The Other Queen by Phillipa Gregory

Phillipa G

This weekend I headed back to Canterbury, town of misspent University Youth for my friend’s birthday. The highlight was heading to Whitstable and doing some of the most wonderfully kitsch shopping. We had lunch in Samphire, which has now become a regular stop whenever we go there. It serves amazing British food – I chowed down on Pork and Hop sausages with mash and braised red cabbage! Yum!

Then we went to the Clothes Horse which is this cute little shop that sells all sorts of jewellery, cute hair items and beautiful boutique clothing [got a wedding this summer – voila!]. Finally I headed to Harbour Books to start stocking up for upcoming reviews! It was an absolutely blissful day only mildly scuppered by the fact that the ‘nautical’ look I had decided to go for [don’t judge me, I get excited about the seaside] was not actually made for the high seas. I was freezing in my pumps and blazer. Perhaps I have turned into a crazy tourist rather than a hardy resident.

We then headed back to our old haunt Canterbury, which if I get drunk enough makes me feel like I am 18 again – and act like it. Unfortunately, nearer 28 my drunken antics are best left out of this week’s column only so much as to say that I have a recollection of dancing up Canterbury high street to my iPhone singing ‘I am the one and only’ by dear old Chesney Hawkes – phone music – not just for chavs eh?

To me Canterbury is a bubble – a magical time warp I can go back to and get inexplicably drunk and misbehave myself. This is odd seeing as Canterbury houses some of the most religious places in the country. Perhaps I feel that London is just too cool to behave like that? Maybe.  One thing I do know is that no matter how drunk I get I have gained the valuable ability to walk in 3 inch stilettos on cobbled ground while inebriated at University which is extremely impressive.  My parents would have probably liked me to have got a 2.1 instead. You can’t have everything  and life skills are important.

Now to the review! This week I have picked an author that I began reading during University. I remember this quite clearly because I tried to answer a question in a seminar group based on a historical fact from her novels. Thankfully Philippa Gregory researches well [this gives you some insight as to why I got a 2.2] and I managed to blag my way through to studying Classics and Archaeology yet another day!

Gregory has the natty ability to combine chick-lit with historical novel in a plausible way – there is nothing worse than an ill researched historical novel. If there are gaping holes in the research then there are gaping holes in the story line.

Mary Queen of Scots is the subject of the book The Other Queen; it begins with her flight from Scotland to escape the rebels. She hands over her life to her cousin Queen Elizabeth in the hope that she will help reinstate her as Queen of Scotland.

Queen Elizabeth is a monarch looking to stabilise her kingdom, and the future of the British monarchy does not include a Scottish Queen.  The Catholic Queen has something in her armoury though, a son, James, who will be the heir to the throne if childless Elizabeth dies. Could the people of England have her as their Queen instead?

Whilst Elizabeth wrestles with the emotions and strength she must summon to decide the fate of her cousin Mary, she places her prisoner in the hands of George Talbot and his new wife Bess of Hardwick. The couple think that housing Mary will bring the wealth and status even to exceed their current standing but instead they are caught at the front of the battle between two queens. Both believing they are ordained by god to rule with two religions, two countries and family ties to pull and push them together they go head to head.

It seems no one can stop the pull that beautiful Mary has over her captor George and the once trusted household comes under suspicion from Queen Elizabeth. Bess of Hardwick is the third strong woman in the tale, she has raised herself up to the top of Tudor society and she won’t let her world crumble now. Even if it means betraying her husband to win back the Elizabeth’s trust, she must do what needs be done. Finally the Queen sends her spy-master Cecil to doom Mary to her well known fate but can he resist the charms of the beautiful Scottish Queen who would rather die than not rule her kingdom? Perhaps Bess’ actions will seal the fate of the nation for him.

The book is a thrilling read covering the entire tale of Mary’s demise and how close Elizabeth came to losing her throne for yet another time. Although the history is a huge part of this book the three string of women will captivate you, they were probably the three most important women in Britain at that time and their story is told beautifully from each of their points of view. In an era when women were the weaker sex this book shows how three of them broke the mould. Even those adverse to history will be entertained.

Author: Rohini Wahi

Rohini is a London based freelance journalist and trend forecaster for the design industries. She has worked for Elle Decoration, Living Etc, Houzz and Design Sponge amongst others.

She loves a period drama and keeps a tidy home. Launched in 2007 The Beat That My Heart Skipped focuses on home inspirations, design trends, lifestyle and food – coupled with an insight into Rohini’s work and home life – from key picks at trade shows to styled weekend soirees. To contact Rohini for queries, work for hire or just to say hi drop her a line at

3 Comments on The Other Queen by Phillipa Gregory

  1. Ali
    Wednesday, March 10th, 2010 15:57 at 3:57 pm (10 years ago)

    Hey, this is weird, I too have wonderful university memories of Canterbury! And some best seen through the mists of time. spent a lot of time in a VERY cold house in Whitstable too.

  2. ra
    Wednesday, March 10th, 2010 19:52 at 7:52 pm (10 years ago)

    Aaah Canterbury my home town – what a lovely surprse to read your post on it. Oh yes those cobbled streets….

  3. Becky
    Wednesday, March 17th, 2010 12:13 at 12:13 pm (10 years ago)

    Love this book! Will lend you more the next time I drag you back to Canters! Reading the Constant Princess at the moment.

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