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A Novel

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On Sale: August 05, 2008
Pages: 0 | ISBN: 978-0-345-51292-5
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Following the tremendous success of her first novel, Innocent Traitor, which recounted the riveting tale of the doomed Lady Jane Grey, acclaimed historian and New York Times bestselling author Alison Weir turns her masterly storytelling skills to the early life of young Elizabeth Tudor, who would grow up to become England’s most intriguing and powerful queen.

Even at age two, Elizabeth is keenly aware that people in the court of her father, King Henry VIII, have stopped referring to her as “Lady Princess” and now call her “the Lady Elizabeth.” Before she is three, she learns of the tragic fate that has befallen her mother, the enigmatic and seductive Anne Boleyn, and that she herself has been declared illegitimate, an injustice that will haunt her.

What comes next is a succession of stepmothers, bringing with them glimpses of love, fleeting security, tempestuous conflict, and tragedy. The death of her father puts the teenage Elizabeth in greater peril, leaving her at the mercy of ambitious and unscrupulous men. Like her mother two decades earlier she is imprisoned in the Tower of London–and fears she will also meet her mother’s grisly end. Power-driven politics, private scandal and public gossip, a disputed succession, and the grievous example of her sister, “Bloody” Queen Mary, all cement Elizabeth’s resolve in matters of statecraft and love, and set the stage for her transformation into the iconic Virgin Queen.

Alison Weir uses her deft talents as historian and novelist to exquisitely and suspensefully play out the conflicts between family, politics, religion, and conscience that came to define an age. Sweeping in scope, The Lady Elizabeth is a fascinating portrayal of a woman far ahead of her time–an orphaned girl haunted by the shadow of the axe, an independent spirit who must use her cunning and wits for her very survival, and a future queen whose dangerous and dramatic path to the throne shapes her future greatness.

From the Hardcover edition.




On a hot, still morning in July, the Lady Mary, daughter to King Henry the Eighth, arrived at the great country palace of Hatfield, trotting into the courtyard on a white palfrey followed by four gentlemen, two ladies-in-waiting, and a female fool.

As soon as she had dismounted, she stooped to kiss the small girl who was waiting to greet her, whose nurse had just reminded her to sketch a wobbly curtsy to the older sister she had not seen for many months. The child was solemn-faced, fair-skinned, and freckled, with long tendrils of burnished red hair escaping from the embroidered white coif that was tied beneath her chin.

“My, you have grown, sweeting!” Mary exclaimed in her gruff voice, stroking Elizabeth’s hair and straightening her silver pendant. “You’re nearly three now, aren’t you?” Elizabeth stared back, unsure of this richly dressed lady with the sad face and skinny body. Mary was not beautiful like Elizabeth’s mother: Mary had a snub nose and a downturned mouth, and although her hair was red like Elizabeth’s and their father’s, it was thin and frizzy. And of course, Mary was very old—all of twenty years, she had been told.

“I have brought you gifts, Sister,” Mary said, smiling and beckoning to a lady-in-waiting, who brought over a wooden box. Inside, wrapped in velvet, was a rosary of amber beads and a jeweled crucifix.

“For your chapel,” Mary said, pointing to the latter.

“Pretty,” said Elizabeth, gently fingering the beads.

“How does my sister, Lady Bryan?” Mary rose to her feet and greeted the governess with a kiss. “And you yourself? It is good to see you again, but I would it were in happier circumstances.”

“I too, my Lady Mary. We are well enough, both of us, I thank you,” the woman answered.

Elizabeth, watching them, was slightly discomfited by their words and curious at seeing a pained expression fleetingly shadow Mary’s plain features.

“I will speak with her presently,” her sister said. Lady Bryan nodded.

“I am grateful, Your Grace,” she said. “I pray you eat first, for it is nigh to eleven o’clock and dinner is almost ready.” Elizabeth was no longer listening; her attention had now focused on her new beads.

“I have brought my fool, to afford a diversion later, if need be,” Mary said, and Elizabeth’s ears pricked up. She liked fools. They were funny.

While the roast goose and hot salad were being served with appropriate ceremony to Mary in the great hall, Elizabeth was sent to the nursery to have her dinner.

“I hope Your Grace will excuse us,” the nurse said to the Lady Mary. “The Lady Elizabeth’s Grace is too young as yet to eat with the grown- ups.” After being pressed into another curtsy, the child was led away by the hand.

