Book Review: The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory

Read between: 3rd- 14th March 2016
Number of pages: 448.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Format: Paperback
Published: 16th September 2008
Publisher: Touchstone
Synopsis (from Goodreads): Two women competing for a man’s heart.
Two queens fighting to the death for dominance.
The untold story of Mary, Queen of Scots.

This dazzling novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author Philippa Gregory presents a new and unique view of one of history’s most intriguing, romantic, and maddening heroines. Biographers often neglect the captive years of Mary, Queen of Scots, who trusted Queen Elizabeth’s promise of sanctuary when she fled from rebels in Scotland and then found herself imprisoned as the “guest” of George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, and his indomitable wife, Bess of Hardwick.

The newly married couple welcome the doomed queen into their home, certain that serving as her hosts and jailers will bring them an advantage in the cutthroat world of the Elizabethan court. To their horror, they find that the task will bankrupt them, and as their home becomes the epicenter of intrigue and rebellion against Elizabeth, their loyalty to each other and to their sovereign comes into question. If Mary succeeds in seducing the earl into her own web of treachery and treason, or if the great spymaster William Cecil links them to the growing conspiracy to free Mary from her illegal imprisonment, they will all face the headsman.

Philippa Gregory uses new research and her passion for historical accuracy to place a well-known heroine in a completely new tale full of suspense, passion, and political intrigue. For years, readers have clamored for Gregory to tell Mary’s story, and The Other Queen is the result of her determination to present a novel worthy of this extraordinary heroine.


Review: I always like Philippa Gregory’s historical re-tellings, because I feel like I’m getting to know a person, long dead, a little better. A lot of research goes into them, so that even though the story is fictitious, the facts are accurate. This story is no different, however, unlike the previous novels in this series, excluding The Queen’s Fool the book’s sole focus is not a member of the Tudor dynasty.

We all know what happened to Mary, Queen of Scots, but this novel follows the young Queen as she is exiled in England after the murder of her second husband and the imprisonment of her third. She gets used to a certain lifestyle, planning her escape, but eventually, as history dictates, she meets the axe after her cousin, Elizabeth I signs her death warrant- that’s not a spoiler, that’s what really happened.

The novel is written in multiple perspectives and this is something I’m not usually keen on, but in Gregory’s novels, it works. It allows me, as the reader, to not only find out views of a range of characters, but also form an opinion on the three voices, Mary, George Talbot- Earl of Shrewsbury, and his wife, Bess of Hardwick. Each have ideas about Mary’s imprisonment in the Shrewsbury’s home, Tutbury Castle, and the two who are not the Scots queen also voice their views- on her. I liked being inside all the characters heads because it gave the novel much more depth than a simple story to follow.

I think , by the way it was written, we’re supposed to like Mary. I certainly did, she came across as a caring, gentle, but regal queen, even if she made some decisions that reflected really badly on her character as the book progressed. George remained faithful to his wife and his queen, but I felt he understood that Mary was a royal and treated her with the respect she deserved as a royal- even though she betrayed him and broke his heart. That was cruel of her, after accepting so much of his hospitality. It was Bess that I felt…well off, with. She was clearly jealous of the time her new husband was spending with the Queen of Scots that when it was revealed she was William Cecil’s spy, it was obvious. She was thinking only of her wealth and not of the consequences.

I’d like to think Mary partly enjoyed her stay at Tutbury during her exile, but I doubt she did. She was seperated from the things she loved, her lover, her kingdom, and her young son. She must have been incredibly lonely without him. (She did have her ladies and her staff- but it probably wasn’t the same).

This book did make me wonder what England would have turned out like if Mary had taken her claim to the English throne seriously, overthrown Elizabeth, and reigned. Would it be the same?

I definitely recommend this book for fans of the Tudor era, or even for people who are curious about Mary and her legacy, or if you just like Philippa Gregory’s work. I flew through this book, the chapters were short and I really enjoyed it. The martyred queen deserved a story like this.

4/5 stars.



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