Queen Bee, meet wannabe.
Initially, Mistress Ursula Stannard, née Blanchard (A Pawn for the Queen, 2002, etc.), is pleased for the chance to use her network at Elizabeth I’s court for something other than spying. An acquaintance asks Ursula to find her daughter, Penelope Mason, a place at court with an eye toward matching her with an eligible Catholic husband. Although Protestant Elizabeth persecutes English Catholics, many of whom support Catholic Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland, Ursula believes Penelope can find a suitable mate. Not long after Pen arrives at court, however, Ursula is summoned to find that Pen has fallen in love with a married man and is making an unsuitable spectacle of herself. When Ursula arrives, she realizes that the Queen is using Pen’s misbehavior as an excuse to send Ursula on a mission. Elizabeth’s favorite, Robert Dudley, has donated a small estate in Yorkshire for Pen’s dowry. Not coincidentally, Queen Mary is under house arrest in a nearby castle. Elizabeth asks Ursula and her entourage to visit Pen’s new estate and at the same time pass an important message to Mary. Naturally, both commissions turn out to be complicated and dangerous, and Ursula must use courage and guile to save her ward and herself as she serves her Queen.
Through the eyes of Ursula, a woman both compassionate and ruthless, Buckley effectively dramatizes the tangled personal and political obligations of the Elizabethan court. A welcome seventh outing.