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Ruled Britannia

Ruled Britannia

4.5 12
by Harry Turtledove

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The year is 1597. For nearly a decade, the island of Britain has been under the rule of King Philip in the name of Spain. The citizenry live under an enforced curfew—and in fear of the Inquisition’s agents, who put heretics to the torch in public displays. And with Queen Elizabeth imprisoned in the Tower of London, the British have no symbol to unite them


The year is 1597. For nearly a decade, the island of Britain has been under the rule of King Philip in the name of Spain. The citizenry live under an enforced curfew—and in fear of the Inquisition’s agents, who put heretics to the torch in public displays. And with Queen Elizabeth imprisoned in the Tower of London, the British have no symbol to unite them against the enemy who occupies their land.
William Shakespeare has no interest in politics. His passion is writing for the theatre, where his words bring laughter and tears to a populace afraid to speak out against the tyranny of the Spanish crown. But now Shakespeare is given an opportunity to pen his greatest work—a drama that will incite the people of Britain to rise against their persecutors—and change the course of history.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
The master of the alternate history, Harry Turtledove, has done it again -- this time visiting Elizabethan England. The twist here is that Queen Elizabeth is a prisoner in her own land, hidden away in the Tower of London; King Philip II of Spain rules England. After nine years of Spanish domination, England is a changed place. The English Inquisition has killed many Protestants, political dissidents, and unrepentant sinners. The people of England live in fear and must watch their every word.

Playwright William Shakespeare has survived safely thus far, but when he is commissioned by a powerful group still loyal to Elizabeth to write a revolutionary play that puts his life in danger, he must choose between life under Spanish rule or what certainly will be a heroic death.

Fans of Harry Turtledove will find this offering much different than his epic WorldWar and Darkness series. Unlike those books, Ruled Britannia is a stand-alone novel that doesn't have a cast of hundreds and multiple narrative points of view. Turtledove instead focuses on the characters of Shakespeare and Lope Felix de Vega Carpio, a Spanish lieutenant who enjoys the theater almost as much as he enjoys seducing English women. Paul Goat Allen

Publishers Weekly
Bestseller Turtledove (American Empire, etc.) buckles a handsome Elizabethan swash with his latest fascinating what if: suppose the Spanish Armada had beaten the Virgin Queen's little navy and reimposed on England the fanatic Roman Catholicism of Bloody Mary Tudor and her ruthless husband, Philip II of Spain. For almost a decade, the English have chafed under Philip's daughter Isabella and her Austrian consort, as well as the Inquisition, enforced by arrogant dons, their hired-gun Irish gallowglasses (rumored to be cannibals) and English Catholic sympathizers. Good Queen Bess languishes in the Tower of London while her supporters plot rebellion-to be sparked by no less than a patriotic new play by Will Shakespeare, Turtledove's lovingly drawn hero, who's drawn willy-nilly into the conspiracy by Elizabeth's former minister, Lord Burghley. The author revels in complex turns of language and spouts brilliant adaptations of the real Shakespeare's immortal lines. Superbly realized historical figures include the "darkly handsome," doomed Kit Marlowe and the Machiavellian Robert Cecil. Equally engaging are such lesser characters as the "cunning woman" Cicely Sellis, who "thinks of England." Turtledove has woven an intricate and thoroughly engrossing portrait of an era, a theatrical tradition, a heroic band of English brothers and their sneering overlords. O, brave alternative world that has such people in't! (Nov. 5) Forecast: The jacket, with a Spanish soldier in the foreground and the Spanish flag flying over the Tower of London in the background, neatly conveys the theme. A six-city author tour and an NPR interview campaign will help lure Shakespeareans who've never touched alternative history.
KLIATT - Sherry Hoy
Alternative history at its finest! What if the Spanish Armada won and Britain is now under Spanish occupation? William Shakespeare is approached by the resistance to prepare a play to serve as the call to arms to rise up in support of Good Queen Bess, held captive in the Tower of London. And at the same time, Will is also approached by the Spaniards to prepare a play to honor King Philip, who lies upon his deathbed. Compelling historical changes, spot-on Elizabethan (or would it be Hispanician?) language, and superb characterization provide much for history buffs. Most impressive is the author's use of snippets from the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries to formulate the text segments of the two plays "Shakespeare" creates (for Philip and Queen Bess). They fooled me until I read the afterword where Turtledove admits they are not his own work, but cobbled together from Elizabethan-era works. A warning: Christopher Marlowe barely escapes England after being accused of buggery and the language is "salty," as Shakespeare's plays can be. Whether YAs catch all the references will depend upon their level of sophistication.
Library Journal
Since the Spanish Armada's successful invasion of England in 1588, Elizabeth I has languished as a prisoner in the Tower of London while Isabella, the daughter of Spain's King Philip II, rules the land. Against this background of religious and civil oppression, a struggling actor and playwright named William Shakespeare creates a drama that can either win England's freedom or secure his own death as a traitor. Alternate history's premier chronicler focuses on 16th-century Europe for his tale of personal heroism and the power of language. Turtledove's command of facts and his understanding of the period allow him to portray his characters with believability, while his prose, liberally salted with Shakespeare's own words, stands as a tribute to both the man and his work. Highly recommended. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Will Shakespeare, actor and author of popular plays, becomes embroiled in treason when English noblemen pressure him to write a play calculated to stir the people to rebellion. Meanwhile, Lope de Vega, a Don Juanish Spanish playwright, is under orders to sniff out treason and heresy, and he commands Will to write a play praising the Spanish monarch. What ensues is a suspenseful and fascinating tale of intrigue, loyalty and betrayal, and cultural conflict. Caught between two masters, Shakespeare can do nothing less than his best work for both-even though his lively imagination and inquiring intelligence constantly cause him personal and ethical challenges. The details of daily life and characters who reflect the cultural attitudes of a different time draw readers in. But more than that, the plot, people, and narrative devices would be comfortable in any of the Bard's plays: clowns and jesters, high and low comedy, a twin motif, and, perhaps most important, the dialogue-they all have a convincing Shakespearean ring. This complex tour de force brings his work and times to life, and readers who are carried along will feel, like the hero in the end, well rewarded and well satisfied.-Christine C. Menefee, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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Read an Excerpt

