In the autumn of 1558, church bells across England ring out the joyous news that Elizabeth I is the new queen, yet 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 advisors 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 back 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.
About the Author
Date of Birth:January 9, 1954
Place of Birth:Nairobi, Kenya, East Africa
Education:B.A. in history, Sussex University, 1982; Ph.D., 18th-century popular fiction, Edinburgh, 1984
Read an Excerpt
All the bells in Norfolk were ringing for Elizabeth, pounding the peal into Amy's head, first the treble bell screaming out like a mad woman, and then the whole agonizing, jangling sob till the great bell boomed a warning that the whole discordant carillon was about to shriek out again. She pulled the pillow over her head to shut out the sound, and yet still it went on, until the rooks abandoned their nests and went streaming into the skies, tossing and turning in the wind like a banner of ill omen, and the bats left the belfry like a plume of black smoke as if to say that the world was upside down now, and day should be forever night.
Amy did not need to ask what the racket was for; she already knew. At last, poor sick Queen Mary had died, and Princess Elizabeth was the uncontested heir. Praise be. Everyone in England should rejoice. The Protestant princess had come to the throne and would be England's queen. All over the country people would be ringing bells for joy, striking kegs of ale, dancing in the streets, and throwing open prison doors. The English had their Elizabeth at last, and the fear-filled days of Mary Tudor could be forgotten. Everyone in England was celebrating.
Everyone but Amy.
The peals, pounding Amy into wakefulness, did not bring her to joy. Amy, alone in all of England, could not celebrate Elizabeth's upward leap to the throne. The chimes did not even sound on key, they sounded like the beat of jealousy, the scream of rage, the sobbing shout of a deserted woman.
"God strike her dead," she swore into her pillow as her head rang with the pound of Elizabeth's bells. "God strike her down in her youth and her pride and her beauty. God blast her looks, and thin her hair, and rot her teeth, and let her die lonely and alone. Deserted, like me."
Amy had no word from her absent husband: she did not expect one. Another day went by and then it was a week. Amy guessed that he would have ridden at breakneck pace to Hatfield Palace from London at the first news that Queen Mary was dead. He would have been the first, as he had planned, the very first to kneel before the princess and tell her she was queen.
Amy guessed that Elizabeth would already have a speech prepared, some practiced pose to strike, and for his part Robert would already have his reward in mind. Perhaps even now he was celebrating his own rise to greatness as the princess celebrated hers. Amy, walking down to the river to fetch in the cows for milking because the lad was sick and they were shorthanded at Stanfield Hall, her family's farm, stopped to stare at the brown leaves unraveling from an oak tree and whirling like a snowstorm, southwest to Hatfield where her husband had blown, like the wind itself, to Elizabeth.
She knew that she should be glad that a queen had come to the throne who would favor him. She knew she should be glad for her family, whose wealth and position would rise with Robert's. She knew that she should be glad to be Lady Dudley once more: restored to her lands, given a place at court, perhaps even made a countess.
But she was not. She would rather have had him at her side as an attainted traitor, with her in the drudgery of the day and in the warm silence of the night; anything rather than than ennobled as the handsome favorite at another woman's court. She knew from this that she was a jealous wife; and jealousy was a sin in the eyes of God.
She put her head down and trudged on to the meadows where the cows grazed on the thin grass, churning up sepia earth and flints beneath their clumsy hooves.
How could we end up like this? she whispered to the stormy sky piling up a brooding castle of clouds over Norfolk. Since I love him so much, and since he loves me? Since there is no one for us but each other? How could he leave me to struggle here, and dash off to her? How could it start so well, in such wealth and glory as it did, and end in hardship and loneliness like this?
Copyright © 2004 by Philippa Gregory Limited
Reading Group Guide
Reading Group Guide
1. Queen Elizabeth and Robert Dudley were childhood playmates and also have in common the experience of being accused of treason and locked in the tower. How does Dudley use this shared history to influence Elizabeth? Is he successful?
2. What is your opinion of Amy? She says about Dudley, "In his heart I know that he is still the young man that I fell in love with who wanted nothing more than some good pasture land to breed beautiful horses" (105). Has Amy completely misjudged her husband, particularly how ambitious a man he is?
