Monday, September 26, 2011
Virgin: Prelude to the Throne
Author: Robin Maxwell
Publication Date: 2001
Cost: New paperbacks are listed on Amazon for under $5.00, but this isn't available for Kindle.
Where Did I Hear About It: I found this offered on my mail-away library subscription through Booksfree.
The focus of this short novel is Elizabeth Tudor in her mid-teens, beginning with the death of her father, Henry VIII. The story covers a rather short period of time, extending only through the imprisonment of Thomas Seymour, the imprisonment of Elizabeth's servants, Kat Ashley and Thomas Parry, and Elizabeth's placement under house arrest for suspicion of conspiring marriage with Seymour without consent of Edward VI's Regency Council. Roughly, this covers about 2 years, 1547-1549.
The main characters in this novel are: Elizabeth Tudor, Thomas Seymour, Edward Tudor, Catherine Parr, Kat Ashley, Thomas Parry, and Robert and John Dudley. Other key figures are marginalized, like Jane Grey, while still others are left almost entirely out of the story, like Mary Tudor who only makes a brief appearance in a court scene.
The novel opens at the death of Henry VIII and the accession of his son, the young Edward VI. Edward is generally advised, and almost completely controlled, by the Regency Council headed by Edward Seymour. Elizabeth is invited to join the household of Catherine Parr, sixth wife of Henry VIII left a widow upon his death. Catherine is almost immediately swept up in a whirlwind romance with Thomas Seymour, brother to Edward Seymour and uncle of the boy king. Although Catherine is deliriously happy to finally be married for love after three marriages to older men for duty's sake, Thomas' ambition is only thinly veiled, and his intentions toward the young, impressionable Elizabeth are increasingly suspect. It is clear that Thomas wants more than to be marginalized by the Regency Council and his powerful brother.
The story focuses on the historical events of this slice of Tudor history, calling into question the effectiveness of the Regency Council, Edward's future as king, and what Elizabeth's fate may ultimately be.
What About the Book?
Although a short novel, it is probably one of the more historically accurate ones that I have read. Nearly all of the main events in the novel check out historically, and the timeline has not been compromised in an attempt to make the story more compelling.
Two things surprised me about this novel--first, that one of the main characters is Thomas Seymour and second, that the story only covers two years. Although Thomas Seymour is undoubtedly an important figure in this time frame, it feels odd to focus on him the way this author does, but this unexpected perspective is fresh and enjoyable in many ways. The title of the book, "Virgin: Prelude to the Throne," implies to me a storyline that incorporates Elizabeth's history from the death of Henry VIII to her own accession, so it surprised me that the story concludes in 1549, which is well before the death of her brother, Edward.
Character development is certainly light. With one exception, pretty much every character can be classified as either "good" or "bad." If good, all motives are all good, and vice versa. This is what makes the characters a little unbelievable, including Elizabeth. However, the progression of the plot is quick and compelling, so, in such a short novel, the reader is apt to forgive this deficiency. All in all, this is a good story, and it is rather disappointing that it wasn't followed-up by the author with a second volume that moved the story through to the end of Elizabeth's historical "prelude."
Rating: 8. This is a fun story to read, and you won't lose anything on the history by reading it because the author is so historically accurate.
Buy It or Borrow It: This is going to be a hard book to find. It is labeled as a "rare book" on the Booksfree library list. Have a look in the library for this book, but, at only around $5.00, you can't go wrong purchasing it.
Thomas Seymour by an unknown painter