The Virgin Elizabeth: A Novelby Robin Maxwell
A book of passion, of sixteenth-century England, of greed and political ambition unto death. Historians and novelists have written extensively about the various aspects of Queen Elizabeth I’s long, rich, and tumultuous life. No one has ever given us a fully realized portrait of the greatest English monarch as a young girl. Concluding her/b>/i>
A book of passion, of sixteenth-century England, of greed and political ambition unto death. Historians and novelists have written extensively about the various aspects of Queen Elizabeth I’s long, rich, and tumultuous life. No one has ever given us a fully realized portrait of the greatest English monarch as a young girl. Concluding her brilliant Tudor trilogy, Robin Maxwell enters this new territory by introducing Elizabeth as a romantic and vulnerable teenager dangerously awakening to sexuality with the wrong man. Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, was banished from the court at the age of two when her father sent Anne Boleyn to her death. Seven years later, when the gracious and immensely wealthy Catherine Parr became Henry’s sixth wife, she softened the King’s heart and Elizabeth was readmitted to the court. For the next four years the young princess enjoyed a warm friendship with Catherine and a new sense of belonging.
In 1547, Great Harry is dead, and Elizabeth’s nine-year-old brother Edward VI is king in name only. Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, has boldly named himself Lord Protector and effectively seized power. Meanwhile the duke’s equally ambitious brother Thomas, realizing he cannot wrest control directly, has deployed his greatest talent—his charm and sexual magnetism—to utmost effect by persuading Henry’s widow Catherine to marry him. His real goal, however, is the late king’s daughter: Elizabeth herself. And so the game begins, one with rules that only reckless, amoral Thomas Seymour understands. Into this intrigue are drawn both those who love Elizabeth and those who wish her ill. In order to escape certain doom and achieve independence, Elizabeth must stand alone.
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Read an Excerpt
"The King is dead. Long live the King."
It was not by mistake that Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, had, for this somber pronouncement of Henry the Eighths passing, brought together perhaps the only two individuals in Britain who would have cause to fall into the sincere and copious weeping that young Elizabeth and Edward Tudor now commenced. It was hard to say if the boy's tears and sobbing at his uncle's words should be attributed to the loss of his beloved father or to the sheer terror of ascending the throne of England at the age of nine.
Despite a turmoil far greater than Edward's for her place in the scheme of things was, and had always been, convoluted in the extremethe thirteen-year-old Elizabeth emerged as comforter to her half brother's hysterical grieving.
"Edward, Edward," she crooned, brushing away her own tears with the palm of her hand. She accepted a handkerchief from the appropriately condolent Somerset but, rather than using the cloth herself, wiped the boy's nose with it. The king of England allowed the intimacy as natural, the two having shared a deep and abiding affection one for the other ever since he had been a small boy.
"May Edward and I be alone, my lord?" Elizabeth inquired of Somerset with polite dignity. She could see his lips tighten at the request, but the royal uncle backed away deferentially and pulled the nursery door closed behind him. Edward had fallen onto his bed in a new fit of weeping.
Elizabeth was steadily regaining her composure, as much owing to her genuine concern for the miserable little boy who lay, perhaps for the last time, on his nursery cot as to the knowledge that seeing her father never again would be only slightly less often than when he was living. Elizabeth had loved her father, loved him far more than he had ever loved her. There were times, she had to admit, when he had been unendurably cruel to his younger daughter. Elizabeth finally sat herself at Edward's side and watched his slender body heave.
"I am an orphan, Elizabeth," he said between choked sobs.
"As I am ... and your sister Mary." All of Henry's children had long been motherless. Their half sister, Mary, had lost Queen Katherine of Aragon more than ten years before, after an enforced banishment from each other's comfort and company at the king's pleasure. Elizabeth had been barely three when her own mother, Anne Boleyn, was executed for adultery and treason. But poor Edward had lost his to a fever just weeks after his birth. Cruel prophesies at the time had promised that when he came to the throne King Edward the Sixth would be a murderer, as he had started his life by murdering his mother in childbed. So he had never known the demure Jane Seymour, Henry's third and most beloved wife the woman who had given him the son he had changed the world to have. The woman next to whom he had demanded to be buried.
