Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Spymater's Daughter

I have read a few books of Jeane Westin's and I wanted to read this book because it centered on Frances Sidney, the daughter of Elizabeth I's Secretary of State Walsingham.  He was in charge of a large spy network to protect the Queen.  The pope had given word to all Catholics that they could assassinate the Queen.  Elizabeth ascended the throne after the death of her very Catholic half sister Mary.  She was prepared to tolerate them until they forced her hand to more drastic measures.  The Catholics recognized Mary Stuart of Scotland as their queen, because the Pope viewed Elizabeth as illegitimate and therefore had no right to the throne.  Walsingham was for the Protestant cause and Elizabeth had to curb his passion for persecuting the Catholics.  They were not fined for going to church but for practicing Catholicism.  The Pope excommunicated Elizabeth and absolved her subjects from allegiance to her.  This is when things became dangerous for her.

Frances was at court for the height of all this- she was married to Phillip Sidney, a famous poet, and had been sent to court to serve Her Majesty.  It was in her blood to be an intelligencer like her father, but being a woman, she had to be careful to show her talents of ciphering.  Her marriage was a loveless one as her husband was in love with Lady Stella Rich, and while at court Frances tried finding herself.  She was tutored by Dr Dee and worked on ciphers secretly for her father.  At this time, Elizabeth and her cousin Mary of Scots were at war.  Her cousin had fled Scotland when Bothwell was said to have killed her first husband Darnley, and she fled to her cousin's safety.  Having tried claiming the throne before, she was a threat.  For 18 1/2 years she was imprisoned at various homes and castles.  Walsingham worked tirelessly to rid England of this Catholic threat to their sovereign.  His spies were busy at work reading her letters.

Frances had a servant, a Robert Pauley, who worked for her father.  Often together, she eventually fell in love with him.  They ended up on an adventure together, trying to catch Mary Stuart corresponding with Babington about assassinating the Queen.  Frances's husband Phillip, meanwhile, was at war against the Spanish fighting for the Protestant cause.  He was shot in the thigh and died of gangrene 26 days later, at age 32.  His funeral procession was so sumptuous it almost bankrupted his father in law Walsingham.  His poetry made him famous and he was well known.  He had recommended Essex to Frances, and so she was remarried to him.  Elizabeth was not pleased as he was one of her favorites, the stepson of her lifelong favorite Robert Dudley.  Essex was eventually executed in 1601 in a coup against the Queen.  It was likely not another love match.  She did marry once more, and had more children-- I believe 10 total but not all living.  France's children were the great-great grandchildren of England's best-known king.

My Thoughts:  This was a fun historical mystery, with big things happening.  Elizabeth eventually executed her cousin Mary Stuart, but always seemed to regret it.  It is likely her councillors including Walsingham pushed her to it.  Religion was never an easy thing for a sovereign, and Elizabeth had come to the throne trying to keep peace or a middle ground.  This book showed Elizabeth's unique behavior and that of those at the court.  Frances seemed to be smart but was used to being a pawn in the marrige world to whomever was advantageous to the family's status and wealth.  If she had been good at ciphering or intelligence work, I doubt her father Walsingham would have let her dabble in it.  The love story between Frances and Robert was nice, although fictional.  In other books I've read, Frances was in them briefly; she seems to have been quiet and biddable to her husband the Earl of Essex and his overpowering mother Lettice Knollys.  I hope her third marriage was happy and that she found joy in her children.  She is not a well known character it seems, but was present in an exciting time in history.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Threads: The Reincarnation of Anne Boleyn

I heard of this book while looking up other readers' blogs to compare them to my own, and I was intrigued so I put it on hold at the library.  Threads is a reincarnation fantasy about Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII.  It starts with her execution and then reviews her life with Henry and her family.  She is able to see her mistakes, her triumphs, her every moment.  Her debts are weighed in the balance against her good acts.  The author also shows Anne in several different lives, each one different from the other but all with a lesson in it for her.  This book focuses on love above all else and how we treat other people, as well as accountability.  There is foreshadowing in this book as well as allegorys, so you do have to pay attention.  It is thought provoking.

