Independent choice

Tudor tales

Was the first Queen Elizabeth a sexy manipulator, a wise and just ruler, a pitiful woman traumatised by maternal deprivation, a passionate lover, a fearful despot, a woman with a past - or all of these at different times? And did she indulge in a bit of lesbian comfort in old age? The 16th century is well-trodden fictional ground but that hasn't stopped three more novelists from leaping into the murky realms of Tudor skulduggery.

The olive-skinned, black-eyed Emilia Lanier of Michael Baldwin's Dark Lady (Little, Brown, pounds 16.99) is half-Italian and a writer of poetry. From her unashamed necromancy, this resilient woman draws the strength to override the many assaults she undergoes. Not only is she mistress of the revolting Lord Hunsdon, the Lord Chamberlain, but she is also involved with a young man named Will Shakespeare. Marlowe and The Earl of Southampton are on the sidelines. So is Elizabeth, depicted as a disease-ridden but shrewd old warrior.

Baldwin aptly subtitles Dark Lady "a Shakespearean novel" because, of course, his fictional contention is that Shakespeare's Dark Lady Sonnets were inspired by Emilia. What impresses, however, is Baldwin's ingenious language, full of Shakespearean undertones, echoes and references. What fun he must have had. He has certainly found a neat way of breaking down the disorienting sense of linguistic anachronism that bedevils so many historical novels.

The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn by Robin Maxwell (Oriel, pounds 5.99) presents Elizabeth, aged 26 and passionate. A gothic old crone arrives cornily from the past and secretly presents the Queen with her mother's diary. This journal forms most of the narrative as Elizabeth learns that the image she has been fed of her mother as a philandering traitor is false. Anne had loved the baby daughter from whom she was separated shortly after birth, first by convention and then by execution.

It's a mildly intriguing idea: the diary device enables Maxwell to offer sensible theories about Elizabeth's unaccountable decisions. Maxwell, however, is American and her language grates trans-Atlantically against the grain of how we fondly imagine Tudor speech. And what a pity that neither she nor her publisher recognised the Adrian Mole-esque comic potential of that title.

A much more enjoyably grown-up novel is the crisply written Unicorn's Blood by Patricia Finney (Orion, pounds 16.99), which follows her first Elizabethan thriller, Firedrake. Mary Queen of Scots is Elizabeth's prisoner; Walsingham et al want her executed; Elizabeth has grave doubts. A secret book made when Elizabeth was 14 contains incriminating secrets. Although the Book of the Unicorn is missing, a number of people know of its existence. He who has it will wield undreamt-of power over the Queen. The result is a skilful and highly entertaining Frederick Forsyth-type web of twists and deceit in which no one knows whom she or he can trust.

At the beginning are lots of apparently disparate facets: an amnesiac tortured in the Tower; a former nun turned sewage collector and abortionist; Thomasina the dwarf-spy; Bethany, the Queen's favourite maid of honour and bed-fellow. All of this - and more - Finney teases out tantalisingly before letting the reader see how they jigsaw together, in an unusually satisfying read.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

    £600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

    Commercial Litigation Associate

    Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

    Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

    £65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

    Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

    £40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

    Day In a Page

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little