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  • Written by Rosalind Miles
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A Novel

Written by Rosalind MilesAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Rosalind Miles


List Price: $12.99


On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 656 | ISBN: 978-0-307-42106-7
Published by : Broadway Books Crown/Archetype
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Publicly declared a bastard at the age of three, daughter of a disgraced and executed mother, last in the line of succession to the throne of England, Elizabeth I inherited an England ravaged by bloody religious conflict, at war with Spain and France, and badly in debt. When she died in 1603, after a forty-five- year reign, her empire spanned two continents and was united under one church, victorious in war, and blessed with an overflowing treasury. What’s more, her favorites—William Shakespeare, Sir Francis Drake, and Sir Walter Raleigh—had made
the Elizabethan era a cultural Golden Age still remembered today.

But for Elizabeth the woman, tragedy went hand in hand with triumph. Politics and scandal forced the passionate queen to reject her true love, Robert Dudley, and to execute his stepson, her much-adored Lord Essex. Now in this spellbinding novel, Rosalind Miles brings to life the woman behind the myth. By turns imperious, brilliant, calculating, vain, and witty, this is the Elizabeth the world never knew. From the days of her brutal father, Henry VIII, to her final dying moments, Elizabeth tells her story in her own words.



He was a man in his prime and a stranger to the word "no." He had looked upon the world for forty years, over twenty of them as a king. His tall body had filled out with age, indulgence, pleasure and action to give him a huge and powerful frame, on which his rich velvet coats and satin doublets, puffed, embroidered and slashed, hung like the royalty he was.

In every group he towered above other men. He bestrode the world, straddling the earth foursquare, as if he owned it, his jeweled dagger swinging carelessly beside the thrust of his great curving codpiece, and in his green and gold, purple and white, scarlet, silver and fox, outshone them all.

I speak of him like a lover, no, my father as I first remember him? His splendor, his danger, his might? Perhaps I was--in spite of everything--at least a little in love with him then, for so all the world was too.

Now I was ten years out of my nurse's arms, and he ten years nearer his grave--years that had dealt him a hard hand of suffering, sickness and betrayal. Yet was he looking, as he stood at the altar, magnificent in gold and rubies, in furred crimson surcoat and plumed hat, as handsome, as glorious as ever--and as cheerful as any man may, for what he was about to do.

The occasion was his sixth adventure into wedlock, his sixth attempt to make a marriage that would withstand wind and weather, to find a woman who would please him, and a pleasure that would last. The bride was Dame Katherine Parr, rich, religious, and comely in cream brocade, the three months' widow of the late Lord Latimer, and of another rich and aged husband before him. Squinting at the couple between my fingers as I knelt at prayer, I pondered on the mystery of marriage, and why my father still chanced his fortune on such rough seas.

This was the only one of my father's weddings to which I came invited. The first, to Katherine of Aragon, the Infanta of Castile and pride of Spain, was long before my time, when Henry himself was only eighteen. At his second marriage, to my mother Anne Boleyn, I have to own I was present, though unbidden and unallowed; indeed, I was the cause of the hasty and secret ceremony celebrated hugger-mugger in that January of 1533, for Anne had found herself, like many a maid before, with a child in her belly before she had a husband for her bed.

The third of the King's weddings, to plain Jane Seymour, was like-wise a private affair. The fourth, to the Princess of Cleves (another Anne), was pitched as low as decency permitted, since the King, disliking her on sight, wanted to be as little married as possible to the woman he called "the Flanders Mare," with a view to unmarrying himself as soon as possible, as he was shortly to do. The fifth, another Katherine, his girl Queen of the Howard clan, the King could not wait to wed and bed--another costly lesson on the old text, Marry in haste, repent at leisure.

Only with this marriage to Madam Parr, the most motherly of all his women, did the King decide to make it a family affair. Beside me in the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court that day knelt the oldest of his children, my sister Mary, surrounded by her women. By her white knuckles and pale mumbling lips, Mary was praying hard enough to satisfy both God and man--but not, as all there knew, to satisfy the King, since she clung with all the fury of her nature to the old Catholic faith of her mother Katherine of Aragon. How would she fare, the Court whispered, under the new Queen, Katherine Parr, a woman as devout in the Reformed Religion of our Protestantism as Mary was absolute for Rome?