I devoured this book and read it in just days, it was so fascinating.  The Anne the author portrayed is different from the one most books show.  Most books and shows show her as demanding, ambitious, jealous, witty and bold.  This book shows a side to her that made me feel more for her, almost sad.  In this book it showed Anne being raped in France, which later led to her mistrust of men and disinterest in sex.  She was very much in love with Henry Percy and her heart was broken when Wolsey, by orders of the King, had their betrothal undone.  She was interested in King Henry, but also thought most the time it was a game.  Anne did fall in love with him, but never thought it would go that far.  What I found a key and vital point, is that Henry would not let her go and did everything he could to marry her.  Anne was the one that paid the price, very heavily too.

She lost all her friends, had lies spread about her, people hated her everywhere and called her 'whore', her own family abandoned her, she was blamed for his divorce to Katherine and his daughter Mary hating her, people accused her of poisoning the Queen and others, she was accused of the King breaking off from the Pope and Rome to create the new church, Mary was declared a bastard for her daughter Elizabeth, and the abbeys and monasteries were ransacked and disbanded, and many also died in her name.  Anne had lost her power by then and was friendless, and all alone.  She had to endure much, and did not gain much.  She was made Queen and had one daughter, but the price was above and beyond.  It made me feel sad for her and more angry towards the King.  She did many good works too which are not usually noted.

The character of Anne was developed so well and intrigued me.  Her every emotion and her childhood with hard parents and loving nurses, was well wrote out so I felt I truly knew Anne.  She did became a shrew with the King after the birth of her daughter, largely I believe in fear for not having had a son.  For this reason it seems she inevitably pushed away the King, and led to her downfall.  She was not raised to be a Queen, but a noblewoman, which was very different.  She was ultimately, not suited to the task.  And failed.  She never thought he would kill her, but divorce her, yes.  It is amazing what rumors can do because she was accused of having incest even with her own brother, and affairs with several men.  They all paid the price with their death. 

A few interesting points which I still ponder on, is if King Henry was either schizophrenic or had brain issues from having syphilis or diabetes.  He was not able to have more than one child with any of his first three wives, which could very well have been a result from either of these.  He also later had a jousting injury which could have further damaged his brain.  His actions were at times horrific, ever changing and not stable.  But he was King, and could do as he pleased.  I admit to always being fascinated with Anne, because I always wondered her motives and true feelings.  Through history, many still hate her but are also intrigued.  King Henry I think was the real monster, but the blame doesn't seem to lay as heavy with him.  Unjust as the times were, women were often blamed for the deformity of children or stillborn or miscarriages.  Anne became pregnant four times so it was highly unlikely she had affairs.

When Anne told the King she refused to be his mistress and said either she would be his wife or nothing, in the book it shows that she thought it was a game and that he would truly back down.  She did not know what a gamble those words were because he moved heaven and earth to marry her.  Their courtship was several years long as they waited for the divorce of Katherine and all the changes that were made.  This vital and key turning point always made me wonder- was Anne really that ambitious, or did she truly think the King would scoff and then abandon the course?  Anne had witnessed her sister Mary as the King's mistress, and then was heart broken when he tired of her.  That is perhaps one reason she denied being his mistress.  It is also interesting to note that the people called her 'whore' even before anything had happened.  And they did not love her anymore even after they married and she was declared Queen.

I guess a triumph and hopefully consolation for Anne, is when her daughter Elizabeth became Queen of England for over 40 years.  It does give me a sense of pleasure that King Henry never had a healthy male child, but that Anne's was the strong one he wanted all along.  Irony.  The book did have a lot of sexual scenes I could have done without personally, so if you read this be aware of that.  The reincarnations were interesting but some disturbing to read.  In it all, I found the portrayal of Anne to be most fascinating and the lessons she would learn over and over sometimes, remarkable.  The explanation of life after death was also interesting for me to read.  I mostly enjoyed reading about Anne's life and some of her "other lives" so this is recommended if you are interested in reading about Anne and her story.  Did Anne every forgive Henry for killing her?  That is the big question.