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Nov 30, 2009

Book Review: Her Mother's Daughter: A Novel of Mary Tudor by Julianne Lee

Her Mother's Daughter: A Novel of Mary Tudor by Julianne Lee
ISBN: 0-425-23008-2/978-0-425-23008-4
Publisher: Berkley, December 1, 2009
Paperback, Historical Fiction, 336 pages. Amazon page.
Review copy provided by publisher
The Burton Review Rating:Four Stars!


"A new novel of sixteenth-century royalty from the author of A Question of Guilt:

Her name was Mary Tudor. First of the Tudor queens, she has gone down in history as Bloody Mary. But does she deserve her vicious reputation?

She was the daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, and half-sister to Edward VI and Elizabeth I. Mary Tudor's life began as the sweetly innocent, pampered princess of Wales - until the age of eleven when the father she adored cast aside the mother she worshipped and declared Mary a bastard. Only after years of exile did Mary finally rise to the throne alongside the man who, aside from her father, was her greatest love - and her greatest betrayer.

Told by Mary herself and the people around her, this grand-scale novel takes us back to the glittering court of sixteenth-century England, and tells the tragic story of a fascinating, largely misunderstood woman who withstood the treachery and passion around her only to become one of England's most vilified queens."

Julianne Lee attempts to bring to modern day readers the sympathetic view of Mary Tudor, the misunderstood queen of the sixteenth century. Queen Mary did not have an easy life, and the author immediately sets off to show her readers the myriad of different situations that she was placed in due to the fact that she was the daughter of King Henry VIII. Most Tudor era fans know the story of this Mary Tudor, who was otherwise known as Bloody Mary due to her excessive execution of heretics. She was the only surviving issue of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII; at first treated as a princess should be until Henry divorced her mother. Yet, it is her younger half-sister, Elizabeth I, who gets the credit for being a strong female monarch in the sixteenth century.

The author shows how Mary may have felt when she was told by her mother that her father was divorcing her, which jeopardized Mary's own status. She was stripped of her princess title, and simply became "Lady Mary." We see how Mary was indeed her mother's daughter, embracing the Catholic religion with zeal, as this was the only constant in her life. The story the author tells focuses on Mary's life and the major events that occurred around her, although we very quickly advance in the author's telling to Henry marrying Anne Boleyn, beheading her and taking Jane Seymour as a wife. Throughout this period we are privy to Mary's personal thoughts as she despises Anne, yet yearns for her place at her father's side. Henry is portrayed as unfeeling and callous towards his daughter Mary, but as doting on Elizabeth when she was a baby. Obviously for the sake of the story itself this works well in the author's favor for attempting to achieve sympathy for Mary. How much of this is factual is for another book.

We blink, and Henry is dead and his only sickly son, Edward is on the throne at age 9. I don't even recall the sixth wife being mentioned. With the bulk of the book being told in third person, we are privy to the council meetings and the thoughts that the council members had about Mary, being a Catholic twenty-four year old potential claimant to the throne, never mind the fact that she was a woman. Mary is shown as very insecure, very pious and of ill health. Whenever she was stressed, it put her in a dangerous state of illness. Mary had feared poison from the heretic Protestant factions, and was beginning to lose faith in her own father's loyalty and regard for family ties. She always felt he would never execute her because of the fact that she was his daughter, but Henry was a ruthless man and did not like being refused his requests. This request in question (which spanned the first half of the book) that Henry demanded of her was going against the very grain of Mary's Catholic faith, for Henry wanted Mary to recognize him as having authority over the church and the pope. Mary finally felt that she could no longer trust in her faith to keep her alive. It seems Mary's only friend was her imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys. He advised her in most things and she is shown as relying on him at critical times, just as he advised her to accept the Act of Supremacy, although with a helpful caveat. Upon doing so, Mary was finally allowed some peace, and was welcome at her father's court after this long battle. She failed in the very things she lived for, such as having children and restoring England to the Catholic faith, and perhaps it was this failure that distressed her so much that caused her illnesses. But even through these failures, she unknowingly taught Elizabeth what to do or not do once Elizabeth ruled.

What makes this novel unique is the way it opened up, with a modern day setting; and then the rest of the story is being told in an almost flashback fashion as Mary periodically appears as she explains what happens next. The chapter would open up with an italicized paragraph of Mary speaking her mind, and that chapter would tie itself into that foreshadowing opening paragraph. Also unique, are the "extras" to the novel. There are commoners, from thieves to family men that have their chance to their story in this novel as well. Through their eyes we get a broad scope of what the political and religious turmoils that the people in England were subject to, and this also helped keep the novel intriguing.

As a Tudor junkie, I enjoyed it. As a historical fiction reader, I loved it. There is nothing that I can say in hindsight that I think the author should have done differently. The writing flowed simply and I was entertained by the clever outline of the novel with the diary style entries by Mary and the outlooks from the commoners. This was a unique approach towards a story that has been told many times before, but truly gives a realistic touch towards the humanity of Bloody Mary. The author successfully portrayed Mary in a more favorable light as we begin to understand the depth of Mary's faith and the mechanisms behind it. As the story progresses, we are more empathetic towards Mary as we witness the accounts of the relationships that Mary had with her family and her controversial husband, Philip of Spain. For the many readers who like to focus on the Tudor era, this is a read that must be added to your library, both for its original storytelling and the unique approach with which the author utilizes to tell this compelling story of Mary Tudor. I enjoyed this new novel by Julianne Lee so much so that I will be looking for her previous historical fiction read A Question of Guilt: A Novel of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Death of Henry Darnley (Oct 7, 2008) which focuses on another Queen Mary that I have not had a lot of sympathy for either. After reading Her Mother's Daughter: A Novel of Mary Tudor by Julianne Lee, I am definitely much more sympathetic to the views of Bloody Mary and more understanding of why she seemed a bit over the top. I recommend this one to those interested in the Tudor era and for historical fiction fans in general.