Two Spanish soldiers swaggered up Tower Street toward William Shakespeare. Their boots squelched in the mud. One wore a rusty corselet with his high-crowned morion, the other a similar helmet with a jacket of quilted cotton. Rapiers swung at their hips. The fellow with the corselet carried a pike longer than he was tall; the other shouldered an arquebus. Their lean, swarthy faces wore what looked like permanent sneers.

People scrambled out of their way: apprentices without ruffs and in plain wool caps; a pipe-smoking sailor wearing white trousers with spiral stripes of blue; a merchant's wife in a red wool doublet spotted with white-almost a man's style-who lifted her long black skirt to keep it out of puddles; a ragged farmer in from the countryside with a donkey weighted down with sacks of beans.

Shakespeare flattened himself against the rough, weather-faded timbers of a shop along with everybody else. The Spaniards had held London-held it down for Queen Isabella, daughter of Philip of Spain, and her husband, Albert of Austria-for more than nine years now. Everyone knew what happened to men rash enough to show them disrespect to their faces.

A cold, nasty autumn drizzle began sifting down from the gray sky. Shakespeare tugged his hat down lower on his forehead to keep the rain out of his eyes-and to keep the world from seeing how thin his hair was getting in front, though he was only thirty-three. He scratched at the little chin beard he wore. Where was the justice in that?

On went the Spaniards. One of them kicked at a skinny, ginger-colored dog gnawing a dead rat. The dog skittered away. The soldier almost measured himself full length in the sloppy street. His friend grabbed his arm to steady him.

Behind them, the Englishmen and -women got back to their business. A pockmarked tavern tout took Shakespeare's hand. "Try the Red Bear, friend," the fellow said, breathing beer fumes and the stink of rotting teeth into his face. "The drink is good, the wenches friendly-"

"Away with you." Shakespeare twisted free. The man's dirty hand, he noted with annoyance, had smudged the sleeve of his lime-green doublet.

"Away with me? Away with me?" the tout squeaked. "Am I a black-beetle, for you to squash?"

"Black-beetle or no, I'll spurn you with my foot if you trouble me more," Shakespeare said. He was a tall man, on the lean side but solidly made and well fed. The tout's skin stretched drumhead tight over cheekbones and jaw. He slunk off to earn his pennies-his farthings, more likely-somewhere else.

A few doors down stood the tailor's shop to which Shakespeare had been going. The man working inside peered at him through spectacles that magnified his red-tracked eyes. "Good morrow to you, Master Will," he said. "By God, I am glad to see you in health."

"And I you, Master Jenkins," Shakespeare replied. "Your good wife is well, I hope, and your son?"

"Very well, the both of them," the tailor said. "I thank you for asking. Peter would be here to greet you as well, but he is taking to the head of the fishmongers a cloak I but now finished: to their hall in Thames Street, in Bridge Ward."

