Saturday, November 20, 2010

The King's Daughter

The daughter of James I, Elizabeth, who became Elizabeth of Bohemia and the mother of Prince Rupert, has been given a first-person voice in Christie Dickerson’s novel, The King’s Daughter.  Elizabeth is also the granddaughter of Mary Queen of Scots, daughter of James VI of Scotland and I of England, who signed his mother’s death warrant, a bisexual, profligate monarch who wears a padded shirt due to his pathological fear of assassins. A paranoia which extends to his children, whom he separates from himself and each other due to his fear and jealousy.

When Elizabeth’s father tells her that his philosophy is never to trust anyone, she learns quickly that this adage includes herself and her two brothers, the beautiful and popular blond, handsome heir, Henry Prince of Wales, and Baby Charles, who at this stage was not expected to become the Charles I who ultimately became The Martyr King.

The story opens with Elizabeth’s being approached by Lord Digby outside Combe Abbey, who tells her she ‘Must be Queen’. Frightened and confused, she refuses to co-operate and when the conspiracy of the Catholic Gunpowder plot to destroy King James and Prince Henry and put Elizabeth on the throne is discovered, King James suspects her of trying to usurp his throne and she is ‘examined’ by his secretary, Robert, ‘Wee Bobby’ Cecil, and is forced to watch the hanging, drawing and quartering of the plotters so her reaction can be gauged, despite the fact she is not yet ten years old.

Ms Dickason’s portrayal of James I is exactly what I have learned about this profligate, obsessive, physically unattractive man with a penchant for young boys. She writes a scene where he hurls a diamond into the Thames to show Elizabeth he cares nothing for wealth, then sends a team of servants to dredge the river to retrieve the gem.  Elizabeth is warned that those close to her cannot be trusted, ‘everyone is someone’s creature’ and she has virtually no one she can confide in.

Historical biographicals are complicated to write, in that some readers like a lot of fiction to pad out the boring parts of true life events, whereas others require the author stick religiously to the known facts. There is a great deal of fiction in this story, specifically the young Elizabeth’s friendship with Thalia Bristo, the Ethiopian lute player who takes her to a brothel in Southwark to educate her on sex. She and Thalia make a list of her suitors and the slave girl is sent on a mission to obtain information and likenesses of these men so Elizabeth can decide on a favourite. I doubt any aspect of this friendship occurred, but I didn’t care and I thoroughly enjoyed delving into the two girl’s thoughts as they established a bond. A bond that Elizabeth decides must be broken to save Thalia’s life and so she sends her to the Americas.

I found no difficulty in separating the fictional aspects from the real history, and it appeals to me to think that Elizabeth was strong enough, as Ms Dickason writes, to confront her dreadful father to demand some say in whom she marries.  I found it added to the romance that she and Frederick, Elector Palatine formed an immediate close bond and were both determined to marry, which finally happens after several false alarms when Elizabeth is seventeen. Their courtship is endearing and sweet and this was reputed to be a true life love match as Elizabeth and Frederick had thirteen children, including Prince Rupert of the Rhine, even though her own life as Queen of Bohemia had its own tragedies.

The only criticism I would have, other than that the plot is a padded out at times with lots of introspection so could do with some editing, is that Elizabeth’s character doesn’t change much during the course of the novel, so the nine-year-old girl has the same inner voice at the seventeen-year-old bride.

Elizabeth’s love for her elder brother Henry was touching, although the poor young man seemed to have no faults at all, but then he died young so probably had no time to develop any. But then, when a Prince of Wales dies in his teens, I doubt any court recorder would dare to speak ill of him! Unsurprisingly, Elizabeth shows some of her Father’s paranoia, in that she believes the King may have poisoned Henry, whom she adored and wouldn’t balk at killing her too.

Ms Dickason's concept of Anne of Denmark, Elizabeth’s mother, was of a cold, emotionally damaged woman who tells her daughter that when her babies were removed from her to be raised by someone else prevented her having any feelings for them. She goes on to display this with crushing detachment in that she cannot spare a kind word or look for her only surviving daughter. However, history also says that Elizabeth herself was a disinterested mother, being more interested in her moneys and pet dogs than her large brood of children

If you don’t mind a large dose of imagination mixed in with recorded history, The King’s Daughter is a lovely story to escape into. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it kept my attention so even with 468 pages I completed it in two days.

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