This novel, as you can guess from the title, is based on the idea that Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, may have had a daughter. Although there’s no real evidence to support this claim, it was apparently rumoured that Elizabeth, as a young princess, had secretly given birth to an illegitimate child who might have been fathered by Thomas Seymour, her stepmother Katherine Parr’s husband. Elizabeth was also linked throughout her life with Robert Dudley and so another theory is that he could have been the baby’s father.
The Virgin Queen’s Daughter is narrated by Elinor de Lacey (Nell), Elizabeth’s newest lady-in-waiting, a young woman who shares Elizabeth’s hair colour and love of books and learning. Nell was brought up in the countryside by John and Thomasin de Lacey, believing them to be her parents, but after her arrival at court she begins to make some discoveries about her past. Could Nell be Elizabeth’s secret daughter?
If you’ve read lots of Tudor fiction I’m not sure The Virgin Queen’s Daughter offers anything very new, but although I’ve read quite a few Tudor novels I’m not at the point where I’m bored with the period yet and so I really enjoyed this book. Although I find it hard to believe that someone in Elizabeth’s position could have concealed the fact that she was pregnant and kept the birth of her child a secret, I still thought it was an interesting subject for a historical fiction novel.
Many of the famous names of the Tudor/Elizabethan period are here: as well as Elizabeth I herself, there’s Robert Dudley, the “spymaster” Francis Walsingham, the mathematician and astrologer John Dee, Elizabeth’s beloved governess Kat Ashley, and several of the Queen’s ladies – Lettice Knollys, Isabella Markham and Mary Grey (sister of Lady Jane Grey). But the strongest characters in the book are the fictional ones: Nell de Lacey and one of the noblemen she meets at court, Sir Gabriel Wyatt. Nell is an interesting and intelligent narrator – like the Queen she enjoys reading and studying, things women were not usually encouraged to do at that time. And Gabriel was such a great character I was a bit disappointed that he didn’t really exist!
I thought Ella March Chase did a good job of portraying the intrigue and danger of life at court, where you never knew who could and could not be trusted, and where anyone believed to be a threat to the Queen could find themselves locked in the Tower. And with two of the main characters being fictional, the author could take their story in some unexpected directions, which added plenty of tension and suspense to the novel.
The Virgin Queen’s Daughter doesn’t really stand out from other historical fiction novels of this type, but overall it was a fun and entertaining read which I would recommend to fans of Philippa Gregory, Alison Weir or Karen Harper.