"May the fishmongers' chief have joy in it," Shakespeare said. "And have you also finished the kingly robe you promised for the players?"

Behind those thick lenses, Jenkins' eyes grew bigger and wider yet. "Was that to be done today?"

Shakespeare clapped a hand to his forehead, almost knocking off his hat. As he grabbed for it, he said, "'Sblood, Master Jenkins, how many times did I tell you it was wanted on All Saints' Day, and is that not today?"

"It is. It is. And I can only cry your pardon," Jenkins said mournfully.

"That doth me no good, nor my fellow players," Shakespeare said. "Shall Burbage swagger forth in his shirt tomorrow? He'll kill me when he hears this, and I you afterwards." He shook his head at that-fury outrunning sense.

To the tailor, fury counted for more. "It's near done," he said. "If you'll but bide, I can finish it within an hour, or may my head answer for it." He made a placating gesture and, even more to the point, shoved aside the doublet on which he'd been sewing.

"An hour?" Shakespeare sighed heavily, while Jenkins gave an eager nod. Drumming his fingers on his arm, Shakespeare nodded, too. "Let it be as you say, then. Were it not that the royal robe in our tiring room looks more like a vagabond's rags and tatters, I'd show you less patience."

"Truly, Master Will, you are a great gentleman," Jenkins quavered as he took the robe of scarlet velvet from under the counter.

"I trust you'll note this unseemly delay in your price," Shakespeare said. By the tailor's expression, he found that not in the least gentlemanly. While Shakespeare kept on drumming his fingers, Jenkins sewed in the last gaudy bits of golden thread and hemmed the robe.

"You could wear it in the street, Master Will, and have the commonality bow and scrape before you as if in sooth you were a great lord," he said, chuckling.

"I could wear it in the street and be seized and flung in the Counter for dressing above my station," Shakespeare retorted. "'Tis a thing forbidden actors, save when on the stage." Jenkins only chuckled again; he knew that perfectly well.

He was finished almost as soon as he'd promised, and held up the robe to Shakespeare as if he were the tireman about to dress him in it. "You did but jest as to the scot, I am sure," he said.

"'Steeth, Master Jenkins, I did not. Is mine own time a worthless thing, that I should spend it freely for the sake of your broken promise?"

"Broken it was not, for I promised the robe today, and here it is."

"And had I come at eventide, and not of the morning? You had been forsworn then. You may have mended your promise, but that means not it was unbroken."

They argued a while longer, more or less good-naturedly. At last, the tailor took five shillings off the price he'd set before. "More than you deserve, but for the sake of your future custom I shall do't," he told Shakespeare. "Which still leaves you owing fourteen pounds, five shillings, sixpence."

"The stuffs you use are dear indeed," Shakespeare grumbled as he gave Jenkins the money. Some of the silver and copper coins he set on the counter bore the images of Isabella and Albert, others-the older, more worn, ones-that of the deposed Elizabeth, who still languished in the Tower of London, only a furlong or so from where Shakespeare stood. He looked outside. It was still drizzling. "Can you give me somewhat wherewith to cover this robe, Master Jenkins? I am not fain to have the weeping heavens smirch it."

"I believe I may. Let me see." Jenkins rummaged under the counter and came up with a piece of coarse canvas that had seen better days. "Here, will this serve?" At Shakespeare's brusque nod, the tailor wrapped the cloth around the robe and tied it with some twine. He bobbed his head to Shakespeare as he passed him the bundle. "Here you are, Master Will, and I am sorry for the inconvenience I put you to."

Shakespeare sighed. "No help for it. Now I needs must-" Horns blared and drums thudded out in the street. He jumped. "What's that?"

"Did you not recall?" The tailor's face twisted. "By decree of the Spaniards, 'tis the day of the great auto de fe."

"Oh, a pox! You are right, and it had gone out of my head altogether." Shakespeare looked out into the street as horn calls and drums came again. In response to that music, people swarmed from all directions to gape at the spectacle.

"A lucky man, who can forget the inquisitors," Jenkins said. "A month gone by, as is their custom, they came down Tower Street making proclamation that this . . . ceremony would be held." He might have been about to offer some comment on the auto de fe, but he didn't. Shakespeare couldn't blame him for watching his tongue. In London these days, a word that reached the wrong ears could mean disaster for a man.

He felt disaster of a different, smaller, sort brushing against him. "In this swarm of mankind, I shall be an age making my way back to my lodgings."