As soon as she had gone, Mary laid down her knife and shook her head sadly.

“I hardly know how I am going to tell her, Margaret,” she said miserably, looking to her former governess for support.

Lady Bryan rested a comforting hand on hers.

“I wouldn’t be too explicit if I were you, Madam.”

“Oh, no,” agreed Mary fervently. “Does she often speak of her mother? Do you think she will be much discomforted? After all, she cannot have seen much of her.”

“I’m afraid she did. Her Grace—I mean the lady her mother—kept the child with her, more than was seemly for a queen. If you remember, she even refused to have a wet nurse,” Lady Bryan recalled with a sniff of disapproval.

Mary looked at her with mounting anxiety. She was dreading the coming confrontation.

“Do you think she will understand?” she asked.

“There is much she understands,” Lady Bryan replied. “My lady is more than ordinarily precocious. As sharp as nails, that child, and clever with it.”

“But a child for all that,” Mary said, “so I will break it to her as gently as I can, and may our Holy Mother and all the saints help me.”

Seeing her so distressed, Lady Bryan sought to steer the conversation away from the subject, but while she and Sir John chattered on about household matters and the state of the weather, and while all of them toyed with their food, having little appetite for it, Mary, her heart swelling with love and compassion for her little sister, could only think of the heavy task that lay ahead of her.

Why should she feel this way? she asked herself. Why had she agreed to come here and perform this dreadful errand? Elizabeth’s very existence had caused her untold pain and suffering, and it was because of Elizabeth’s mother, that great whore, Anne Boleyn, that Mary had lost all that she held dear in life: her own mother, the late sainted Queen Katherine, her rank, her prospects of a throne and marriage, and the love of her father the King. Yet Mary had found nothing to resent in an innocent child, had in fact lavished all the love of which she was capable on the engaging little creature, and now, when the perilous twists of cruel fate had reversed Elizabeth’s fortunes too, she could only grieve for the little girl.

As soon as the meal was finished, Elizabeth was brought back to her sister, and together they walked in the sun-browned park, away from the palace, their attendants following a short distance behind. The daystar was blazing down, there was barely the stir of a breeze, and the sisters were sweltering in their long-sleeved silk gowns; Elizabeth was glad of her wide-brimmed straw hat, which protected her face from the sunshine and the glare, while Mary, wearing a smart French hood with a band under the chin, was suffering decorously. Her lips were pursed, and she looked unhappy, Elizabeth noticed.

“You have been much in my thoughts, Sister,” Mary said. “I had to come and see you, to satisfy myself that all was well with you, and . . .” Her voice trailed away.

“Thank you, Sister,” Elizabeth replied. Again, Mary caressed the long red curls that fanned out beneath the sun hat; again, she looked unutterably sad. Young as she was, the child could sense her misery.

“What’s wrong?” Elizabeth asked. “Why are you unhappy?”

“Oh, my dear Sister,” Mary cried, sinking to her knees on the grass and embracing Elizabeth tightly. Elizabeth struggled free. She did not like to be squeezed like that; she was a self-contained child. Yet Mary did not notice, for she was weeping. Elizabeth could see Lady Bryan watching them intently, standing a little way off with Mary’s ladies and the nursemaids, and she was puzzled as to why her governess did not hasten to her rescue.

“Come, Sister,” Mary was saying, sniffing and dabbing her eyes with a white kerchief. “Let us sit here.” She drew Elizabeth to a stone seat that had been placed in the shade of an oak tree to afford those who rested there a grand view of the red-brick palace spread out beyond the formal gardens, and lifted the child onto it.

“I am charged by our father to tell you something that will make you very sad,” Mary said. “You must be a brave girl . . . as I too have had to be brave in my time.”

“I am brave,” Elizabeth assured her, none too confidently, wondering fearfully what this was all about.

Nothing had changed outwardly—her daily routine had remained the same, and the people in her household still curtsied to her and treated her with deference. If it hadn’t been for something her governor had said, she would not have realized there was anything untoward. But she was a sharp child, and the change of title did not go unnoticed.

“Why, governor,” she had asked Sir John Shelton, in her clear, well- modulated voice, “why is it that yesterday you called me Lady Princess, and today just Lady Elizabeth?”

Caught off guard, Sir John Shelton had pulled at his luxuriant chestnut beard, frowned, and hesitated, while Elizabeth stood before him, her steely gaze imperiously demanding a response. Not for the first time, he was struck by this regal quality in her, which in his opinion was unsuited to the female condition but would have been admirable in a prince, the prince that England so desperately needed.

