|His Last Letter, available August 3, 2010|
One of the greatest loves of all time-between Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley-comes to life in this vivid novel.
They were playmates as children, impetuous lovers as adults-and for thirty years were the center of each others' lives. Astute to the dangers of choosing any one man, the Virgin Queen could never give her "Sweet Robin" what he wanted most-marriage- yet she insisted he stay close by her side. Possessive and jealous, their love survived quarrels, his two disastrous marriages to other women, her constant flirtations, and political machinations with foreign princes.
His Last Letter tells the story of this great love... and especially of the last three years Elizabeth and Dudley spent together, the most dangerous of her rule, when their passion was tempered by a bittersweet recognition of all that they shared-and all that would remain unfulfilled.
Please welcome author Jeane Westin to The Burton Review! Her previous Tudor novel The Virgin's Daughters came out last year and now I am reading His Last Letter where it portrays an entirely different point of view than I am used to reading regarding Elizabeth I. See below for the giveaway of the above pictured book, His Last Letter, by Jeane Westin.
Your bio states that you have been intrigued by historical fiction since you were a child. What do you think is the key to the continuing fascination that you have for the Tudor period?
Although my mother told me family history stories throughout my childhood, my fascination with historical fiction started when I was six years old and she took me to the library for the first time. Out of all the choices and shelves, I pulled The Little Cave Boy and Girl. The whole idea of it...another time and other people that I would never know must have called to me. I don't remember now, but I continued to read YA historical fiction until I was old enough to take out books from the adult shelves where I discovered Daphne du Maurier, Jean Plaidy and so many others.
I've continued to read and write in the Restoration and Tudor periods because there is so much we know and yet don't know...gaps that can only be filled by a novelist.
In your research, what are some of the things that you have come across that surprised you about Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley?
For one thing, their staying power. They knew each other for almost five decades and their mutual fascination really never waned, while fighting and loving and suffering the ups and downs of most long relationships. What that must have been like for both Elizabeth and her Robin is the basis for my novel His Last Letter.
What is your personal opinion on the death of Robert Dudley's first wife, Amy: accidental, suicide, or murder?
It's very hard for me to have a personal opinion. Although two inquiries exonerated him, many thought and still think Dudley guilty of having engineered Amy's accident. Sir William Cecil, Elizabeth 's councilor certainly did, just as he thought Elizabeth and Dudley were lovers even into 1572. Remembering that Dudley was Elizabeth 's favorite and therefore unpopular with others, their suspicions were not surprising.
It is likely that Amy had a breast tumor and modern medicine tells us that a metastasis could weaken bones so that a minor fall might well have broken her neck. She could have commited suicide, which is what I believe Dudley thought, though he protected her to insure her Christian burial.
The possibilities are many and it was so long ago there is no way of putting an end to the speculation.
Surely, Dudley was smart enough to know that if he were suspected, he could never marry Elizabeth , which was what he wanted more than anything.
So like most people, I go back and forth not able to make up my mind. If he were guilty, he paid a great price. He knew she was dying and so did Elizabeth . They were brilliant people. I have to believe they would not have taken such a risk.
But I'll never know.
One of my favorite Tudor historical figures is Lettice Knollys, and I loved how she was portrayed in Victoria Holt's My Enemy The Queen. What is your opinion of Lettice? Did you gather any fun details about her while researching for your novels?
In His Last Letter Lettice Knollys is a villainess. I apologize if I have wronged her, but Elizabeth did hate her. She was a Boleyn cousin and prettier than Elizabeth, a rival for Dudley and given to wearing gowns to court much finer than the queen thought suitable. Although Lettice was one of the queen's early ladies-in-waiting, I think it was an example of keeping your enemies closer than your friends. After Dudley, by then Earl of Leicester, married her, Elizabeth refused ever after to see Lettice or have her back to court. The queen got even (as only queens can) by nearly bankrupting Lettice after the Earl died, by calling in all his debts.
Lettice lived on into her 90's an almost unheard of age at the time and I suppose that was some revenge.
Why do you think that Elizabeth and Dudley never married?
Elizabeth would never share her rule, nor place herself under the power of a husband which at that time was supreme. She also needed to remain single to use herself as a bargaining chip in the wars for dominance between the continental powers. She brilliantly prolonged marriage negotiations with first one and then another until she had wrung all the benefit she could out of them. Even when suitors withdrew, they were never sure that they couldn't go back and try again, or that she wouldn't change her mind.
What has been your biggest challenge with your writing of historical fiction?
With Tudor fiction, Elizabeth herself has presented the biggest challenge. She was powerful, yet needed admiration...strong and active, yet sickly...refusing to marry, yet needing men to adore her. I've read an historical psychoanalysis of her behavior. Disturbed, domineering, fearful, brave and needy are only some of her personality traits.
In His Last Letter I've tried to show all of these through the prism of Elizabeth 's love for Dudley.
Over the past few years do you think that the market has been saturated with Tudor novels? What are the pros and cons to the continued popularity of the Tudor period?
Although popularity runs in cycles, Elizabeth and Henry VIII continue to fascinate and will for some time, Edward and Mary less so. (The English still vote her their favorite ruler.) Movies, theater dramas and books, both fiction and non-fiction appear regularly to feed this fascination without ever seeming to satisfy it completely. In the last three or four years, the internet has become a feeding ground for Tudor information and reviews. Recently I watched a program on the History Channel about Henry's medical problems, which made me wonder how he could have lived as long as he did, and partially explained why he became such a monster. Now who would think that such a program would interest without proof positive. We continue to speculate about this father and daughter because there are so many gaps in our knowledge and they are so real to us that we want to know more. As a novelist, I'm thankful for that.
What is next for you on the writing front?
I've already contracted for my next book, which is tentatively titled The Queen's Lady Spy. It is a thrilling story of Lady Frances Sidney, the ignored wife of England 's favorite love poet and the daughter of Queen Elizabeth's spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham. Brought to court when her husband is sent overseas, Lady Frances is eager to put her brilliant mind to good use. She becomes a secret intelligence and aids in foiling deadly plots against the Queen while working closely with her father's man Robert Pauley. A forbidden love blossoms between the married noble woman and the commoner all while Lady Frances is being pursued by the queen's handsome new favorite and notorious pleasure seeker, the Earl of Essex. The earl does not know Lady Frances is a secret intelligencer, but is determined to have her in his bed. But her own servant, Robert Pauley, secretly in love with her is determined that he will not.
Frances is a distant ancestress of mine and her interest in cryptography mirrors my own. I'm very much looking forward to writing this book Thanks for asking me to answer these interesting questions.
Thanks so much to Jeane for visiting The Burton Review and answering my questions. And now for my lucky readers, I have a question for you, and I will choose among one of your answers a winner for the new novel, His Last Letter, by Jeane Westin.
Who is your favorite Elizabethan figure, and why?
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Contest available to USA residents only courtesy of the publisher. Ends August 14, 2010.