The Queen's Fool

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The Queen's Fool
Queen's Fool.jpg
Author Philippa Gregory
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series Tudor Series
Genre Novel
Publisher Touchstone
Publication date
2004
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 512
ISBN 0-7432-6982-9 (hardcover edition)
Preceded by The Boleyn Inheritance
Followed by The Virgin's Lover

The Queen's Fool by Philippa Gregory is a 2004 historical fiction novel. Set between 1548 and 1558, it is part of Philippa Gregory's Tudor series. The series includes The Boleyn Inheritance. The novel chronicles the changing fortunes of Mary I of England and her half-sister Elizabeth through the eyes of the fictional Hannah Green, a Marrano girl escaping to England from Spain where her mother was burned at the stake for being Jewish. Hannah is discovered by Robert Dudley and John Dee and subsequently begged as a fool to Edward VI. She witnesses and becomes caught up the intrigues of the young king's court, and later those of his sisters. As Mary, Elizabeth, and Robert Dudley use Hannah to gather information on their rivals and further their own aims, the novel can plausibly present each side in the complex story. The Queen's Fool follows Hannah from ages fourteen to nineteen, and her coming-of-age is interspersed among the historical narrative (see Bildungsroman). The book reached # 29 on the New York Times Best Seller list and had sold 165,000 copies within three weeks of its release.[1]

Plot summary[edit]

The story starts when a nine-year-old Hannah Green sees Thomas Seymour and Elizabeth flirting when she delivers books for her father. When asked why she seems surprised, she tells him she has seen a scaffold behind him. Seymour is executed within a year.

Hannah and her father run a book shop on Fleet Street. She and her father left Spain after Hannah's mother was burnt at the stake. On their journey to England, her father dresses Hannah as a boy to protect her. One day, Lord Robert Dudley and John Dee, his tutor, visit the shop. John realises that Hannah has the Sight, after telling them that the Angel Uriel, was walking behind them. Her father denies it, calling Hannah a fool and claiming she is simple. Lord Robert and John Dee, insist on hiring Hannah, begging her as a holy fool to King (Edward VI). The king, on hearing about her gift, asks her what she sees of him. Hannah replies that she sees the gates of heaven opening for him. Amused by her answer, the king accepts Hannah. Though unwilling, Hannah has to accept it and thus begins her life at court. Hannah becomes the Dudley family's vassal, performing tasks and errands for the Dudley family as requested.

Lord Robert sends her to spy on Lady Mary, King Edward's heir. She joins Mary's household, seeing a worn-out woman with a sad life. While there, they hear of King Edward's death and the Duke of Northumberland's plans to put his son, Guilford Dudley, and his wife, Lady Jane Grey, on the throne instead. Unfortunately the Duke's plans unravel when England declares for Mary so she takes the crown from her late brother, with Hannah by her side. Queen Mary is crowned, making Hannah overjoyed for her mistress but also heartbroken that Robert Dudley is in the Tower of London.

The rise to power of the future queen Elizabeth I is a key sub-plot in The Queen's Fool.

The jester Will Sommers, a real historical figure, teaches Hannah how to be an entertaining jester, as her older and more experienced colleague. Meanwhile, her betrothed, Daniel Carpenter, is annoyed that Hannah is in love with someone else. Hannah doesn't have anything against Daniel; she simply doesn't want to marry. She learns to deal with her romantic feelings and worries about Queen Mary's forthcoming marriage to Prince Philip of Spain, an enthusiastic supporter of the Inquisition. Hannah's father, Daniel and his family are concerned that Prince Philip will bring the Inquisition to England and insist on leaving. Daniel and Hannah previously agreed to marry on her 16th birthday but Daniel insists they marry on arriving in Calais, sealing it with a kiss. Hannah realises that she desires Daniel. When Queen Mary and Prince Philip marry – Hannah's father, Daniel and his family leave England. Hannah initially agrees to go too but changes her mind on seeing Princess Elizabeth going to the Tower of London, promising to join them in Calais when released from service to Queen Mary and Princess Elizabeth. Hannah slips back into court life, receiving a letter from Daniel declaring his love but is unsure how she feels about him.

Over a year later, Hannah is arrested for heresy and is taken for questioning. Luckily, the clerk is John Dee, her old friend. He gets the charges dropped, dismissing them as servants' gossip, and she returns to court but asks Daniel to come and collect her – no longer feeling safe. Daniel and her father collect her within a week and they sail to Calais. During the night, Hannah and Daniel declare their love for one another. When they arrive in Calais, Hannah starts dressing and behaving like a lady and is instructed in how to run a household by her mother-in-law. She and Daniel marry and live with their family but Hannah struggles to get on with Daniel's mother and sisters. Later, after an argument with her mother-in-law, she discovers Daniel has a son with a Gentile woman living in Calais. Furious, she confronts Daniel, who admits it and tells her that if she forbids it, he will never see the woman or their son again. Hannah cannot forgive him and leaves Daniel, asking her father to move out with her and start their own bookshop.

