Virgin: Prelude to the Throne, Robin Maxwell
This is the "second" book in Maxwell's "trilogy" about Anne Boleyn and her daughter Elizabeth (the first being The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn and the last being The Queen's Bastard). I put those words in quotations because each book can stand on its own and one does not have to read the others that come before or after. Maxwell is a wonderful author and manages again to weave a very compelling story.
Virgin is the story of Elizabeth Tudor's teenage years while she is in the care of her stepmother Catherine Parr and her husband, the dashing Thomas Seymour. While the story is about a teenager none of the things that happen to the poor girl are things that should be happening to someone of that age. This story really shows the turmoil of her life at this period and her struggles with feelings that most teenage girls are going to have when they realize they have attracted the attention of a man. It really paints the whole relationship in an almost sinister light when viewed from Seymour's perspective. Their relationship is shown in a much more sensual way in this book compared to others I have read about the same period and it's easy to understand how Elizabeth's head was turned. I have never been a fan of Thomas Seymour and this one dropped him several more notches; he really comes across as a vile, sneaky, cold-hearted, ambitious man with his goal of snatching power from his older brother and achieving glory for himself. He even thinks he would be able to take the Crown himself! I truly felt sorry for Elizabeth when, in a pretty horrible situation, she finally realizes why Seymour showered so much attention on her. Maxwell does a very good job of showing Elizabeth as a girl who seems to want nothing more at this period of her life than to find someone to love and that loves her in return (and is that really surprising considering the way she was treated by her father?). After loosing her mother in the horrific way she did, struggling through the confusion she suffers in regards to her relationship with Seymour, and dealing with the constant threat of treason hanging over her head, it is no wonder that she acquired an aloof, almost cold appearance later in life but amazingly still was proud and every inch royalty. Even at the end, having barely escaped Seymour's snares with her life, there's the hint that things still will not be wonderful for the Princess once John Dudley is the power behind her brother's throne. I think this was a brilliant move on Maxwell's part; since the novel does not end with Elizabeth about to become queen she has given readers a hint that her life was still going to be full of danger for a while longer.
I would certainly recommend this to any lover of Tudor history and fans of Elizabeth. It is not a long book but it is wonderfully written, full of remarkable descriptions, and will tug at your emotions. Make sure to pick up Maxwell's other books that tell more of Elizabeth's story.