Reading: In the Shadow of the Crown
So, a few years ago…. my friend Namita and I saw Elizabeth, starring the then unknown (to me anyway) Cate Blanchett. I was struck by a lot of things about this movie:; 1) Joseph Fiennes is wicked hot in a pair of tights; and 2) it would be totally cool to have to power to say to/about a man who had broken my heart, “let him live;” and 3) my ONE required World History course in college failed to sufficiently educate me about certain things about European history.
Before seeing this movie, I knew King Henry had a lot of wives. I knew he beheaded Anne Boleyn. I knew there was a Queen named Bloody Mary. I knew that Queen Elizabeth witnessed the Golden Age during her reign. However, I did not know how these powerful people were able to change the face of England’s religious landscape which each new King or Queen. So, I decided to find out.
And thus began my sick fascination with the Tudor kings and queens. I recently read “In the Shadow of the Crown” by Jean Plaidy. The author, who died in 1993, has a PROLIFIC collection of work surrounding the royal families in England: The Tudor Queens, The Plantagenets, the Normans, The Stuarts….you name it. She wrote something like 90 books under three different pen names.
Here’s what I liked about this book: It is not often that you read a sympathetic account of Queen Mary, daughter of King Henry and Queen Catherine of Aragon. Most of what you read about her is that she burned “heretics” at the stake for refusing to say Mass. You also read that she was slightly crazy and imagined that she was pregnant twice before sadly admitting that she was too old to have a baby (and she probably had ovarian cancer). You read about her obsession over her unhappy marriage.
This book tried to make a case for WHY Queen Mary was so deeply unhappy. It focused on the fact that at age 12, she was declared a bastard by her own father so King Henry could marry Anny Boleyn and separate from the Church of Rome so he could legally divorce Queen Catherine. Mary was kept away from her family and friends until her mid-20s when King Henry wanted to reconnect with his children that he had previously denied.
During the course of her life, she was target of many assassination plots, probably at the hand of her own father. She was forced to name King Henry the head of the Church of England, when she was a devout catholic and believer in Roman rule. She was coerced by her father to claim her own illegitimacy, forgoing her rightful claim to the throne after his death.
I’m sure that growing up with that sort of stress would cause ME to go a little crazy. I don't know if I would burn people at the stake who disagreed with my religion.....but I'm not a religious person.
Here’s what I didn’t like about this book: It was pretty apparent that Plaidy is a superb historian, but not the best novelist in the world. As I was reading, I kept thinking to myself, “It’s like she has other things to do right now”….like write 89 other books apparently. The book was more than 400 pages and could easily have been cut down by a quarter if the author stopped repeating herself. I found myself reading the same sentence and same dialogue….over and over and over again.
I wouldn’t particularly recommend this book to anyone who isn’t as bizarrely obsessed with Tudor history as I am. The only other person who fits that bill is my sister, and she gave me the book, so.....I don't recommend it.