The Virgin Queen has competition for the affections of dashing Robert Dudley in the form of her cousin, lovely Lettie Knollys.
Erickson (The Memoirs of Mary Queen of Scots, 2009, etc.) charts the 16th-century Knollys siblings’ affairs of the heart. While Cecelia makes a loveless marriage of convenience and Frank regrets an opportunity for love missed, fair Lettie ends up with the man she desires, Elizabeth I’s reputed lover Dudley, later Lord Leicester. Because the Knollys are descended from Henry VIII’s lover Mary Boleyn and Lettie’s father is a royal councilor, the sisters serve at court, where Lettie encounters Dudley, whom she finds far more attractive than the husband selected for her. Although Lettie marries dutifully and bears four children, she later takes Dudley as her lover and, when widowed, marries him, incurring the queen’s lasting displeasure. Yet Robert remains loyal to Elizabeth and fights for her against the Spanish. Meanwhile, Frank rediscovers his old love and Lettie is charmed by a younger man whom she marries when Robert dies. Finally she is permitted to return to court, where her son’s fatal ambitions to the throne revive the enmity between the queen and her rival.
Uncomplicated characters joust predictably for love and power in a capable but unexceptional historical.