Watch the Lady

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“For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds; Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds” – William Shakespeare, Sonnet 94.

Penelope Devereux is the most desired woman in Elizabeth’s court.

An infamous beauty, she is the Queen’s beloved goddaughter and favourite maid.

But things are not all as they appear. Scheming adulteress and enemy of state, Penelope is a marked women.

Robert Cecil, the Queen’s most trusted advisor, has vowed to destroy her family and he is not prepared to lose. But neither is Penelope.

And so commences a very treasonous battle for power and survival. 

Watch the Lady is the third novel by Tudor historical fiction author, Elizabeth Fremantle. It is also the third novel in her Tudor Court series.

The first book in the series and her début novel, The Queen’s Gambit, retells the story of Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife Katherine Parr.

Whilst the second story, Sisters of Treason, follows Lady Jane Grey’s sisters Katherine and Mary after she is executed for treason.

All three novels, whilst collectively part of a series, are actually unconnected in their narratives and can be read individually.

Fremantle currently lives in London, where she writes and also reviews fiction for the Sunday Express.

She has a first in English and an MA in Creative writing from Birkbeck, University of London and has written for a number of publications including: Vogue, Vanity Fair, The Wall Street Journal and both the Sunday and Financial Times.

Watch the Lady is a historical thriller based around the lives of the Devereux family and is partially first person narrated by their eldest daughter Penelope.

Penelope shares this narrative with Robert Cecil, who is the family’s main adversary.

The story is based upon historical detail, evidence and first person accounts taken from the second half of Elizabeth’s reign and Fremantle has tried to stick as close as possible, where she can, to the facts.

As far as Tudor fiction goes, it is a very sound and satisfying novel.

A particularly successful aspect of this book is that the historical fact has not been streamlined into simple black and white.

There generally aren’t any out right ‘goodies’ or ‘baddies’ which would simply be unrealistic and detrimental to the novel.

Even as the main character, Penelope has her faults and darker aspects of her personality.

She’s such an interesting character to have as a first person narrator, especially at the peak of her political astuteness, because she is so unpredictable and fascinating to follow.

It’s great to see her finally embodied in fiction, as she was a formidable historical figure who unfortunately is all to often lost in the shadows of her brother and other male relatives.

The Elizabethan court is naturally a great setting for any novel – a twisting hotbed of intrigue, betrayal and sabotage.

Furthermore, with the story line mainly set near the end of Elizabeth’s reign, the scramble to confirm power with Elizabeth’s unnamed successor heightens the dangerous concoction to fever pitch.

It makes for a very entertaining read and by the time I was at the last 150 pages I simply couldn’t put it down.

I would certainly recommend this novel to add some much needed excitement to any wet and dull summer afternoon.

Published by Penguin in February 2016, Watch the Lady retails at £7.99.

Fremantle’s latest novel, The Girl in the Glass Tower, recounts the tragic story of Arbella Stuart – niece of Mary Queen of Scots.

The novel was released by Penguin in both hard and paperback last Thursday, June 2 and also retails at £7.99.

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