The Queen's Bastard, Robin Maxwell
This was the sequel to Maxwell's The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn (which I have read and loved and intend on posting a review here) and it covered a controversial subject - the idea that Elizabeth and Robert Dudley had a child, Arthur. The book is set up almost like a frame story: part is Arthur's memoirs and the other part is an omniscient third-person telling of Elizabeth and Dudley's story. While I really don't buy into the theory (and I have now read three books that present this theory as part of the plot) this was an enjoyable, interesting, and well written read.
It is still early in Elizabeth's reign and she and Dudley are indeed lovers. When she discovers that she is pregnant, Elizabeth is determined to have the baby and hide it until she can name the child as her successor. She then sets about hiding the fact that she's pregnant and arranging to travel around the country on progress to remote manors when it is impossible to hide the fact. However, her loyal lady Kat Ashley and William Cecil think that the Queen's plan will never work; that she'll never be able to hide the child and enemies might be able to use him or her against the Queen. They come up with a plan to protect Elizabeth and England: to switch the baby at birth with a stillborn child and place Elizabeth and Dudley's child with an adoptive family. Amazingly, they are successful and Elizabeth and Robert believe their child died at birth. This loss cements their love for each other and, despite the turmoils their relationship goes through over the years, they remain devoted to one another.
Meanwhile, Arthur is brought up by a close friend of Kat Ashley - Robert Southern. While Arthur's "father" loves him his "mother" hates him and really makes his life difficult. He is quite the horseman and the highlight of his young life is when he gets to show off his skills for the Queen and Leicester. Arthur eventually joins the military and goes to fight against Spain in the Netherlands, where he meets William of Orange. This meeting seems to have a profound influence on the young man's ways of looking at things in the world. It is while he is in the Netherlands that he learns that his father is dying and he hurries home. On his deathbed, Robert Southern reveals to Arthur the circumstances of his birth. Obviously in shock, Arthur debates what to do and finally goes and presents himself to Robert Dudley. It doesn't take long for Dudley to realize this is his son but cautions Arthur not to reveal himself to Elizabeth yet. Arthur then becomes a spy, working for his father and Walsingham in Spain. In Spain he is injured and falls in love with the lady that nurses him back to health. Eventually he is caught and thrown in prison, left to die when Phillip realizes this most likely is Elizabeth's son and thus a threat to his plans for the English throne. Arthur manages to escape, thanks to the family of his lady love, and ends up on a ship in the Spanish Armada where he is able to do some sabotage before finally being discovered and jumps overboard to be picked up by an English ship. It is after this that Dudley and Arthur go to Elizabeth and reveal his identity. She wants to name him as her heir but he, politely, declines saying it just isn't the life for him. She gives him money and he sets off for the New World in order to find his lady and her family, where they have moved to avoid persecution for their religion.
Maxwell is a fantastic storyteller and this was a well written book with characters that had enough depth that you actually cared what happened to them and you wanted to keep reading to see what would eventually be the outcome. There is an Arthur Dudley in history who claimed to be the son of Elizabeth and Dudley but there is not much about him and he disappears from history after he ends up in a Spanish prison. Maxwell managed to take what little information there was and weave a very intriguing background for this young man. There was nothing in the story that made me think it was too over the top or far fetched. The characters all behaved in a way that I would pretty much expect from those known so well to history and the fictional characters were quite believable. This book only received 3.5 roses, however, for just a few reasons. One was some of the pages and pages of Arthur's memoirs dealing with his time in the Netherlands, some of which I felt really didn't need to be in there as it didn't move the storyline along any (only some of it, other parts of his time there is essential to his development). The second reason was because of the ending which I felt was a bit abrupt. I would have liked a bit more of Arthur's story once he got to the New World and since there is no more record of him in history there would have been nothing wrong with extending his tale a bit further. Overall though it is a good read and I would recommend it to anyone interested in Elizabeth, especially if they are interested in reading stories that play into the pregnancy theory (and this one, in my opinion is better than the other two that I have read that use the possible pregnancy as part of their storyline). Maxwell takes a rumor and, through excellent writing, makes it seem like it could be possible.