“The King your father has ordered it,” he said carefully.

“Why?” asked the child, her dark eyes narrowing.

“The King’s orders must always be obeyed,” he declared.

The little face clouded, the lips pouting, the brows furrowing. Sir John had sidestepped the question, but Elizabeth was determined not to let him off so easily. At that moment, mercifully for him, Lady Bryan entered the room. Always immaculate in her dark velvet gowns, with never a hair nor any detail of dress out of place, she had been ruling her army of nursemaids, servants, and household officers with quiet authority since her royal charge had been given her own establishment at the age of three months.

Lady Bryan was carrying a pile of freshly laundered linen strewn with herbs, heading for the carved chest that stood at the foot of Elizabeth’s bed. Seeing Sir John, who had overall charge of the household, she dipped a neat curtsy without in any way sacrificing her dignity, then bent to her task. But Elizabeth was tugging at her skirts. Surely her governess, who knew everything, would tell her the answer to her question.

“My lady,” she pleaded, “I have asked Sir John why he called me Lady Princess yesterday, and Lady Elizabeth today. Why is that?”

Elizabeth was stunned to see tears well up in her governess’s eyes. Lady Bryan, who was always so calm, so composed, so in control—was she

really about to cry? She, who was always instructing Elizabeth that a lady never betrayed her feelings, never laughed too loudly or gave way to tears. It was unimaginable, and thus shocking. But perhaps she had imagined it, for when she looked again, Lady Bryan was perfectly in command of herself.

“You have a new title, my Lady Elizabeth,” she said, in a voice that was clearly meant to reassure. “The King’s Highness has decreed it.”

“But why?” persisted the child. She had a sense of things hidden from her . . .

“I’m sure the King has very good reasons,” answered Lady Bryan in a tone that forbade further discussion. “Now, where are those dolls you were playing with earlier?”

“I put them to bed,” said Elizabeth, plainly not interested.

“In the morning? The very idea!” exclaimed her governess. “Look, I’ve got some pretty silks in my basket, and some scraps of Holland cloth. Go and fetch your best doll, and I’ll help you to make a cap for her.”

Elizabeth toddled reluctantly to the miniature cradle by her bed. It was clear that the answers to her questions would not be forthcoming.

Elizabeth often sat with her governess, being taught the things that all well-brought-up little girls needed to know. They might look at the vivid pictures in one of the beautifully illuminated books that the King had provided, or sort through embroidery silks, Lady Bryan allowing the child to pick the colors herself. Then she would teach Elizabeth how to make rows of different stitches. Elizabeth learned this quickly, as she learned everything. Already, she knew her alphabet, and her numbers up to one hundred, and in chapel she was already striving to understand the Latin rubric of the Mass.

“What is Father Matthew saying?” she would pipe up, ever inquisitive, and Lady Bryan would put a finger to her lips and explain patiently, murmuring in a low voice. Afterward, Elizabeth would pester the chaplain, urging him to teach her the words and phrases that so intrigued her.

“I do declare that my Lady Princess has the gift of languages,” he told Sir John Shelton and Lady Bryan, and indeed he appeared to be right, for Elizabeth had just to hear a thing said once and she had it by heart.

When the embroidering palled—after all, Elizabeth was only in her third year, and her quick, darting mind was always flitting on to the next thing—Lady Bryan would see to it that her day was filled with distractions: a walk in the great wide park of Hatfield, a visit to the stables to see her dappled pony, or a spell in the kitchens to watch the cook making marchpane, which she was allowed to sample after it had cooled; the child had an inordinately sweet tooth. Then a story—nothing too somber, but perhaps that old tale of Master Chaucer’s about Chanticleer the cock, which always made Elizabeth laugh out loud; and after this, a light supper of pottage and bread, then prayers and bedtime.

Once Elizabeth was settled in her comfortable bed, with its feather mattress, crisp heavy linen, rich velvet counterpane and curtains, and the arms of England embroidered on its tester, Lady Bryan would sign the cross on her forehead then leave her to go to sleep, settling herself with a book in a high-backed chair by the fire, a candle flickering at her side. The room would be warm, and soon she herself would be slumbering, her book abandoned on her lap.

Elizabeth, however, would lie wide awake, her fertile mind active, puzzling over the mysteries and marvels of her life . . .