On my other side knelt the son for whom Henry had broken with the Pope and Rome, my brother Edward, whose pale, over-solemn face flushed with smiles as he caught my eye. He wriggled his small body nearer to mine with a confidential air.

"Shall we have comfits after, sister, and candy-things?" he whispered hoarsely. At once he was silenced by his governor Lady Bryan, while mine, my trusted Kat, though all ears, winked a blind eye and continued serenely with her prayers, confident that at my great age of ten, I for one was better schooled than to chatter in church. But I gave Edward a secret smile and a nod, for I longed for him to be more like any other child of six summers, instead of the infant Solomon all expected of the heir to the throne.

Within the chapel it was as cool as a cave, though high summer blazed outside. Here the only radiance came from bank upon bank of rich wax candles, the only sound from a small cluster of the King's Music sighing away sweetly in the shadows behind the reredos. At an unseen signal, silence fell like a cloud. The Bishop of Winchester approached the altar and the ceremony began.

". . . to join together this Man and this Woman in Holy Matrimony, which is an Honorable Estate, ordained for a remedy against Sin, and to avoid Fornication, for the mutual Society, Help and Comfort that the one ought to have for the other . . ."

My child's mind wandered, drifting away with the fine white smoke of the candles, high above the humbled heads of the tiny congregation.

Where were my father's other wives now? Were their spirits here with us, to hear him make again the selfsame vows that he had made to them? And why, since he was all-powerful, so fine, so wise, so good, had they all failed him?

I bowed my forehead to my hands and with all my young heart earnestly besought God the Father to bless this marriage for the King my father's sake.

Afterward in the King's privy apartments, at a reception for the closest of his courtiers and councillors, there were all the comfits and candy-things, jellies and quinces, possets and peaches and pigeon pies that my dear Edward's six-year-old heart could desire.

A visit to Court, the chance to see my father and the great ones, was a rare treat, and not to be wasted clinging to my governor Kat's skirts. Strange how men full grown pay no heed to a child, especially a girl. I had slipped away from Kat for once, she being deep in conversation with Lady Bryan on the trials of caring for the royal young.

I was standing now by the arras in a corner of the chamber near a group of the King's lords. In truth, I was lurking there to pluck one special lord by the sleeve, since well I knew that whether he was Archbishop of Canterbury or no, Thomas Cranmer was the kindliest man at Court and would always have a fair word for me. With him in conversation were two lords of the Privy Council, Sir Thomas Wriothesley and Sir William Paget, its Secretary.

Wriothesley was a short, angry, strutting man, shifting his weight restlessly from foot to foot as he spoke. "So our lord the King plays the farmer, going to market one more time!" He laughed unpleasantly. "And fetches back neither Flanders mare nor hot young Howard filly but a fair old English cow!"

"Not so old, my lord," interjected Paget smoothly, swirling the thick golden wine reflectively round his glass. "Our new Queen has seen but thirty-odd summers--"

"--and with God's grace may see many more," added Cranmer gently.

"Well may she see another thirty before she brings home what we most need!" said Wriothesley fiercely. "Money and land she brings him, I grant you, from her former husbands, a dower fit for a queen. But not a child from either of them--never has she cropped, though the earth twice tilled! I fear my lord King will get milk enough from this cow, yet never a calf--the golden calf we pray for, the god of our idolatry--another prince, to make all sure!"

"We are blessed with one prince, my lord," said Cranmer, looking fondly across the Presence Chamber to where Edward sported with the Queen's lapdogs under the care of his uncle the Earl of Hertford. The Earl looked sad, I thought--as how could he not, remembering on a day like this the King's marriage to his sister Jane Seymour seven years before, and her death giving birth to Edward so soon after?

"Hertford looks sour!" put in the sardonic Wriothesley with a greedy gulp of wine, waving for a passing servant to recharge his goblet. "As well he might if the new Queen's kinsmen are to be grabbing for places as fast as he and his brother did!"

"Truly, the Earl is not the only one of the Seymours to feel his nose put out of joint by this marriage," added Paget with a faint smile. "I hear that brother Tom had caught the widow's eye and thought to have her--or her wealth!--before the King popped in between him and his hopes. And now the rogue finds it politic to travel abroad until her heart returns to its rightful place in her new husband's bosom!"