"Why not go with the parade to Tower Hill and see what's to be seen?" Jenkins said. "After all, when in Rome . . . and we are all Romans now, is't not so?" He chuckled once more.

So did Shakespeare, sourly. "How could it be otherwise?" he returned. In Elizabeth's day, Catholic recusants had had to pay a fine for refusing to attend Protestant services. Now, with their Catholic Majesties ruling England, with the Inquisition and the Jesuits zealously bringing the country back under the dominion of the Pope, not going to Mass could and often did mean worse than fines. Like most people, Shakespeare conformed, as he'd conformed under Elizabeth. Some folk went to church simply because it was the safe thing to do; some, after nine years and more of Catholic rule, because they'd come to believe. But almost everyone did go.

"Why not what?" Jenkins repeated. "Think what you will of the dons and the monks, but they do make a brave show. Mayhap you'll spy some bit of business you can filch for one of your dramas."

Shakespeare had thought nothing could make him want to watch an auto de fe. Now he discovered he was wrong. He nodded to the tailor. "I thank you, Master Jenkins. I had not thought of that. Perhaps I shall." He tucked the robe under his arm, settled his hat more firmly on his head, and went out into Tower Street.

Spanish soldiers-and some blond-bearded Englishmen loyal to Isabella and Albert-in helmets and corselets held pikes horizontally in front of their bodies to keep back the crowd and let the procession move toward Tower Hill. They looked as if they would use those spears, and the swords hanging from their belts, at the slightest excuse. Perhaps because of that, no one gave them any such excuse.

Two or three rows of people stood in front of Shakespeare, but he had no trouble seeing over any of them save one woman whose steeple-crowned hat came up to the level of his eyes. He looked east, toward the church of St. Margaret in Pattens' Lane, from which the procession was coming. At its head strode the trumpeters and drummers, who blasted out another fanfare even as he turned to look at them.

More grim-faced soldiers marched at their heels: again, Spaniards and Englishmen mixed. Some bore pikes. Others carried arquebuses or longer, heavier muskets. Tiny wisps of smoke rose from the lengths of slow match the men with firearms bore to discharge their pieces. The drizzle had almost stopped while Shakespeare waited for the tailor to finish the robe. In wetter weather, the matchlocks would have been useless as anything but clubs. As they marched, they talked with one another in an argot that had grown up since the Armada's men came ashore, with Spanish lisps and trills mingling with the slow sonorities of English.

Behind the soldiers tramped a hundred woodmongers in the gaudy livery of their company. One of those robes would do as well to play the king in as that which I have here, Shakespeare thought. But the woodmongers, whose goods would feed the fires that burned heretics today, seemed to be playing soldiers themselves: like the armored men ahead of them, they too marched with arquebuses and pikes.

From a second-story window across the street from Shakespeare, a woman shouted, "Shame on you, Jack Scrope!" One of the woodmongers carrying a pike whipped his head around to see who had cried out, but no faces showed at that window. A dull flush stained the fellow's cheeks as he strode on.

Next came a party of black-robed Dominican friars-mostly Spaniards, by their looks-before whom a white cross was carried. They chanted psalms in Latin as they paraded up Tower Street.

After them marched Charles Neville, the Earl of Westmorland, the Protector of the English Inquisition. The northerner's face was hard and closed and proud. He had risen against Elizabeth a generation before, spent years in exile in the Netherlands, and surely relished every chance he got for revenge against the Protestants. The old man carried the standard of the Inquisition, and held it high.

For a moment, Shakespeare's gaze swung to the left, to the gray bulk of the Tower, though the church of Allhallows Barking hid part of the fortress from view. He wondered if, from one of those towers, Elizabeth were watching the auto de fe. What would the imprisoned Queen be thinking if she were? Did she thank King Philip for sparing her life after the Duke of Parma's professional soldiers swept aside her English levies? "Though she herself slew a queen, I shall not stoop to do likewise," Philip had said. Was that generosity? Or did Elizabeth, with all she'd labored so long to build torn to pieces around her, reckon her confinement more like hell on earth?

'Twould make a splendid tragedy, Shakespeare thought, were setting so little as a single line of't to paper not worth my life-and a hard, cruel death I'd have, too. Written or not, though, those scenes began to shape themselves in his mind. He shook his head like a fly-bedeviled horse, trying to clear it.

More than a little to his relief, a murmur in the crowd brought his attention back to the parade. Behind the Protector of the Inquisition stalked Robert Parsons, the Archbishop of Canterbury. His cold, thin features made Neville's look genial. He'd spent a generation in exile, struggling from afar against English Protestantism.