A few months later, Hannah's father dies and Daniel inherits everything but signs it over to Hannah. She runs the printing shop, taking her father's nurse as a lodger but flees when Calais falls to the French. Whilst escaping, she meets Robert Dudley and the mother of her husband's son. She begs Hannah to take her baby just before being killed by a French soldier. Hannah and her stepson flee to England under the protection of Lord Robert, staying with his wife, Amy, and friends of theirs. They suspect that Lord Robert is baby Daniel's father, treating Hannah accordingly, until she tells them that Daniel is her husband's son. Lord Robert is disappointed when Hannah refuses to be his mistress, having realising that Daniel is the love of her life. She returns to court and is welcomed by Queen Mary and Princess Elizabeth, performing errands for Mary again. Mary asks her to use her gift to see if Elizabeth will keep England in the true faith. Hannah tells her that Elizabeth won't, but she will be a better queen than she is a woman.

When the English prisoners are ransomed by the French, she returns to Calais to find her husband. He is released and promises to accept Hannah's son as his own until she tells that baby Daniel is his illegitimate son. They reunite and live together as a Jewish family – Hannah having come to realise the importance of her religion.

Daniel is a member of "The d'Israeli family, who in England go under the name of Carpenter" – hinting that Hannah and Daniel might eventually be among the distant ancestors of the 19th Century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, who was of Jewish origin.

Criticism[edit]

Portrayal of Mary Tudor: Gregory attempts to present Mary I in a sympathetic light, where in most other cases, she is demonised. In the novel, much of the blame for the Inquisition being brought to England is placed on her husband, Philip II of Spain, and her ministers, where Mary herself seems hardly at fault. Despite the fact that her own mother was burned at the stake for her religious beliefs, Hannah Green remains loyal and sympathetic to Mary, even though Mary has been burning Protestants. In addition, Mary is portrayed as much kinder to her younger half-sister Elizabeth than was the actuality. (They got along well enough before the death of Henry VIII, but Mary became increasingly hostile towards her younger half-sister upon ascending the throne, viewing her as a threat and the hope of the Protestants.)[2] Readers may either find this portrayal to be refreshing or untrue to history. Mary is given many negative overviews in later Protestant works, especially that of John Foxe. Some modern historians attempt to shed some light on this dark view by pointing out her difficult experiences in her later teenage years, particularly Alison Weir, while others, such as Joanna Denny, don't find a troubled childhood to be an adequate excuse for burning hundreds of men and women alive.

Portrayal of Hannah Green: Hannah is a young Jewish girl who fled the Inquisition in Spain with her father. She dressed as a boy on the voyage to avoid harassment and continued to do so once they arrive in England. This would technically be historically and religiously incorrect, because she is a Jew. The Torah, the Jewish holy book, forbids women to dress as men and vice versa. However, for a woman to dress as a man was banned also in the Christian Bible, and was still practiced by contemporary Christian women, so this would not separate her from other European woman of the time, as this sort of cross dressing was always an illegal an religiously banned act regardless of religion. Her mother was burned alive for practising a religion other than that of the Catholics. Becoming a royal fool and acting as a spy for both sides, she is caught up in the intrigues of the Tudor court.

Portrayal Elizabeth Tudor: Elizabeth I is portrayed in a harsher way than other depictions. During her sister's reign, though there was always the danger of being executed as a heretic, she seems to have been more worried that enough fabricated evidence would be produced to condemn her as being involved in the plot to set herself up on the throne.

During Mary's reign, there were numerous plots to replace Mary with Elizabeth, though there is no evidence that she participated in any of them.[3] Elizabeth was arrested, sent to the Tower but released after a few months and sent to Woodstock under house arrest as depicted. This was because there was never enough evidence to be absolutely sure that Elizabeth was involved in the rebellions attempting to put her on the throne.

In great contrast to the traditional portrait, "the Virgin Queen" is Gregory's picture of the young Elizabeth, whom Hannah dubbed as "little more than a whore." In the beginning, Elizabeth is shown to be flirting with and kissing Thomas Seymour, a man who was already married, and, in essence, betraying her stepmother.

Historically, Elizabeth went to live with her stepmother Catherine Parr after the death of Henry VIII. Parr had recently married Seymour, despite being only widowed for a few months, causing much disapproval from the English people. Seymour had originally sought to marry Elizabeth, but was refused permission by the king, so he settled for the second best: the late king's widow. However, this did not keep him from flirting heavily with the young princess in very inappropriate ways, such as entering her bedroom in his night shirt while she was still asleep, tickling her, and slapping her on the buttocks. Elizabeth was confused by this behaviour, sometimes acting as if it were a game, and at other times becoming offended.[4] She was fourteen at the time of these events, and Seymour was forty. Historian David Starkey refers to these events as "the most sordid episode of Elizabeth's life" and labels it as sexual abuse.[5] Catherine Parr did once join her husband in tickling Elizabeth, seemingly oblivious to mostly everything and likely interpreting it as mere family fun. However, she did eventually catch on, and sent her stepdaughter to a different residence to preserve what was left of her reputation, which was in shreds.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Natalie, Danford (1 March 2004). "Paperback Tradeoff". Publisher's Weekly. pp. 20–21. 
  2. ^ Behind the Mask: The Life of Elizabeth I by Jane Resh Thomas
  3. ^ Behind the Mask: The Life of Queen Elizabeth I by Jane Resh Thomas
  4. ^ Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey
  5. ^ Starkey, David, Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne, 2001. Pg 67.

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