Review published on July 6, 2017.
Through the voice of Arabella Stuart, we are transported back to 16th century England to follow the intriguing life of an intelligent and educated royal figure who some have described as the best queen we never had; one who helped to quietly modernise women’s lives.
Being niece to the unmarried Elizabeth I, great-granddaughter of Henry VIII and niece to Mary Queen of Scots, she was from a very tender age viewed as the next true heir to the throne. The value placed upon her royal blood meant there were designs to plan her marriage from as early as the tender age of nine. However, the Scottish cousin James was also in contention and much can transpire between childhood and adulthood.
Brought up by her stern and calculating grandmother, the reality of being such a royal heir essentially meant a life of control and enduring confinement at Hardwick Hall, with vultures circulating to best use her in their ambitions, some seeing her as someone who could be converted to Catholicism.
Freemantle’s depiction is one of a complicated character. One who feeds her mind, but not necessarily her body. She is really quite alone, socially isolated and therefore little able to form meaningful relationships. Moreover, a minor indiscretion in such times could turn fate and fortune into a perilous situation, so there were few to trust. She writes prolifically and has a love for poetry. Dalliances with court life are not a time of enjoyment for her either…
Another lesser known real character, Aemilia Lanyer, is also focused upon in this book. She was a professional poet, another influential woman, fictionally aligned to Arabella for this engaging account of events. And it works well. The writing is completely absorbing from start to finish. It is easy to connect to both characters, despite Arabella’s needing to portray an unfeeling persona. Freemantle brings a fascinating and influential woman to life in what was then very much a dangerous, man’s world.
Sara Garland 4/4
The Girl in the Glass Tower by Elizabeth Fremantle
Penguin 9781405920049 pbk Feb 2017