3. Elizabeth appoints Dudley Master of the Horse and later awards him the Order of the Garter. Why doesn't she appoint him to a position of political power, such as a member of the Privy Council? Dudley and William Cecil each want to be the more favored advisor to the queen. How does each man go about trying to accomplish this? Would you say they are rivals?
4. In many ways the politics of the court is like a dangerous game, fueled by rampant corruption and scheming families angling for wealth and favors from the queen. Cite some examples that illustrate this, including the people who are closest to Elizabeth.
5. It is Cecil's "deep-rooted belief that the intelligence of a woman, even one as formidably educated as [Elizabeth], could not carry the burden of too much information, and the temperament of a woman, especially this one, was not strong enough to take decisions" (93). Is Cecil underestimating Elizabeth? Discuss the way the men of the court and the Privy Council view women in general and Elizabeth, as the monarch, in particular.
6. Elizabeth, believing she is being pursued by an assassin, runs to the Diary House at Kew to seek safety with Dudley. How does this encounter mark a turning point in their relationship?
7. Dudley remarks to Cecil about the Earl of Arran, "If it's not one damned opportunity seeker, it is another. To what end?" (226). Can the same be said of him? Does he truly care about Elizabeth, or is his courtship of her to satisfy his own ambition?
8. Elizabeth says to Dudley, "I have to play myself like a piece in a chess game....I have to keep the Spanish on our side, I have to frighten the French, I have to persuade Arran to get himself up to Scotland and claim his own, and I have nothing to bring to bear on any of these but my own weight. All I can promise any of them is myself" (228). How does Elizabeth use the marriage game to her advantage as a political maneuver?
9. When Dudley visits Amy at Hayes Court, he finds his wife changed and is at a loss about "how to manage this strange new Amy" (258). How do their conversations while they are out riding and later in their chamber show how Amy has changed? If you were in Amy's position, would you have allowed Dudley to walk away from the marriage?
10. Compare Robert's feelings for Elizabeth and Amy. Amy says to her stepmother, "He loved me once, but everyone thought he condescended to the marriage, and it was always true that he thought very highly of himself. But with her it is different. He is a man transformed. She is his lover but still his queen, he admires her as well as desires her....He aspires to love her, whereas I was always an easy love" (279). Is Amy right?
11. When does Elizabeth begin to realize that she cannot marry Dudley and also remain on the throne? Why is there such hostility toward Robert Dudley from the members of the Privy Council and other nobility, as well as from the commoners? Is it justified? In numerous instances Elizabeth says that she cannot live without Robert or rule without him by her side. Why, then, does she ultimately decide giving him up is the right course of action?
12. In reference to Mary of Guise, the regent of Scotland, Cecil says to Elizabeth, "I have no objection in theory to assassination as an act of state. It could be a great saver of life and a guarantee of safety for others" (314). Applying this same logic to Amy, can Cecil justify her death as "a great saver of life and a guarantee of safety for others"? Do you think Elizabeth knew Cecil was referring to Amy when he told her that if he carried out his plan to prevent her from marrying Dudley, one person would die?
13. When Elizabeth asks if he is bothered by Amy's death, Dudley replies, "She was my wife of eleven years. Of course I grieve for her" (417). Do you believe Dudley is truly remorseful that Amy is dead, or is it more about the circumstances of her death and what it means for his political ambitions?
14. When Dudley finds his signet ring among Amy's possessions, he knows Elizabeth had a part in what happened. What conclusions does he come to about why Elizabeth might have done this? Ultimately, does Dudley reconcile himself to not being the king of England?
15. The Author's Note reveals several significant pieces of information: 1) Dudley wrote a letter to Elizabeth on his deathbed, which she then had with her when she died, 2) Dudley married Laetitia Knollys, and 3) historical records verify Elizabeth made incriminating remarks to the Spanish ambassador prior to Amy's death. Did finding out these things change your view of any aspects of the story? Do you believe Amy Dudley was murdered?
16. History has remembered Elizabeth as one of England's greatest rulers. What is your opinion of Elizabeth as a monarch, as this book depicts her in the first years of her reign? From what you learned about her in The Virgin's Lover, what characteristics and qualities do you think made her a successful ruler?