Her earliest memories were of her father. Her big, magnificent father, King Harry the Eighth, the most wonderful being in the world. It was Elizabeth’s greatest grief that she did not see him very often. The rare occasions on which he visited her at Hatfield were the most exciting days of all. God-like in his rich velvets and furs, his jewels and chains, he would chuck her under the chin, then swing her up in the air and whirl her around, she shrieking with delight, her beribboned cap askew and her long red tresses flying.

“How does my little Bessy?” he would inquire. “Are they keeping you hard at your books and your prayers, or do they let you out to play as often as they should?” And he would wink conspiratorially, so that Elizabeth could know that it was all right to say yes, she did spend a lot of time playing, and that she loved the latest doll or toy he had sent her.

“But I do learn my letters, sir, and my catechism,” she would tell him.

“Well and good, well and good,” he would say, pulling her onto his wide lap and sitting her on strong muscular thighs, with her cheek against the brilliant rough surface of his doublet, which was encrusted with gems and goldsmiths’ work. She would breathe in the wholesome smell of him, a smell of herbs, musky perfume, and the great outdoors, and nestle against him, enjoying the sensation of his bristly red beard tickling the top of her forehead.

“I will tell you something, Bessy,” he said once. “When I was a young king, I did not wish to be at my prayers or attending to state affairs; I wanted to enjoy life. So can you guess what I did? I would sneak out of the palace by a back stair and go hunting, and my councillors would never know I had gone.”

From the Hardcover edition.
Alison Weir|Author Q&A

About Alison Weir

Alison Weir - The Lady Elizabeth
Alison Weir is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Innocent Traitor and The Lady Elizabeth and several historical biographies, including Mistress of the Monarchy, Queen Isabella, Henry VIII, Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Life of Elizabeth I, and The Six Wives of Henry VIII. She lives in Surrey, England with her husband and two children.

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Alison Weir

Random House Reader’s Circle: How would you compare Elizabeth with the subject of your previous novel, Lady Jane? In some respects they seem very similar, yet it’s difficult to imagine Elizabeth was ever as naive or as blind to political realities as her younger cousin.

Alison Weir: When I began writing The Lady Elizabeth, I feared I was in some peril of writing a very similar book to Innocent Traitor, because Elizabeth Tudor and Jane Grey were young Tudor princesses, both dangerously near in blood to the throne. Both had difficult childhoods and devoted nurses, both were incredibly intelligent and clever–being the products of a forward-thinking Renaissance education–and both were converts to the Protestant faith in an age of religious dogmatism in which heretics were burned at the stake. And they were both feisty redheads! Yet their characters were so dissimilar, and their ambitions too. Elizabeth wanted power and to be the star of the court; Jane was a scholar who wanted to be left in peace with her books, and the prospect of queenship was repellent to her. Elizabeth was a survivor, Jane wasn’t. And the courses–and outcomes–of their lives were very different. They were surrounded and influenced by different characters. Elizabeth, bastard status apart, was essentially a princess, Jane a private gentlewoman. And yes, Elizabeth was far less naive than Jane, and had a far more astute grasp of Tudor realpolitik.

RHRC: In Tudor times, children were often considered to be, and treated as, miniature adults. But the young Elizabeth as you portray her really seems to have been more than just the product of her social environment– there is a remarkable adult perspicacity to her insights and judgments from a very young age.

AW: That is historically true. Elizabeth was indeed formidably intelligent and highly precocious. We know that through her early letters (one of which is quoted, in slightly modernized English, in the novel) and her recorded utterances. There was little concept then of childhood as a separate phase of development–children were to be civilized as soon as possible so as to be able to take their place early on in the adult world. This makes sense when you remember that life expectancy was shorter (around thirty years for women, sixty-three years for men), infant mortality was high, and girls could be married and cohabit at twelve, boys at fourteen. Boys could fight in battle as young as age eleven. And children were schooled early on to have an awareness of religion, morality, and death. When people question the precocity of these Tudor princesses, I often quote the example of Anne, the three-year-old daughter of Charles I, who, on her deathbed in 1640, prayed unprompted, “Lighten mine eyes, O Lord, lest I sleep the sleep of death.” It was an entirely different mindset from today, but children are like sponges–whatever you fill them with, they will soak up.