"You're an orphan, Edward, but you have me, and you have Mary. You know we both love you very much."
"Who will tell Mary?" he asked, sniffing back his tears.
"I'm sure your uncle Somerset will see to it." Elizabeth's own relations with Mary were bittersweet at best, as the tragic history their two mothers shared was an ever-present barrier between the half sisters. "And our father has made very sure that you will be well handled in your minority, Edward," Elizabeth continued. "Sixteen members of the Privy Council, including your two Seymour uncles, were carefully chosen to oversee the regency. You shall have sixteen fathers."
"No one like His Majesty," Edward wailed.
"I know that." Elizabeth's lips twitched involuntarily and tears sprang unbidden from her eyes with the truth of her brother's sentiment.
Henry had been a truly magnificent man, even in his wretched old age. Until recently, with the excruciating pain in his ulcerous leg prostrating him for months at a time, he would confound his Councillors by suddenly insisting he be taken from his sickbed to hunt. There at the blind, his corpulence barely supported by his famous wide stance, the elegant archer would shoot all of an afternoon, his arrow rarely missing its mark. Then he would collapse in pain, raging violently at everyone around him, all the time cringing with inward revulsion at what the "handsomest prince in Christendom" had finally become.
"And how can you forget the Queen?" said Elizabeth, composing herself. "She has been mother to us all for years now." Henry's sixth and final wife, Catherine Parr, had done more for the royal children than courtesy demanded. Far more. Kind and generous in the extreme, she had not only lavished the little prince with affection but had miraculously rescued Henry's two bastardized daughters from poverty and obscurity, bringing them back from exile into the Tudor family fold. More important, Catherine had remonstrated with Henry until he had reinstated Elizabeth in the succession an extraordinary act that she could never repay. Further, the Queen had personally seen to the young princess's education and insisted that, when this day came, Elizabeth should come and reside under the roof of the Queen Dowager.
"I do love Catherine," Edward whimpered.
"Of course you do. Now come, sit up. We have been expecting this for a good long while."
The little boy, dressed in the richest finery, sat up, face red and swollen, his legs dangling over the side of the bed. His feet did not yet touch the floor.
"No one can take the place of our father, but think, Edward. You are the king of England now. You've been preparing for this day since you took your first step, spoke your first words. You are brilliant, at least Master Cheke says so," she added teasingly. "You already have the manners of a great nobleman. You are a fine athlete, just as your father was. You understand how battles are fought. You've memorized every port on the coasts of England and the Continent. And you know four languages."
"My French is still poor."
"But your Greek is marvelous. And that's the one that matters most. All else will follow. I tell you, Edward, you will be so utterly consumed with the business of state that you will forget you even have sisters."
"I shall never forget you, Elizabeth. Or Mary either. It's just ..." Edward's lips began to quiver again.
"I cannot tell you not to grieve for our father. Heaven knows I shall miss him" Elizabeth's voice cracked with emotion "but you were his greatest joy. His greatest hope." Tears began gathering in Elizabeth's eyes. "Much ... was sacrificed so that you could be born." A fleeting image of her mother kneeling at the block, and knowledge that the day following her execution Henry had betrothed himself to Edward's mother, caused Elizabeth to shudder. "You were everything to him, brother. Everything. You must make him very, very proud."
With that Elizabeth burst into tears. Edward, suddenly the comforter, placed an awkward arm around his sister. Then, laying his head upon her shoulder, Edward, King of England, began weeping anew.
Excerpted from Virgin by Robin Maxwell. Copyright © 2001 by Robin Maxwell. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Meet the Author
Maxwell is the acclaimed author of The
Queen’s Bastard and The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn.
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