After the prelate marched another company of guardsmen. These were wild Irishmen, brought over to help the Spaniards hold England down. Most spoke only Irish; the few who used some English had brogues so thick, it was hard to tell from the other tongue.

The crowd stirred and buzzed. A couple of men pointed. A woman exclaimed. After the sallet comes the main course, Shakespeare thought. A couple of dozen men exhibited life-sized pasteboard images of those convicted by the Inquisition who had either died in gaol or had escaped its clutches and were being outlawed. More servitors carried trunks that bore the bones of the former. The sides and tops of the trunks were painted with hellfire's flames.

Then came the prisoners themselves. First was a group of about a dozen men and women with conical pasteboard caps fully a yard high on their heads. Most of the caps had HERETIC written on them in large letters in English and Latin. One said ALCHEMIST, another SODOMITE. In the first years after the triumph of the Duke of Parma's men, Shakespeare remembered, the words had been written in Spanish as well. These days, though, the English Inquisition operated on its own, with little help from its former teachers. Each of the condemned had a rope around his neck and carried a torch in his right hand.

More prisoners, also carrying torches, followed the first lot. They wore sanbenitos-coarse yellow penitential tunics without sleeves-with the cross of St. Andrew painted on the back in red. Some of them, after their condemnation at the ceremony, would return to imprisonment. Others would be released, but sentenced to wear the sanbenito forever as a mark of their crimes. "More ignoble and more humiliating than death itself," a fat man near Shakespeare said. Two familiars of the Inquisition accompanied each of them.

And after them tramped the dozen or so who had been condemned to the flames. They wore not only sanbenitos but also pasteboard caps, all of which were painted with flames and devils. Along with the familiars of the Inquisition, four or five monks accompanied them to prepare their souls for death.

One prisoner, a big, burly man, shook off all attempts at consolation. "I go gladly to my death," he declared, "knowing I shall soon see God face-to-face and rejoice in His glory for ever and ever."

"You are wrong, Philip Stubbes," a monk said urgently. "If you confess your sins, you may yet win free of hell to Purgatory."

"Purgatory's a dream, a lie, one of the myriad lies the Pope farts forth from his mouth," the Puritan said.

The monk crossed himself. "You will also win an easier death for yourself, for the executioner will throttle you ere the flames bite."

Stubbes shook his head. "Elizabeth cut off my brother's hand for speaking the truth. Torment me as you will, as the Romans tormented the martyrs of old. The flames will have me for but a little while, but you and all your villainous kind for an eternity." Another man, a red-bearded fellow with a clever, frightened face and cropped ears, spoke urgently to a somber monk: "I'll say anything you want. I'll do anything you want. Only spare me from the fire."

A vagrant drop of rain landed on the monk's tonsured pate. He wiped it away with his hand before answering, "Kelley, your confessions, your renunciations, are worthless, as you have proved time and again. You will return to your alchemy, as a dog returneth to its vomit. Did not the heretic Queen's men petition you for gold wherewith to oppose the cleansing Armada?"

"I gave them none," Kelley said quickly.

"And did you not die for this," the monk went on, inexorable as an avalanche, "you surely would for coining counterfeit money in base metal."

"I did no such thing," Kelley insisted.

"Each lie you tell but makes the flames of hell hotter. Compose your spirit now, and pray for mercy from a just God Whose judgments are true and righteous altogether."

And then, to Shakespeare's horror, Kelley's eyes-green as a cat's, and showing white all around the iris-found his in the crowd and locked on them. "Will! Will! For the love of God, Will, tell 'em I'm true and trusty!"

Shakespeare wondered if he turned white or red. He felt dipped in ice and dire, both together. He'd met Edward Kelley perhaps half a dozen times over as many years, enough to know he'd lost his ears for making and passing false coins. The alchemist moved in some of the same circles as Christopher Marlowe, and some of Marlowe's circles were also Shakespeare's. Wheels within wheels, as in the epicycles of Master Ptolemy. But for Kelley to point him out to the Inquisition . . .

Before he could speak, either to curse Kelley-which was what he wanted to do-or to praise him, the monk said, "Where your own words will not save you, why think you any other man's might? Go on, wretch, and die as well as you may."

But he looked in the same direction the alchemist had. And his eyes, too, met Shakespeare's. He nodded thoughtfully to himself. He knows my face, Shakespeare thought with something not far from despair. Other people saw as much, too, and moved away from him, so that he stood on a little island of open space in the ocean of the crowd. He'd come down with a disease as deadly as smallpox or the black plague: suspicion. Devils roast you black, Kelley, and use your guts for garters.

