Synopsis: In the autumn of 1558, church bells across England ring out the joyous news that Elizabeth I is the new queen. One woman hears the tidings with utter dread. She is Amy Dudley, wife of Sir Robert, and she knows that Elizabeth’s ambitious leap to the throne will draw her husband back to the center of the glamorous Tudor court, where he was born to be.
Elizabeth’s excited triumph is short-lived. She has inherited a bankrupt country where treason is rampant and foreign war a certainty. Her faithful advisor William Cecil warns her that she will survive only if she marries a strong prince to govern the rebellious country, but the one man Elizabeth desires is her childhood friend, the ambitious Robert Dudley. As the young couple falls in love, a question hangs in the air: can he really set aside his wife and marry the queen? When Amy is found dead, Elizabeth and Dudley are suddenly plunged into a struggle for survival.
Philippa Gregory’s The Virgin’s Lover answers the question about an unsolved crime that has fascinated detectives and historians for centuries. Intelligent, romantic, and compelling, The Virgin’s Lover presents a young woman on the brink of greatness, a young man whose ambition exceeds his means, and the wife who cannot forgive them.
My Review: I’m never disappointed with a Philippa Gregory book, and this one is no exception. I love the way she’s able to imagine a beautiful story into the facts we already know, this time about the early years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign and her relationship with Robert Dudley.
This story alternates between the perspectives of Robert, his wife Amy Dudley, and William Cecil, who served as Elizabeth I’s chief councilor for much of her reign. Each of them moves the story forward, the main focus being the relationship between Elizabeth and Robert.
I really liked the different perspectives that we got to see, and I very much wanted to be sympathetic to Amy – who wants to be a discarded wife? However, I just couldn’t get myself there. Perhaps I am alone with this sentiment, but I found her to be so irritating that I even thought “No wonder Robert wasn’t interested in her anymore.” At each interaction, I would plead for Robert to be more kind to her, yet think that I would likewise be as harsh with her.
As much as I wanted to like Robert, a character I have liked in the past, I had a hard time doing so. Philippa Gregory does an excellent job of showing both how Robert Dudley was considered very charming, but also that he was a man very interested in furthering his own fortunes. I found it difficult to ever believe he cared as much for Elizabeth as he claimed, he always seemed more ambitious than a man doing things for love. But when he’s professing that love, I likewise found myself feeling as I imagine Elizabeth did – wrapped up in that admiration and how much he claimed to care for her.
At the same time, I really loved watching this story unfold, all the while knowing how it ended – it’s no secret that Elizabeth I never married, despite the best efforts of both Dudley and Cecil. And reading this book makes me want to go back and reread or watch things I’ve seen about Elizabeth in the past, to see how much my perspective has changed and compare my knowledge of the story from before.
My only complaint is the same that I always have with Philippa Gregory: she is willing to take an assertion that is widely considered to be false, and present it as fact. I know it’s to create a thrilling story, but I still find it to be pretty frustrating. It’s still a book very much worth reading, and I found it to be quite entertaining, so I challenge you to read it and come to your own conclusions.
Read this book if: You’re a fan of Philippa Gregory, or are interested in seeing more about the relationship between Elizabeth and Dudley. It’s an interesting story…he is, after all, the man whose name she is rumored to have whispered on her death bed.