The sisters Mary and Elizabeth, heirs of Henry VIII’s English empire, endure a tragic battle of wit and will in Brandy Purdy’s The Tudor Throne. As the daughter of the Spanish Catholic queen Catherine of Aragon, Mary has inherited her mother’s dour and devout nature. Elizabeth, only child of Anne Boleyn, is spirited like her mother, a source of painful memories for Mary. Both women knew happiness in earlier times as the darlings of their father and have witnessed Henry’s subsequent abandonment of their mothers in pursuit of other women. Despite their commonalities and a series of shared tragedies, distinct differences in personality will not allow Mary and Elizabeth to trust each other for long.
The novel opens with the death of their father, leaving them to an uncertain future. The only assurance each has is that their younger brother, Edward, will inherit the throne as the son of Henry’s third wife. His courtiers, including the rapacious Edward and Thomas Seymour, want to ensure their ascendancy and keep England out of the sphere of Catholic influence. As a Protestant, Elizabeth holds similar beliefs. Mary fears for the future of her country and thinks any path but Catholicism will lead to England’s ruin. The sisters each discover how dangerous the Seymour men can be, as Thomas tries to entangle both in his schemes. Elizabeth pays the harshest price with her reputation constantly questioned by everyone, including Mary.
The sudden death of King Edward throws the kingdom into chaos. Factions at court put a bewildered Jane Grey on the throne for a short time, ignoring Mary’s claim as elder sister. When Mary finally ascends, she faces hard choices that imperil the lives of those whom she once claimed to care for, including Elizabeth. Although Elizabeth appears to submit, her defiant nature will allow her to give up the dream of claiming the throne for herself one day.
The relationship between Mary and Elizabeth is fraught with tension, deception and missed opportunities. Mary’s portrayal as a woman with natural affection for her family, including her siblings of half-blood, gives way to her religious fanaticism. Still, she is sympathetic as a woman shunned by her father, his court and even her husband in later years. Her slow descent into paranoid fear and judgment is heartbreaking. Elizabeth shines as a vivacious young woman and while her later experiences are painful life lessons, she appears less sympathetic for her willful disregard of how much trouble her actions can cause. There are a few instances where she deliberately provokes Mary that suggests too much youthful recklessness. Still, at her heart, she is devoted to her people and country, willing to put their interests first.
I would recommend The Tudor Throne for lovers of historical fiction in the Tudor period. Those who have ready Ms. Purdy’s previous titles in the same era will enjoy a chance for new perspective on old characters, and learn about new ones.