On went the procession. Other voices drowned out Edward Kelley's whining claims of innocence. Behind the condemned prisoners rode the Grand Inquisitor, somber in a purple habit, and several members of the House of Commons, their faces smug and fat and self-satisfied. Another company of soldiers-Spaniards and Englishmen mixed again-and the parade was done.

As it went past, the pikemen who'd been holding back the crowd shouldered their weapons. Some folk went on about their business. More streamed after the procession to Tower Hill, to watch the burnings that would follow. Shakespeare stepped out into the muddy street. Along with the rest of the somber spectacle, he wanted to see Edward Kelley die.

"Say what you will about the Spaniards, but they've brought us a fine show," said a man at his elbow.

The fellow's friend nodded. "Better than a bear-baiting or a cockfight, and I never thought I'd say that of any sport."

Tower Hill, north and west of the Tower itself, had been an execution ground since the days of Edward IV, more than a hundred years before. Things were more elaborate now than they had been. Stakes with oil-soaked wood piled high around them waited for the condemned prisoners. Iron cages waited for them, too, in which they would listen to the charges that had brought them here. More iron cages, small ones, awaited the pasteboard effigies of the folk who had died in gaol or escaped the Inquisition's clutches.

At a safe distance from the stakes stood a wooden grandstand. Queen Isabella and King Albert sat on upholstered thrones, surrounded by grandees both English and Spanish on benches. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Grand Inquisitor, and the other dignitaries from the procession joined them. The first group of soldiers fanned out to protect the grandstand along with the men already there. The rest kept back the crowd.

After Philip Stubbes was locked in his cage, he began singing hymns and shouting, "Vanity and lies! Beware of Popish vanity and lies!" A monk spoke to him. He defiantly shook his head and kept on shouting. The monk unlocked the cage. He and several of his fellows went in. They bound Stubbes' hands and gagged him to keep him from disrupting the last part of the ceremony.

That worked less well than they must have hoped. When the charge of heresy was read out against him, he made a leg like a courtier, as if it were praise. More than a few people in the crowd laughed and clapped their hands.

Shakespeare didn't. No way to know whose eyes may be upon me, and all the more so after that Kelley-damnation take him!-called out my name. He nervously fingered his little chin beard. A hard business, living in a kingdom where the rulers sit uneasy on the throne and their minions course after foes as hounds course after stags.

He plucked out a hair. The small, brief pain turned his thoughts to a new channel. In a play, could I place a man of Stubbes' courage? he wondered. Or would the groundlings find him impossible to credit?

One by one, the captives sentenced to more imprisonment or to wear the sanbenito were led away. Only those who would die remained. They were led out of their cages and chained to the stakes. As monks made the sign of the cross, executioners strangled a couple of them: men who had repented of their errors, whether sincerely or to gain an easier death.

Edward Kelley cried, "Me! Me! In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti, me!" But his Latin, his learning, did him no good at all.

The inquisitors looked toward the Queen. Isabella was in her early thirties, a couple of years younger than Shakespeare, and swarthy even for a Spaniard-to English eyes, she seemed not far from a Moor. The enormous, snowy-white ruff she wore only accented her dark skin. Swarthy or not, though, she was the Queen; Albert held the throne through his marriage to her. She raised her hand, then let it fall.

And, as it fell, the executioners hurled torches into the waiting fagots. They caught at once. The roar of the flames almost drowned out the screams from the burning men. The roar of the crowd came closer still. That baying had a heavy, almost lustful, undertone to it. Watching others die while one still lived . . .

Better him than me, Shakespeare thought as fire swallowed Edward Kelley. The mixture of shame and relief churning inside him made him want to spew. Oh, dear God, better him than me. He turned away from the stakes, from the reek of charred flesh, and hurried back into the city.

Lope Félix de Vega Carpio had been in London for more than nine years, and in all that time he didn't think he'd been warm outdoors even once. The English boasted of their springtime. It came two months later here than in Madrid, where it would have been reckoned a mild winter. As for summer . . . He rolled his eyes. As best he could tell, there was no such thing as an English summer.

Still and all, there were compensations. He snuggled down deeper under the feather-filled comforter and kissed the woman he kept company there. "Ah, Maude," he said, "I understand why you English women are so fair." He had a gift for language and languages; his English, though accented, was fluent.

"What's that, love?" Maude Fuller asked, lazy and sleepy after love. She was in her middle twenties, around ten years younger than he, and not merely a blonde-blondes were known in Spain-but with hair the color of fire and a skin paler than milk. Even her nipples held barely a tinge of color.