RHRC: Your portrayal of Elizabeth’s relationship with the ambitious rogue Thomas Seymour seems likely to stir controversy. How could her governess, Kat Astley, have allowed the situation to go on for so long? What was the risk for her, and for Thomas Seymour? And finally, was this the strongest influence on her determination to remain unmarried?

AW: As the law stood, it was high treason for any man to marry Elizabeth, and for her to enter into such a marriage, without the Council’s consent. That, to me, is the issue that underscores the Seymour episode. I don’t want to give away too much here, but suffice it to say that most of what happened between Elizabeth and Thomas Seymour is a matter of historical record, as is Kat Astley’s involvement, about which I have my own theory, which is explained and justified in the Author’s Note at the end of the book. The Author’s Note also addresses the controversial aspect of my story, which is likewise based on (rather more dubious) contemporary sources. Elizabeth had resolved never to marry long before this episode, but I am sure that her experience with Seymour went a long way toward cementing that resolve.

RHRC: Why did Elizabeth come to embrace the Protestant faith so strongly when her half-sister, Mary, was such a devout Catholic?

AW: Elizabeth had been brought up and educated by religious reformers, and was influenced by them and by her stepmother, Katherine Parr. Mary (who was much older) had been educated under the auspices of her mother, the devoutly Catholic Katherine of Aragon, who had instilled in her a deep devotion to the old faith. I am convinced that, having had such a desperately unhappy life after her father, Henry VIII, repudiated her mother, Mary clung to the faith of her childhood not only because of her religious convictions but also because it represented the old ways in which she had been brought up and the security she had known as a child. Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, had been a champion of reform and religious tolerance, and that may have had a bearing on her own views.

RHRC: Surrounded by fanatical believers of one faith or another, Elizabeth as you portray her seems surprisingly modern in her recognition that religious belief should ideally be a private matter . . . even though circumstances compelled her to behave otherwise.

AW: Yes, she was remarkably enlightened for her day, which is why I admire her so much. I have used her own words to illustrate her religious views. She really did say, as queen, that she would not make windows into men’s souls, and that “there is only one Jesus Christ; the rest is a dispute over trifles.” I have used these and other insights to inform her developing opinions in the novel.

RHRC: What is the true story behind Queen Mary’s pregnancy? It seems like such a bizarre episode.

AW: The story is just as I tell it in the book. Mary did have a phantom pregnancy, and it was not until eleven months had passed and the gas in her abdomen began to dissipate that she was forced to accept the fact. When I researched this episode for my nonfiction work, The Children of Henry VIII, I referred the matter to a senior gynecologist, who confirmed that it was indeed a phantom pregnancy, and that a woman can long for a child so much that she can deceive her body into producing all the signs of pregnancy. It’s a condition that is virtually never seen these days because of the advent of early ultrasound scanning.

RHRC: One of the most enigmatic and tragic figures in your novel, as in the history itself, is Elizabeth’s half-brother, Edward. What is your take on him? What kind of king would he have made had he not died so young?
AW: My take on Edward is that he was a little boy who had grown up in splendid isolation because he was the precious, longed-for heir to England. Consequently, he was cold, devoid of emotion, unduly precocious, conscious of his position and the need to emulate his father Henry VIII, and priggishly fervent in the reformed faith. Had he lived, I am convinced that he would have been as fanatical a Protestant as Mary Tudor was a Catholic, and that he would have been another autocratic king like his father.

RHRC: As in your previous novel, Innocent Traitor, you continue to portray Henry VIII with unusual sympathy. For all his excesses and cruelties, he seems himself a victim caught in a snare that was by no means entirely of his own making.

AW: Yes, I do see Henry VIII to some extent as a victim of fortune; it was the frustrations and disappointments in his life that made him what he was. His quest for a son was a political imperative, his quest for love in a fruitful marriage a personal one. Of course, much of the novel is written from Henry’s point of view, and Elizabeth’s, so it is bound to be sympathetic, although I have tried to convey to readers that there is a darker thread to the story than these subjective aspects might convey. However, popular misconceptions about Henry VIII are still widespread, and it seems to be my life’s mission to debunk the caricature of modern myth without detracting from the less lovable aspects of this King!

RHRC: Is there any possibility that Elizabeth was not really his daughter, as was rumored at the time?

AW: No. Henry himself never questioned it, nor was the issue ever raised at the time of Anne Boleyn’s imprisonment and trial, when it could have been used against her to advantage. Many people commented on Elizabeth’s likeness in character to Henry, observing that it was plain to see whose daughter she was; and you only have to compare their portraits and facial profiles to see the familial similarity.

