!
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Very interesting look into the court of Elizabeth I. If you love this time period you will enjoy this book.
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