Book Review – ‘The Queen’s Spy’ by Clare Marchant


Thank you to Avon Books for sending me a copy of this for review.

I really enjoyed this book, and it was interesting to see the spying in the Elizabethan court from a fictional point of view, having read a lot of nonfiction about it recently for my own book. It’s quite a complex subject and period of time but Clare Marchant deals with it in a sympathetic and concise manner, keeping the story moving along.

The Babington Plot was a pivotal moment in the history of Elizabethan and Tudor England, because it led directly to the execution of an anointed monarch, Mary Queen of Scots, although the book doesn’t cover the execution itself. We see the background to the plot through the eyes of a deaf and mute apothecary’s assistant, Tom Lutton, who is pulled into the dark world of Francis Walsingham and back-street spying and conspiracy.

In the end he pays a high price for his involvement, but this is contrasted with the parallel story of one of Lutton’s descendants in 2021, Mathilde and Rachel. I’m never entirely sure about a book written both in the present and in the past, having had bad experiences with parallel narratives before. However, this was startlingly clear, and the two parts worked really well together.

Mathilde, Rachel, Fleur, and Oliver, all added something to the narrative of the past, even though they are characters based in the present. The way they explored the triptych and the history behind it added more depth to Tom’s story in his chapters, and the ending tied everything together really nicely, making it feel like a completed whole.

An excellent fictional exploration of a complex period in English history, with characters that make you want to read on and find out how their stories end. I was completely gripped.

Book Review – ‘Essex: Tudor Rebel’ by Tony Riches


Thank you to Tony Riches for giving me a copy of this book to review.

I really enjoy Tony Riches’ writing. He has a way of bringing the world of the Tudor court to life that makes these historical figures who lived over 400 years ago seem very real in the present. Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, is an intriguing character with plenty of history. All I really knew about him was the end of his life – the rebellion that resulted in his execution, from my own research. This book opened my eyes to some of the events of his earlier life.

I’ve been researching Elizabethan rebellions, so it was interesting to find out more about this figure who was central to a rebellion in 1601 against Elizabeth I. The story follows him from his childhood, and the death of his father, to his death by execution. It explores scandal, romance, and treason. We really get to see the changeable attitude of the Queen and how fortunes could change on just one roll of the die.

It features a wide range of real historical characters along Essex, like Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, William Cecil Lord Burghley, Robert Cecil, Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester, Sir Francis Drake, and Sir Philip Sidney. These characters come together to create a richly detailed storyline with plenty going on which keeps the story moving. I was really intrigued by the supporting character of Lettice Knollys, Essex’s mother, who herself was the granddaughter of Mary Boleyn. Her relationships with her children and partners were particularly interesting.

What is particularly interesting for me in this story is to see the development of Essex from a boy who loses his father at a young age and has to step suddenly and unexpectedly into his shoes, to the Queen’s favourite at court, to an attainted rebel who ends on the scaffold. The story is full of ups and downs and makes you want to keep reading.

If you don’t know much about key characters in Tudor history, then I would really recommend reading books by Tony Riches because he introduces them without too much fuss, but with enough detail to bring them to life, and makes you want to find out more about them. I can’t wait to fill in the gaps and read the ones I haven’t read yet.

Who Was … William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley?


William Cecil is best known as Secretary of State to Elizabeth I, as well as Lord High Treasurer and Lord Privy Seal. He also served Edward VI as Secretary of State and then moved to look after Princess Elizabeth’s properties before she became Queen. Cecil’s role in the execution of Mary Queen of Scots is also questionable, and he was blamed in part by Elizabeth for it. He was responsible for the building of Burghley House and Theobalds.

Name: William Cecil

Title/s: 1st Baron Cecil of Burghley

Birth: 13 September 1520 in Bourne, Lincolnshire, England

Death: 4 August 1598 at Cecil House, London, England

Buried: St Martin’s Church, Stamford, Lincolnshire, England

Spouse: Mary Cheke ?-1543 & Mildred Cooke 1526-1589

Children: Thomas Cecil, Earl of Exeter 1542-1623 / Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury 1563-1612 / Anne de Vere, Countess of Oxford 1556-1588 / Francisca Cecil / William Cecil 1559 / William Cecil 1561 / Elizabeth Wentworth 1564-1583

Parents: Richard Cecil c.1495-1553 & Jane Heckington ?-1587

Siblings: Agnes White c.1527-? / Margaret Cave 1523-1553 / Elizabeth Wingfield c.1525-1611

Noble Connections: William Cecil was Secretary of State to both Edward VI and Elizabeth I. He was also Elizabeth I’s closest advisor for most of her reign. He also initially supported the reign of Lady Jane Grey in 1553. He is the founder of the Cecil dynasty which has produced 2 prime ministers including the 3rd Marquis of Salisbury.

Continue reading “Who Was … William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley?”

Spotlight – Francis Drake


Name: Francis Drake

Title/s: Sir

Birth / Death: c. 1540 – 27 January 1596

Spouse: Mary Newman ?-1581 / Elizabeth Sydenham 1562-?

Children: None

Parents: Edmund Drake 1518-1585 & Mary Mylwaye ?-?

Siblings: John c.1552-1573 / Thomas 1556-1606 / Edward c.1550-1568 / Joseph c.1554-1572 / William c.1525-c.1581

Noble Connections: He was awarded a knighthood by Elizabeth I in 1581. Drake’s godfather was Francis Russell, Earl of Bedford. He was made a naval officer by John Hawkins, who was pivotal in the Armada expedition. Continue reading “Spotlight – Francis Drake”

Discussion Questions – ‘The Virgin Queen’s Daughter’ by Ella March Chase


1. When The Virgin Queen’s Daughter begins, Nell is imprisoned in the Tower of London. How does this set the tone of the book? Compare Nell’s perception of the fortress as a child with her feelings about it upon her return. Contrast Elizabeth’s experience as a prisoner to Nell’s.

White Tower at the Tower of London
White Tower at the Tower of London

The tone is set because you know what will happen and what it is all leading to. It sets the tone because you know things before they happen. It is more hindsight than we have even with history, because it’s debatable. The tone at the beginning is a sense of sadness and inevitability. It makes you wonder and question what you thought you knew. The Tower of London as a child, Nell saw it as a place of wonder, magical and special. It is the place of the menagerie, creatures she is unlikely to have seen before. It is the environment which she doesn’t know but really wants to that makes it so special for her. As an adult, however, she returns to it as a prisoner, and sees it more as forbidding and a symbol of power. Elizabeth believes in destiny. Nell thinks of experiences in the past – Elizabeth has locked people up before (Katherine Grey had been in the Tower for several years). Elizabeth was a valuable prisoner to her sister, Mary I, whereas Nell was very disposable, unless the truth eventually came out.

Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘The Virgin Queen’s Daughter’ by Ella March Chase”