RHRC: In your Author’s Note to The Lady Elizabeth, you write: “I am not, as a historian, saying that it could have happened; but as a novelist, I enjoy the heady freedom to ask: What if it had?” Can you expand a bit on this “heady freedom” and on the working dynamic or tension between Alison Weir the novelist and Alison Weir the historian?

AW: There is no tension, aside from the historian in me being determined to stick to the facts as faithfully as possible in my books. Yes, it is incredibly liberating to be able to fill in the gaps in our knowledge and get inside the heads of historical characters, and it’s also gripping to have the freedom to construct a tale from fragments of gossip or romantic legends, which a historian should be wary of doing. But at the same time, what you come up with as a novelist must be credible and convincing within the context of the known facts and the cultural, social, and moral ethos of the period. It’s an advantage to be a historian and to have studied the subject in depth.

RHRC: In Innocent Traitor, you wrote from the first-person perspective of Lady Jane. Now, for The Lady Elizabeth, you’ve switched to a third-person perspective. Why?

AW: My publishers wanted me to! But I have found that it is quite possible to write from a character’s viewpoint in the third person, and that the third person allows for greater flexibility.

RHRC: Tell us a bit about your technique of using original quotations, modified for the contemporary ear, as much as possible in dialogue. What is the source of the quotes that you use? How rich in primary-source material is the historical record of the Tudor era?

AW: The sources of the quotes I use are far too numerous to mention! I can do no better than refer you to the extensive bibliographies in my nonfiction books, notably The Children of Henry VIII. The Tudor period is incredibly rich in source material, and for the first time there is a wealth of evidence for the private lives of royalty. So I have based many quotes, and often whole conversations, on the contemporary record, although I have modified the language in places so that it fits seamlessly into a modern text. I’ve been working with Tudor sources for more decades than I care to remember, so I am very familiar with spoken and written idioms, to the extent that I have adapted speech from many sources for my novels, sometimes out of context.

RHRC: What, in your opinion, is the best, most accurate film portrayal of Elizabeth? Not just in terms of historical accuracy, but in capturing the essence of her personality and character.

AW: Without a doubt, Glenda Jackson in Elizabeth R (BBC, 1971). Her consummate skill as an actress conveys the many complex facets of Elizabeth’s character. Moreover, the series is well researched and the script based on original sources. After that, Helen Mirren (Elizabeth I, 2005), who is a fine actress. You can forget the rest!

RHRC: The Lady Elizabeth traces the life of England’s most famous queen from her childhood to the moment of her ascension to the throne following the death of her half-sister, Mary. Not to put the cart before the horse, but will you be carrying your fictional biography of Elizabeth forward? Can we expect a sequel?

AW: Yes, but not immediately, as I will be writing two other novels first. The sequel to The Lady Elizabeth will be The Phoenix and the Bear, and it will pick up the tale from where the first novel leaves off, at the time of Elizabeth I’s accession, and chronicle the love story of the Queen and Robert Dudley.

RHRC: What about the Showtime series The Tudors? How would you grade it for historical accuracy?

AW: I have to confess that I enjoyed it, purely as a drama, and there were some aspects that were very creditably done, such as the recreations of the Tudor palaces (in particular the temporary palace built for the Field of Cloth of Gold), shifts in foreign alliances, and the tortuous negotiations in respect of the “Great Matter.” I think that Jonathan Rhys Meyers gave a fine performance as Henry VIII, but why on earth couldn’t they have made more effort to have him looking like Henry, or aging commensurately? Sam Neill was good as Wolsey (apart from the startling scene in which he commits suicide–it’s odd, but I’ve never read about that in any history book) and Jeremy Northam was a believable Thomas More. The actress playing Katherine of Aragon was excellent (although once again we have a Katherine with dark hair–don’t filmmakers ever look at portraits?) and Natalie Dormer portrayed a very convincing Anne Boleyn. But there were many laughable–and unforgiveable–errors, far too numerous to mention here (although I must cite the confused portrayal of Henry VIII’s sister Mary), and there wasn’t a single female costume that was right for the period, while the men’s costume was generally thiry to forty years too late. Given the budget, surely they could have made a little more effort to get it all right?

RHRC: You have been writing historical novels “for fun” since the 1960s, then putting them away in the drawer to concentrate on your straight historical work. Did your current novel, The Lady Elizabeth, have its origins as one of these trunk novels? And if so, is this a source from which you’ll continue to draw?

