The Virgin’s Lover by Philippa Gregory


All the bells in Norfolk were ringing for Elizabeth, pounding the peal into Amy’s head, first the treble bell screaming out like a mad woman, and then the whole agonizing, jangling sob till the great bell boomed a warning that the whole discordant carillon was about to shriek out again.

The Virgin’s Lover, as you might guess, is a story based on one of the most renown love triangles during the Tudor period. The red headed Queen Elizabeth I came to power after the death of her half-sister; Queen Mary (referred to as Bloody Mary in popular culture). Already considered a spinster despite being twenty-five years old, her marriage was a considerable issue since the beginning of her reign. Many were ready to marry this protestant queen and possibly extend their power, although no one succeeded in their attempts at the end. But according to historians one suitor came very close, and that person was none-other than Robert Dudley.

Robert Dudley descended from one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in England. However, he was a fallen noble with both his father and grandfather charged and executed for treason. Even with generations of duplicitous family history looming on the background, the dashing Robert Dudley was determined to rise again and his time came when his childhood friend became Queen of England. His charms made him Queen Elizabeth I’s favorite in court, but what good could come of it for him with a wife stashed in countryside? He had married Amy Robsart when he was a young lad and, even though she was a nice, loving woman, she didn’t share an iota of Robert Dudley’s ambitions causing him much frustration. Rumors began to spread of the budding romance between the queen and Robert Dudley and not long after Amy Robsart was found dead at the foot of a flight of stairs at the Cumnor Place. Her death resulted in quite the scandal at the time, and through her fiction; The Virgin’s Lover, Philippa Gregory tells us her theory on what caused Amy Robsart’s death, which remains a mystery to this date due to its peculiar nature.


Amy Robsart found dead at the foot of a stairs in Cumnor Place as shown in ‘Elizabeth I: Killer Queen?’ (Image credit: National Geographic Channel)

Although I have read a few of Philippa Gregory’s books, I never had much appreciation for her writing skills. Sometimes things get repetitive with her to a level it starts irritating! For instance, in The Virgin’s Lover, the facts that Cecil; chief adviser to Queen Elizabeth I never signs his letters and keeps spies have been repeated on multiple occasions. Unless someone starts reading the book midway, which no one would, I can not seem to comprehend the point in her repetition! :-/

And then we come to the portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I… Even though I am aware The Virgin’s Lover is purely a work of fiction and I should not be expecting it to be historically accurate, I was a little bummed to see Queen Elizabeth I depicted as a weak and indecisive ruler, when history tells us she was anything but. One might call her naive due to her folly with Robert Dudley, but I find it hard to believe she was the kind who would have taken orders from him on the issues of governing England, no matter how hard she loved him.

The only plus for me in The Virgin’s Lover is William Cecil. Albeit being a secondary character in the novel, what he says and does is sensible which I believe remains true to his character. Having said that, I must add this will not be the last of Philippa Gregory’s I read. For some season I seem to developed a blind spot for soap opera type historical novels!


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