Being related to a queen is no sinecure for a widow with heavy responsibilities.
Ursula Stannard, whose status as the illegitimate half sister of Queen Elizabeth I has often pressed her into service as a spy for the queen (A Deadly Betrothal, 2017, etc.), is taking a breather to raise her young son, watch over her estates and stud farm, and enjoy life. At Richmond Palace for a visit with Elizabeth, who wants her advice on a proposed marriage to the French Prince Francis, Duke of Alençon and Anjou—who’s Catholic and therefore not beloved of the English people—Ursula must also fight off marriage proposals. Although Elizabeth, who’s already dealing with the difficult problem of Mary Stuart, a magnet for schemes to restore Catholicism to England, enjoys the prince’s company, she has qualms about both the physical side of marriage and the power he’d have over her. Agreeing to inquire into local feelings, Ursula is delighted to go home to Hawkswood even though she must hire a new stud groom and a tutor for 9-year-old Harry. The new tutor turns out to be the son of her trusted servant Brockley, a son he never knew he had. Disaster strikes when Harry vanishes while out riding; a painstaking search turns up no sign of him. Then Ursula is attacked, her dogs are killed, and she’s rolled in a carpet and carried off. Her captors reveal that they’re holding Harry as a guarantee that she’ll agree to assassinate Mary. They even give her a phial of hemlock to do the deed. A visit to the queen and her spymaster gets her the permission she needs. As she goes to Mary’s side pretending to seek her death, she leaves Brockley to do everything in his power to rescue Harry.
Among the most action-packed of Buckley’s always-engrossing looks at Elizabethan lives and times.