AW: No, the suggestion for this novel came from my British editor, Anthony Whittome, and I’m indebted to him for it, as it’s a subject that had enormous instant appeal for me. But there are quite a few other novels hidden away in my drawer, some of them unfinished, quite a few about Anne Boleyn, and several more crying out to be rewritten! I’m working on one in my spare time, and it’s like nothing I’ve ever done before. I think it’s important to have extra projects that are just for me, because history was a hugely enjoyable hobby for many years before I got into print, and I want it to remain that, as well as a profession.



Praise for Alison Weir’s Innocent Traitor

“Engrossing . . . suspenseful . . . enormously entertaining.”
–The Washington Post Book World

“Splendid . . . In giving narrative voice to her subjects Alison Weir brings us into emotional contact with them in a way that an unadorned historical account does not.”
–Boston Sunday Globe

“Every bit as good as anything [Philippa] Gregory has ever done . . . [Weir] makes a familiar story vibrant and fresh.”
–The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Completely absorbing . . . a brilliantly vivid and psychologically astute novel.”
–Booklist (starred review)

“Poignant and harrowing . . . a gripping finale.”
–The Seattle Times

“A sensitive and fast-paced tale . . . Weir conveys the age’s political intrigues, religious fanaticism and sexism.”
–USA Today

“Characters breathe as though they were alive last week–not five centuries ago. . . . A chilling epitaph on a period of history that continues to fascinate and bewitch us today.”
–San Antonio Express-News

From the Hardcover edition.
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. Alison Weir talks about balancing the duties of novelist and historian. What kind of obligation do you think a historical novelist has to the facts of history? Should a writer let facts stand in the way of telling a good story? Are there parts of The Lady Elizabeth where you felt that Weir erred on one side or the other?

2. How does Elizabeth’s girlhood determine the woman she grows up to be? What are some of the events that shape the kind of queen she will become?

3. Although Weir relies on unproven assertions in her portrayal of Elizabeth’s relationship with Thomas Seymour, some of the most shocking episodes, such as the scene where Elizabeth’s clothes are cut away, are recorded events. How could the two women charged with supervising Elizabeth, Kat Astley and Katherine Parr, allow these sorts of “games” to go on, and even participate in them? Do you think that this sort of abuse was a relic of less-civilized times, or is it something that could still happen today?

4. How do Elizabeth’s views on religion change over the course of the novel, and what contributes to those changes? Compare her religious beliefs with those of her society; is she typical of her times?

5. In the Tudor era, religion and politics were virtually synonymous. In twenty-first century America, religion has once again become bound up with politics, despite the constitutional separation of church and state. Does the Tudor experience, as detailed in The Lady Elizabeth, have any lessons for modern-day America?

6. In the accompanying interview, Weir writes about Edward VI: “Had he lived, I am convinced that he would have been as fanatical a Protestant as Mary Tudor was a Catholic, and that he would have been another autocratic king like his father.” Do you agree or disagree?

7. Do you share Weir’s sympathy for Henry VIII? Why or why not?

8. Torture plays a significant part in The Lady Elizabeth. The threat of it is omnipresent, and it is used almost as a matter of course by a government intent on eliciting the answers it requires from its citizens. How effective is torture for Henry’s government as a political strategy, regardless of any moral considerations? Compare the attitude toward torture in Tudor times and the current debate about the use of torture in the War on Terrorism. Are there significant differences?

9. In what ways can Elizabeth be seen as a kind of proto-feminist? Would she have viewed herself in the kinds of terms that contemporary feminists might?

10. Twice in the novel, Elizabeth encounters what she believes to be the ghost of her executed mother, Anne Boleyn. Does Weir want us to believe that she has really seen her mother’s spirit? What other explanations might there be?

11. How do Mary’s feelings toward Elizabeth change over the course of her life, especially once she becomes queen? Why do you think these changes occur?

12. Queen Mary is advised by many to imprison or even execute Elizabeth. Do you think that she is too lenient toward her younger sister? Does she allow her personal feelings to trump her duties as head of state? What would you have done in Mary’s position?

13. When Elizabeth learns of the plots against Mary, why doesn’t she alert her sister? Is she right to hold her tongue?

14. What lessons do you think Elizabeth learns from Henry and Mary about how to rule, and about how not to rule?

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