"Yet Dame Parr may surprise us," said Cranmer reflectively, covertly studying the new Queen's ample frame as she moved about the chamber. "There looks to be no hindrance to childbearing on her side. Remember she has only ever before had aged men as bed partners--something that smiles not on the work of generation."

"And now--how is the difference?" came Wriothesley's sharp sneer. Together the three men turned their eyes to the King where he sat on his chair of state, leaning heavily on his gold-topped staff of ebony, the only wood, his master carpenter had told him, that could now support his weight. Even then I could read their delicate silence as it hung in the air. The King is old . . . in his embraces Madam Parr will not bear nor bring forth . . .

Now they were looking at Edward with a scrutiny I could not read.

"Take heart, my lords," rallied Cranmer gently. "God is love. Our Prince is forward for his years and likely to thrive."

There was no reply. My attention wandered. Across the chamber my sister Mary was locked in conference with a group of clerics around the Bishop, still robed in his ceremonial finery after conducting the wedding. With them stood the Duke of Norfolk, a dark-faced man of policy I had always feared, even though I knew he was distantly kin to me, and his son, a young warlord a mile above my head, the Earl of Surrey.

As if she felt my gaze, Mary twisted her small body toward us and peered shortsightedly in our direction. "Sister?" she called, for if she could not see me, she could make out my bright new scarlet gown. "Elizabeth, come and know my lord--my lord Gardiner, the Bishop of Winchester!"

As I moved away, Wriothesley's last gibe traveled with me: "If Popish Mary cleaves to Gardiner now, he will bear watching . . ."

Behind Mary, dominating her low form, stood a weighty figure, a bishop's cope and cross distinguishing his rank. Behind him a bevy of lesser clerics fanned out in silent ranks awaiting his command.

"Is this the child--the Lady Elizabeth?" Bishop Gardiner's air as he glowered in my direction was one of unspeakable arrogance, and his deepset eyes did not deign to meet mine. His face was swarthy, his nose hooked like a buzzard's, and his rough demeanour more that of an alehouse brawler than a man of God. His ragged frowning brows and pitted skin gave him an ugly fearsomeness, but the red mouth beneath his coarse mustache was as soft and spiteful as a woman's.

He must have known who I was! Why, then, this rude pretense? But Mary was gazing at him with an admiration that left her oblivious to anyone else. With difficulty she now gave her attention to me. "My lord Bishop has been instructing me, sister, on . . . on many matters . . ." Again the glance of adoration, which the proud prelate received as nothing more than his due. "Know him, Elizabeth, I beg of you, for your soul's good!"

"Souls, madam?" snapped the Duke of Norfolk, his left hand angrily gripping the hilt of his sword. "All was well enough when the care of souls was left to His Grace the Bishop here and his people. Our business is with bodies! If the King means to make these wars on France, we must have men--men and money! Or else the Netherlanders . . ."

I moved slowly away, so that no one would notice me. My father's marriage, my new stepmother's chance of childbearing, Mary's love of God--or was it for the Bishop?--I had food enough for one day, and more than enough for a ten-year-old mind to digest. Much of it, I confess, I laid by to think of later, and forgot. Soon afterward I was sent from Court once more and returned with Kat and my women to my quiet life at Hatfield, deep in the Hertfordshire countryside. And there did the Fates, knowing what was to come, let me sleep out the last of my childhood, the sleep of innocence from which we all too soon awake.
Rosalind Miles|Author Q&A

About Rosalind Miles

Rosalind Miles - I, Elizabeth

Photo © Carolyn Djanogly

Rosalind Miles is a well-known and critically acclaimed English novelist, essayist, and broadcaster. Her novels, including Guenevere, Queen of the Summer Country and The Knight of the Sacred Lake, the preceding volumes of the Guenevere Trilogy, have been international bestsellers. Visit her online at www.rosalind.net

Author Q&A

Many U.S. readers know you primarily for your Arthurian novels—the Guenevere trilogy and the Tristan and Isolde trilogy—but you actually wrote I, Elizabeth first. There have been so many novels about Elizabeth; why did you feel it was important for you to write this “autobiography”?

