Monday, December 22, 2008

71. The Other Queen

by Philippa Gregory

Gregory’s latest Tudor historical fiction focuses on (and is narrated, diary style, by) Mary, Queen of Scots during her years of confinement in England (1568-1587), and her jailer/hosts, George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, and his wife, the redoubtable Bess of Hardwick.

I learned a lot I didn’t know about these people, as well as more about Elizabeth I and her trusted advisor, William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley. Gregory paints the latter as a scheming upstart. She is sympathetic to Mary, but does acknowledge her weaknesses, particularly in her relationships with men. George is also portrayed as weak and hopelessly in love with Mary.

Bess is shown to be a tough woman, ahead of her time in independence and accumulation of wealth. Some readers might find her to be a pennypincher, but I could sympathize with her background and motives (despite her being a greedy anti-Catholic!). I found both Bess and Mary to be fascinating and I want to read more about them, and visit Bess’ homes at Chatsworth and Hardwick Hall.

I found some of Gregory’s statements through Bess to be quite interesting:
We Protestants have a God who rewards us directly, richly, and at once. It is by our wealth, our success, and our power that we know we are the chosen. (p. 76)
[Bess asks,] “Does not God Himself command us to use our talents? Does not our own success show that God has blessed us?”
She [Mary] smiles and shakes her head. “My God sends trials to those He loves, not wealth, but I see that your God thinks like a merchant.” (p. 85)
I am a Protestant. I will live and die a Protestant. My enemies will think that is because it has been a religion to profit me; cynics will point to my gold candlesticks and my lead mines and my coal mines and my stone quarries, and even to these stolen painted saints in my gallery. But what the cynics don’t understand is that these are the goods that God has given to me as a reward for the purity of my faith. (p. 294)

As well as this one through George:
”The reward for the English Protestants is power and wealth; that is all they care for. They think that God so loves them that their wealth is evidence that they are doing the right thing, beloved by God…My confessor would have called them pagans…My mother would have called them heretics…I cannot believe, as Bess does, as Cecil does, that we have a private insight into the mind of God….That we know everything, all by ourselves, and that the proof if this is the blessing of our own greed.” (p. 273)

I know Gregory was contrasting Protestants and Catholics in the Tudor era, but these descriptions make me think of the televangelists and megachurch leaders of today!

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