Idly, Lope teased one between his thumb and forefinger. "I know why thou art so fair," he repeated. "How couldst thou be otherwise, when the sun never touches thee?"

He let his hand stray lower, sliding along the smooth, soft skin of her belly toward the joining of her legs. The hair there was as astonishingly red as that on her head. Just thinking about it inflamed him. Since the weather here will never warm me, as well the women do, he thought. Of course, the women back in Spain had warmed him, too. Had he sailed off to America instead of joining the Armada and coming to England aboard the San Juan, no doubt he would have become enamored of one, or two, or six, of the copper-skinned, black-haired Indian women there. Loving women was in his blood.

"What, again, my sweet?" Maude said around a yawn. But his caresses heated her better than the embers in the hearth could. Before long, they began once more. He wondered if he would manage the second round so soon after the first, and knew no little pride when he did. Ten years ago, I'd have taken it for granted, he thought as his thudding heart slowed. Ten years from now . . . He shook his head. He didn't care to think about that. God and the Virgin, but time is cruel. To hold such thoughts at bay, he kissed the Englishwoman again. "Ah, querida-beloved, seest thou what thou dost to me?" he said. But lots of women did that to him. He had two other mistresses in London, though Maude, a recent conquest, knew about neither of them.

And she had secrets from him, as he discovered the worst way possible. Downstairs, a door opened, then slammed shut. "Oh, dear God!" she exclaimed, sitting bolt upright. "My husband!"

"Thine husband?" Despite his horror, de Vega had the sense to keep his voice to a whisper. "Lying minx, thou saidst thou wert a widow!"

"Well, I would be, if he were dead," she answered, her tone absurdly reasonable.

--from Ruled Britannia by Harry Turtledove, copyright © 2003 Harry Turtledove, published by Roc, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher."

Meet the Author

Harry Turtledove—the New York Times bestselling author of numerous alternate history novels, including The Guns of the South, How Few Remain, and the Worldwar quartet—has a Ph.D. in Byzantine history. Nominated numerous times for the Nebula Award, he has won the Hugo, Sidewise, and John Esthen Cook Awards. He lives with his wife and children in California.

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Ruled Britannia 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Can't say that I loved the book, but I will say this... I couldn't put it down! Harry gave us a very good read between the covers of this 'very thick' book! After reading Ruled Britannia I had to change gears in my verbage the thees and thous take some getting used to! I am a very avid reader of the great Mr. Turtledove!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've been a fan for most of Harry Turtldove's books, so I know the author's writing style and have been familiar with his work for years. This book, I felt was just lacking in many places. The moral of the story is apparent from the first chapter, you can already tell what's going to happen, just not how exactly. The how completely ruins the book in my opinion at several points, one of them dealing with mysticism. In a book that was supposed to point out alternate reality with possibility, Harry Turtledove went and threw in some bits of mysticism and utterly ruined the story for me. The idea that the occupation could be ended over a play was at best extreme and at worst, completely impossible, sure it's a moral idea that the pen is mightier than the sword but ask anyone in China just how mighty their pen is against the sword of the Communist Party. The plot was nice, the writing was good, but the conclusion and how it came to be was dreadful.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Harry Turtledove, the undisputed master of the alternative history genre, proves in Ruled Britannia that the pen can indeed by mightier than the sword. It is ten years after the Spanish Aramada landed in England, bringing that fair isle under the merciless boot of the Spanish Empire. The fires of the English Inquisition consume enemies of the state and the one true church. And it seems that only one man can overthrow this tyranny. The Bard himself, with a play to fire the hearts of all true, freedom loving Englishmen. My one regret is that, at least in this universe, we will never see The Tragedy of Queen Boudicca performed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Turtledove masters yet another (what-if) historical era, this time in Elizabethan England, where the author meddles with a change in both gov't and religion. Without rehashing the plot of the previous reviews, I can only add that Turtledove does a remarkable job of incorporating Elizabethan English into the dialogue (takes some getting used to!) as well as instilling a significant degree of detail of 16th century England. Turtledove also does a commendable job of keeping the predominant historical figures of the time (Elizabeth and Phillip) in the background while focusing the attention on minor players of history (Shakespeare, de Vega, Phelippes, Kemp, Burbage and Marlowe) and how they would theoretically attempt to change the situation. The plot is somewhat tediously drawn out at times and I believe Turtledove does better with multi sub-plots/characters (American Empire series, e.g.) but the book has a strong and satisfiying climax and conclusion as I have come to expect from Turtledove. Once again I am impressed with Turtledove's breadth of Historical knowledge.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Harry Turtledove reigns as the current master of alternate history fiction. He can imagine a possible world in a short story or in a multivolume epic. Personally, I grow impatient with the neverending series, not because they lack quality but because I desire some sort of resolution. (I know, history itself doesn't get resolved, or "end," but I still prefer my fiction so.) Ruled Britannia gives us a plausible point of departure, fully realized characters, and a very entertaining plot, all in one volume. I wish we had more than a brief glimpse of Queen Bess, but how that could have been worked smoothly into the story line I know not. Even those uncertain of the plays' authorship should find this Will Shakespeare satisfying and plausible. His Spanish counterpart, theatre-loving womanizer Lope de Vega, is equally entertaining. The other characters, especially Shakespeare's actors and the "cunning woman" Cecily Sellis are believable as well.