Most of the work on Elizabeth was focused on the public figure, giving a rather one-dimensional picture of her as a world leader or as the Virgin Queen. But she was also a fashion leader who had thousands of gowns; a scholar who turned to her books every day; a fervent horsewoman; and a passionate, sensual woman capable of lifelong relationships and extraordinary love affairs. I wanted to do justice to all these sides of her nature, and to show that the Queen who defeated the Spanish Armada and led England through the worst of times was the same woman who broke her heart over unsuitable men and was always vulnerable to a charmer with a flashing smile. We also tend to have a rather static image of Elizabeth as she was in the prime of her life, but it is fascinating to trace her story from the unwanted child who was so frightened and so alone to the majesty of the aged Queen who held the whole world in awe.

You are a woman of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries—how did you approach the challenge of writing in the voice of Elizabeth, a woman of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries?

I was born in a Tudor market town beside one of the royal chases where Henry VIII hunted, so Elizabeth and her world were very real to me from my earliest days. As a child I was brought up on the Bible and Shakespeare, the language of Elizabeth’s day, and I struggled with Latin and Greek at school, enough to learn some of the texts she knew. Later on, the Elizabethans were my favorites when I studied English at university and I was able to steep myself in the speech of the time.

But Elizabeth herself was the primary source. She was unusually forthright and loved to speak her mind, and there are many recorded examples of her voice. She had a unique and passionate way of speaking, with a highly distinctive tang. She was sometimes salty, and would swear with the best when provoked, but she also showed tenderness, weakness, jealousy and all the feelings of a woman’s heart. When I was writing the book, I imagined I could hear her talking to me. Even now, when I close my eyes, I hear her still.

Elizabeth’s relationships with men are the subject of hundreds of years of speculation—do you truly believe that she and Robert Dudley were lovers? Do you think she seriously considered marrying him or any other man? Is there historical evidence one way or the other?

Elizabeth and Robert Dudley were often seen behaving on terms of great physical familiarity, and this occasioned wild gossip at the time, including repeated rumors that they were man and wife. I believe that they were lovers in the fullest sense of the word, although her natural caution and their constant lack of privacy severely limited their chances of full intercourse. When she was young, England’s desperate need for an heir meant that she was forced to consider marriage with almost every eligible prince or king in Europe, and we know that she thought of marrying Dudley because they joked with the Spanish ambassador about it. We also know that she pined for children and grieved at being barren, when the humblest of her subjects could be loving wives and mothers and she could not. But she had seen both her sister, “Bloody” Mary Tudor, and her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, make disastrous marriages, and as a queen she feared that any husband would try to rule both her and the country, as their husbands did. As a child she also saw two of her four stepmothers, and many other women, die in childbirth after great suffering. This would have been another powerful argument against marriage in the days before contraception and prenatal care.

Do you think being a woman made Elizabeth a better ruler than her father or other male monarchs of the time? Ultimately, do you think her gender was a liability or an asset for her as a leader?

I believe that being a woman gave Elizabeth access to a far greater range of options than were available to the male monarchs of her time, and she seized these opportunities with both hands. The male monarchs had to project themselves as strong and invincible at all times, whereas she could play both the tough ruler and the “little woman,” as she did in the famous Armada speech at Tilbury when she claimed to “have the body of a weak and female woman and the heart and stomach of a king.” Her relationships with foreign monarchs always had a playful, sexual tone, which a king could not have used with another king, and she prolonged these dalliances to brilliant diplomatic effect.

When Elizabeth came to the throne, it was universally assumed that her gender was a liability because women were mentally and physically inferior to men. It is amazing to see how Elizabeth turned this liability into a strength, and used it for the country’s good. In the end she made herself both the Virgin Queen and the mother of the country and died knowing that she had reigned with England’s wholehearted love.

What can we learn from Elizabeth? What does her life teach modern readers?

Elizabeth was a woman of exceptional gifts, who in the modern world might have been a Nobel prize–winning intellectual or the first woman president of the U.S. But her greatest virtues were those available to everyone: courage, endurance, and common sense. Growing up in fear for her life, she quite literally never lost her head. In times of greatest terror she mastered her feelings and hung on. She made it her primary goal to get through from day to day without letting others down, and refused to panic even when the King of Spain loosed all the fury of the Armada on her head. I believe we can learn a lot from this in an era when we are encouraged to let all our emotions out and allow ourselves to be driven by whatever we feel.

