Mar 8, 2010

Book Review: Young Bess by Margaret Irwin

Young Bess by Margaret Irwin
Product ISBN: 9781402229961
Price: $14.99
Publication Date: March 2010 Reissue, original publication date 1944
Review Copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating:Four Stars


"Young Elizabeth Tudor lives in the shadow of her infamous mother, Anne Boleyn. Declared a bastard and banished from her father’s court, young princess Elizabeth has become adept at dodging the constant political games and royal whims that ensure her situation is never secure.

After Henry VIII’s death, Elizabeth is taken in by the king’s last wife, Katherine Parr, and Katherine’s new husband, Tom Seymour. But handsome Tom is playing for higher stakes. Marrying a widowed queen is one thing, but courting the King’s daughter and second in line to the throne is another. Seymour pursues the adolescent Elizabeth, as she finds herself dangerously attracted to him. And with her brother’s death, Elizabeth faces a perilous and uncertain future with danger encroaching from all sides…"

Young Bess is a story that is familiar to many Tudor fans, as it focuses on Tudor times that surrounded Elizabeth I as she was growing up. Although this is a historical novel, I found it full of interesting facts regarding the important players of the time, but it was written in such a way that it felt like Margaret was right here telling us the story as she knew it. Originally written in 1944, I didn't find the prose too outdated, except for a few mentions of the word 'gay' which has now been turned from meaning happy and joyful into something of a sexual leaning. In fact, it is such an easy verse that I would not hesitate to recommend this to young adult readers as well, which perhaps this audience was intended by Margaret Irwin in the first place.

The one major theme in my reading for the past few years has been Tudor related. I almost always enjoy a story regarding Tudor times, and this was no exception, as I completed this novel over a span of 36 hours, reading pieces here and there. The fact that this novel was written in 1944 probably appeals to me more simply due to the sheer respectability of its nature, for lack of a better word. I enjoy reading the older prose as it seems more authentically written. The story of Bess as she falls in love with Thomas Seymour was written as if it were quite scandalous, as it should have been, yet it was not done in a bawdy nature. The overall tone of the book was to display the political upheaval of the time: Henry VIII and his six wives were no longer, his last wife Catherine Parr died soon after giving birth to Tom Seymour's daughter. Elizabeth was portrayed almost as being a typical teenager, with the devil-may-care attitude, until she ultimately matures and discovers the ultimate goal of her life, which was to become the Queen of England.

Those readers who are hoping for the simple coming of age story of young Elizabeth will be disappointed. Although this read does give insight into what might have been going through Bess' mind, there are almost full chapters where Young Bess is not mentioned at all. Instead, it would focus on the other people who were ultimately having a profound effect on England.

There was Elizabeth's younger brother, Edward, who became the King of England at age nine. Therefore, Edward Seymour, also called Somerset after his estate, is featured in abundance, not just because he is Tom Seymour's brother, but because he was the Protector of the Realm during Edward's early minority. I found Somerset to be a very interesting character, along with his wife Anne who was the one who ruled the husband. A very interesting back story to be sure, and is one that I would like to research further. Thankfully, there was not a lot on Elizabeth's much older sister, Mary, but I have a feeling that in the second installment of this trilogy Mary will feature quite prominently as she is one who rules after young King Edward passes. Of course, we cannot forget Lady Jane Grey, who is mentioned in Young Bess as more of a rival to the young Elizabeth and less as a friend. Also mentioned is the governess Katherine Ashley, and although Bess seemed distressed that she was imprisoned, at other times Ms. Ashley seemed taxing on Bess' patience, which is in opposition to countless reports of how Elizabeth and Kat doted on each other. But at this point as Bess was a teenager, Irwin's retelling seems to ring true.

I enjoyed the way that Elizabeth's brother Edward VI was portrayed, as a child thrust into such an exalted position, yet, still as a child, felt he had no control over certain matters. His uncles, the three Seymour brothers, were prominent in the story as Edward struggles with his uncles and ultimately tires of them. Two of the three Seymour brothers are executed once the novel is done. Edward always complained he had too many uncles! Towards the end of the novel, John Dudley was holding the reins for Edward while he patiently waited for Edward to die. It was not a great stopping point for the novel, but the next installment will be reissued in October, and the last one comes in April 2011. I will be sure to read them all, this was an informative and entertaining read and I am going to look into some more of Margaret Irwin's works. Young Bess is a must read for anyone interested in the Tudor times and to get a feel for what it was like to Elizabeth I as she grew up without a real home or many loved ones.


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