I appreciate Turtledove's technique of combining a modern English narrative with Shakespearean English dialogue. We soon grow accustomed to the Elizabethan vocabulary, and it affords terrific opportunities for word play. This is a very satisfying read.

Guest More than 1 year ago
William Shakespeare is well considered to be the greatest English writer in history. Though his English is now archaic, the intricate cleverness of his plot lines and their timeless insights into human nature have made him acclaimed. Which presents a serious problem for any author attempting to have him as a major character in a novel. Can you better his prose? Well Turtledove lacks any temerity! He makes Shakespeare the central character of this novel. Both Shakespeare's spoken dialogue, and the invented writings in his play Boudicca are well done. More to the point, and the harder of it, read carefully the few stanzas of the latter that are presented in the text. Turtledove seems to have captured the cadences of authentic Shakespeare. As another reviewer said, it feels like an undiscovered Shakespeare play! Having said all this, I should add that the story is a little sparse on action. It's a lighthearted romp through England of that time. Certainly, it does not compare in action or grimness of subject with Turtledove's WorldWar series, with its subtext of Nazi genocide, or his Civil War series. The forced admixture of Spanish and English cultures is amusing. Turtledove lives in Los Angeles, as do I. Here there is a melange of both, with the Anglo influence being dominant. I think he used this experience and inverted it, to get some of the everyday depictions of London under the Spaniards. The casual use of a few Spanish phrases in English is unremarkable in 21-st century LA, but would certainly have been rare in 16-th century London, but for the Occupation. This book may appeal more to the fans of Shakespearean and Middle English literature than your dyed-in-the-wool science fiction fans. In this, it resembles Turtledove's early short stories set in an alternate Byzantium Empire. As you may know, he has a PhD in Byzantine history from UCLA. He parlayed this expertise into various stories. Someone asked him about this once: How do people in that field feel about what he did. He said about half thought it was just weird. But the other half thought it was cool that he could put such arcana to use. He has done similarly here.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Normally, I wish that Mr. Turtledove (like so many authors today) would finish with one project before embarking on an altogether new one. However, I found Ruled Britannia to be so special as to be well worth the interruption. I have already learned to admire the author's grasp of history, storytelling skill and characterization (historical and fictional). In this latest book, I find myself dazzled by some of the smoothest and wittiest dialogue I have read in many years. I consider Ruled Britannia to be the best from Mr. Turtledove to date and the best novel I have read this year.
harstan More than 1 year ago
On an earth that never was but could have been, The Spanish Armada was triumphant and landed in England. Queen Elizabeth was sent to the London Tower and King Phillip II of Spain¿s daughter Isabella and her husband Albert rule the land, forcing the Protestants into hiding and making Catholicism the state religion. Spanish soldiers are an army of occupation and the English Inquisition is a powerful instrument of the church.

William Shakespeare is not a political man. All he wants to do is have his plays produced for the masses to see. Will is approached by Sir William Cecil, Elizabeth¿s prime advisor to write a play that will appeal to England¿s sense of patriotism so that they will, when called upon, overthrow their Spanish masters. Will rises to the occasion and begins writing a drama while knowing that one mistake will mean his and the troupe¿s death by the flames.

RULED BRITANNIA is a fascinating stand-alone work of alternate history as Harry Turtledove departs from his American opus to provide a compelling work that is believable and shows what might have been if the storm and Drake had not caused havoc on the Armada. Using William Shakespeare as the hero and the reluctant catalyst to signal the beginning of the revolution is an inspired plot device, one that guarantees reader interest for more than just Mr. Turtledove¿s legion of fans.

Harriet Klausner