In private life, too, Elizabeth did not give way to weakness, self-indulgence, or despair. However much she was in love, she did not allow men to devastate her life, but called on her basic doggedness to survive—even with a broken heart. Today’s young women are lucky enough to understand that they do not have to have a man to complete their lives, and that they can survive the worst that the world throws at them both in love and work. Because of this, the story of Elizabeth I is as heartening and inspirational today as it was in her time.

Reader's Guide|About the Book|Discussion Questions

About the Book

The life of Elizabeth I, Queen of England, has captured imaginations around the globe from the time of her death in 1603 to the present day. A glittering figurehead, a passionate mistress, and a charismatic politician, the powerful and opinionated Elizabeth has been immortalized in hundreds of books, paintings, stage productions, and films, including the recent blockbuster Elizabeth, featuring Cate Blanchett in an Oscar-nominated performance. Yet never has any novel matched the scope and mesmerizing detail of Rosalind Miles’s breathtaking I, Elizabeth. From her rise to power amid the religious upheaval and political scandal left in the wake of Henry VIII, to her glorious final days as the unassailable Virgin Queen, I, Elizabeth re-creates Elizabeth’s own voice and razor-sharp wit, and re-imagines her reign in brilliant color and nuance. Miles effortlessly weaves years of research into heartstopping storytelling and arrives at an unforgettable portrait of one of history’s greatest heroines. This guide is designed to help direct your reading group’s discussion of I, Elizabeth.

About the Guide

It is the year 1546 and King Henry VIII is not long for this world. He leaves behind three young heirs from three dead wives, and decisions must be made that will ensure a smooth succession. As Princess Elizabeth leaves behind the safety of her country home and enters the King’s court—where rubies are the size of hen’s eggs, where every shadowy corner contains a spy, and where a slip of the tongue may be construed as treason and is punishable by beheading—she knows her young life will never be the same. Quickly plunged into the terrifying, exalted world of sovereign power, rife with political intrigue and deadly plots, Elizabeth must turn against her own siblings in her quest to establish a just monarch on England’s throne. Once ensconced as Queen, however, she finds the jeopardies double. Spain lurks, sniffing for war; Mary Queen of Scots challenges Elizabeth’s claim to the throne; and Rome considers Elizabeth little more than the bastard daughter of a corrupt king and his whore. Turning to her council for guidance, she finds nothing but pressure to marry and produce an heir as quickly as possible—and grumblings around her court when she resists doing so. As Elizabeth explores love at her own pace, hidden from the ever-probing public eye, she discovers that even the truest bonds of devotion can harbor betrayal and disaster. Only one man, Sir William Cecil, Elizabeth’s Secretary of State and Lord Treasurer, provides her with undying loyalty. And in the end, Elizabeth betroths herself to England alone, dedicating every drop of her blood and every ounce of her strength to the nation she loves. In a sweeping, utterly fascinating journey through Elizabeth’s six decades in the spotlight of history, Miles presents the dazzling Virgin Queen as she’s never been seen before.

Discussion Guides

1. Both the prologue and the epilogue of the novel focus on Elizabeth’s undying love for Robert Devereux, Lord of Essex. Even when he runs amok with power and commits increasingly outrageous offenses to Elizabeth as both woman and Queen, she fails to curb this “Wild Horse.” Why do his bluster and uncontainable spirit attract her? Does she do herself a disservice by forgiving him repeatedly? Do we as readers ever fall in love with Essex? How does this affair compare to Elizabeth’s long affair with Robin?

2. Henry VIII is first described as “a married man who had tired of his wife,” then as “a man in his prime and a stranger to the word ‘no.’ ” He sculpts every angle of his environment to serve his own desires, taking on new wives, new popes, and a whole new religion when the old ones displease him. How does this trait influence Elizabeth? When do we see her emulating aspects of his personality, and when do we see her consciously choosing to do the opposite, particularly in how she runs her court? Is it accurate to describe them both as perpetually dissatisfied characters? Is Elizabeth’s refusal to marry some sort of belated rebellion against her father’s wanton attitude toward marriage?

