Mary and ElizabethMary and Elizabeth by Emily Purdy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Written in the first person narrative, this historical story follows the tempestuous relationship between Henry VIII’s two daughters, Mary Tudor and the younger Elizabeth. Told from alternate perspectives, the writing is competent and descriptive. Purdy manages to paint the two monarchs with such complexity of emotion that I soon lost myself in the story as if learning it for the first time, even though Tudor lovers and historians know it well.

When King Henry dies, Edward VI inherits the throne, but the sickly boy’s reign is short lived when he succumbs to various ailments at the age of sixteen. The author reveals more speculative details about Edward on his death bed than one might normally read, such as the placement of dead rotten fish strapped to the boy’s feet in order to ‘draw out’ the wicked tumors which assailed his frail body. There are many details such as this throughout the story which leave you wondering how far the author went to distort, embellish the facts, or merely choose to add her own creative flavours.

In particular, the ‘passionate’ chapters involving Elizabeth and the characterful Sir Thomas Seymour are eye-opening. In most Tudor accounts, such stark and erotic details are usually left to the reader’s imagination. Purdy obviously decided that we ought to be much more enlightened and provided a ‘nitty gritty’ account as to their supposed ‘affair.’ One can only wonder whether Seymour really did ‘woo’ the young princess in such a frivolous and open manner. The big question left in my mind is…’did he really place a strawberry between her thighs and then eat it?’ Who can really know?

If the reader can blindly accept these eroticisms as being part and parcel of the author’s creative poetry, then the story itself is grandly told. The writing flowed beautifully and gave us a great insight into the difficulties the two monarchs faced with their commanding positions heading two very politically defended religions, Protestantism and Catholicism, whilst also trying their utmost best to be nothing more than loving sisters. There are some great scenes which depict their feelings for each other as they attempt to offer piety and forgiveness, whilst all the while harbouring doubts and fears over secret treasonous rebellions and plots. Once is left with the notion that the life of a Tudor monarch is one that is neither enviable, nor pleasant to live.

A thoroughly recommended read.

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