The Virgin’s Daughters by Jeane Westin
Along with her father, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I is one of the most famous monarchs in British history, perhaps in Western history. Much as Henry’s reign was marked by his many marriages, Elizabeth’s was marked by her status as the Virgin Queen. In “The Virgin’s Daughters,” Jeane Westin tells Elizabeth’s story through two of her ladies-in-waiting, describing a Queen whose unmarried state created a woman who did not want to see other women happy in love.
The first woman to tell the story of her love and Elizabeth’s court was Elizabeth’s cousin, Katherine Grey, sister to the ‘nine day queen,’ Lady Jane Grey who briefly reigned between Elizabeth’s brother Edward and sister Mary. Katherine fell in love with Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford. The unmarried Elizabeth was quite worried about the idea of Katherine, a possible claimant to her throne, marrying and having a legitimate male heir. The second half of “The Virgin’s Daughters” follows Mary Rogers as she comes to Elizabeth’s court from her grandfather’s house in the country and meets Elizabeth’s godson John Harrington (inventor of the toilet).
“The Virgin’s Daughters” took an interesting approach to historical fiction. While it clearly told the stories of two historical ladies-in-waiting, a major part of the purpose of this book was to tell Elizabeth’s story, less as a queen than as a person, the effect that her self-denial of real love and marriage had on her personality and life. The Elizabeth I saw was not with whom I was wholly unfamiliar, but also not one who is frequently depicted in historical fiction. She was flawed and human, but also strong and Queen, a great balance of her character, in my opinion.
I had two concerns about this book:
1) That the transition from Katherine’s story to Mary’s would be awkward and diminish my enjoyment of the book, since I was enjoying Katherine’s section. 2) That the book would become too ‘romancey,’ which isn’t a problem for everyone but frequently annoys me.
“The Virgin’s Daughters’ did get a little romancey, but it was infrequent enough that it didn’t really bother me. More importantly, the transition between the two women’s stories was done very well. I was quickly pulled into Mary’s story and did not feel that Katherine’s story had been simply dropped and left hanging.
Overall, I found this to be enjoyable historical fiction.
In addition to sending me this book, the publisher has been kind enough to offer two copies for a giveaway!