3. As Elizabeth’s sister Queen Mary earns the nickname “Bloody Mary” for her violent enforcement of Papistry, Elizabeth’s position at court becomes more and more endangered. How and why does King Philip of Spain—also a Papist—save Elizabeth from her sister’s wrath? Why is it in Philip’s best interest to support Elizabeth for the succession to the English throne, even though she’s a Protestant, rather than her Papist cousin Mary of Scots? What lessons does Elizabeth learn from observing her sister’s public policies?

4. When Elizabeth saves Queen Katherine Parr from Henry VIII’s fury, she learns her first lesson in the power of flattery as a tool of diplomacy. She knows exactly what to say to stroke his ego, and, by her quick thinking, prevents an execution. Does this episode change the way Elizabeth thinks of her father? Does she require similar flattery later in her career as Queen, or does she simply tolerate it? Which of her subjects rely on flattering their Queen as an attempt at self-promotion?

5. Is Elizabeth serious in her plot to offer Robin to Mary of Scots as a marriage partner; is it just an excuse to shower him with land, titles and wealth to make him more suitable for herself; or is she simply being mischievous and toying with Mary? How does Mary foil the whole plot, and why does Mary’s sudden marriage to Henry Stuart, Earl of Darnley, spell disaster for Elizabeth?

6. The bane of Elizabeth’s existence is her identification as a bastard. Why does she say she is “a bastard three times over”? At what points in her life does this label reappear? When do we see her mother’s reputation as a whore haunt her? How does she finally discover the truth about her mother?

7. Elizabeth’s realization that her position in the royal lineup of successors is tenuous marks her first experience of true fear—the first of many. What gifts does her tutor Grindal give her right before she is forced to leave Hatfield by orders of the King? What does it mean? What fear compels Henry to order her to travel “enclosed and unseen” when she is summoned to court?

8. Despite Mary of Scots’s repeated attempts to overthrow her, and despite the mounting rage of the English people who “hungered for her death, thirsted for her blood, clamored for retribution,” Elizabeth refused to sign Mary’s death warrant: “She is a queen and one of God’s Anointed, she is a woman and my kinswoman, she is a Tudor, and she is my heir! And when subjects come to take the lives of kings, who knows what chaos follows?” Is Elizabeth reacting to her father’s notorious appetite for executions, protecting herself from the threat of future uprisings, or simply trying to create a more compassionate monarchy? What aspects of herself does she see in Mary? Why does Mary’s dilemma remind Elizabeth of her mother?

9. The refrain that torments Elizabeth throughout her tumultuous reign is “strike or be stricken.” Which option does she choose more often?

10. The novel traces Elizabeth’s progress from a naive, openhearted thirteen-year-old to a powerful, money-hungry, imperious old woman. Does she grow more or less likeable as her story unfolds? How does she change? What do you make of her chronic attachments to men who are either unmarriageable, unfaithful, or ungovernable? Do you blame Robin, Raleigh, and Essex for their secret marriages?

11. Why does Amy Robsart’s death reek of foul play, and thus prevent Elizabeth and Robin from uniting at last? What similar event does Mary of Scots experience in connection with her Lord Durnley? In what ways do Elizabeth and Mary handle the ensuing scandals differently?

12. Elizabeth’s true marriage partner is her country: “England, my England—how I love this land! Her rivers pour their courses through my veins, her loam makes up my flesh, her soul my soul, her proud spirit my hope, my inspiration . . . my first, last, greatest love.” It is for her duty to the State that she abandons Robin at the altar, and this moment of choice is perhaps the climax of the novel: “I lost my love, for England—to be not Robin’s bride, but England’s Queen. When the time came to choose, I chose her, and not him.” Did she do the right thing here? Do modern-day rulers face any choices as drastic as Elizabeth’s?

13. Elizabeth is a complex mix of queenly pomposity and self-deprecating cynicism about the world. Where does Miles use humor to endear us to her main character? How does Elizabeth’s banter with historical figures like William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlow, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Sir Francis Drake affect your reading of her story?

  • I, Elizabeth by Rosalind Miles Bestselling Author of The Guenevere Trilogy
  • March 25, 2003
  • Fiction - Historical; Fiction - Biographical
  • Broadway Books
  • $17.00
  • 9780609809105

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