Young Bess by Margaret Irwin is the first book in a trilogy about Queen Elizabeth I of England. It was first published in 1944. I’ve been reading quite a lot of historical fiction recently, I think it’s because they take you well away from the worries of today and Covid-19 although having said that they do often mention plagues and fevers. I thought that maybe this book would be disappointing after reading The Mirror and the Light – but it wasn’t, I really enjoyed it and have ordered the next one in the series.
I’ve read a fair amount about the Tudor period but hadn’t read anything about the early life of Elizabeth, who was known as Bess and I was really pleased to read that Margaret Irwin was well known for the accuracy of her historical research.
The book begins when Bess is 12 years old and her father King Henry VIII is coming to the end of his life. Henry seems to have accepted that he will only have one son – the nine year old Edward to keep the Tudor line going and is rather dismissive of his two older daughters, both of whom have been deemed to be illegitimate.
Bess is very aware of what happened to her mother, Anne Boleyn. She’s keen to hear what her mother was really like from people who knew Anne. She realises that only her sickly half brother Edward and her sister Mary stand between her and the throne. But when Tom Seymour, brother of the late Jane Seymour begins to flirt with Bess and her step-mother Katherine Parr his actions incense those in the highest circles. They can see that he’s determined to grab power one way or another. It looks like madness but as his brother Edward Seymour had made himself ‘Protector’ of the young King Edward after the death of Henry, presumably Tom thought he had some protection himself. He couldn’t have been more wrong. This was a great read.
Again I had to resort to reading my copy of the Chamber’s Biographical Dictionary to remind myself what actually happened in the end to some of the characters in the book, I just couldn’t wait to see what happened next. I’m so looking forward to getting the second book in this series – Elizabeth, Captive Princess.