The Queen’s Fool by Philippa Gregory
Dates Read: 16/03/2021-02/04/2021
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
OK, hands up from the outset. I’m an absolute sucker for anything Tudor (or Plantagenet for that matter). Blame the history teaching at Northfield Junior School back in the 70s. Somehow they made it real and interesting and alive and I’ve now accepted that I’m always going to be seduced by any book set in this era.
I’ve read quite a few (as you can imagine) different authors writing historical fiction, but for some years now, Philippa Gregory has been my favourite. I really enjoy her prose style and that her protagonists tend to be the women, often not the central players but always portayed as influential to the powerful men of the era – as mothers, sisters, wives or even, as in this instance, the imagined Fool.
Actually, two of the powerful characters in the Queen’s Fool are women – Mary and Elizabeth Tudor, both queens and the last two monarchs of the dynasty. The Queen of the title is Mary, and we see her rise to her peak and then fall as she is overshadowed by Elizabeth. The Fool has the confidence and ear of both of them and provides a good medium for us to hear the voice of both sides.
The full horror of the Spanish Inquisition is brought to England and to life because of the Fool’s Jewish heritage – we learn that she’s fled from Spain to England as her mother has been burned at stake as a heritic very early in the novel, and consequently the smell and smuts of fire accompany her throughout. The horror of the consequences of not conforming to state approved norms actually resonates pretty well in 2021, as the Fool’s world is driven to not publicly question or defy those norms. Hope exists in those who question the narratives – from flat earth to geocentricity to witchcraft and medicine.
I’m no expert but Ms Gregory’s work always feels well researched and while, undoubtedly embellished by imagination, true to real events. I almost always enjoy her work and this is no different. It’s another lengthy read (why do I seem to have picked so many of them this year?) but compelling, at least to me. So it’ll be a while before I read another of her works, I’ve only got a limited number unread now so I tend to ration them and give her chance to catch up with writing new material!