The story of a Swedish noblewoman in Queen Elizabeth I’s court.
Prolific novelist Byrd’s latest historical draws on Lady Helena von Snakenborg’s actual experiences as lady-in-waiting and close companion to the Virgin Queen. Helena—or Elin as she was named in Sweden—was scarcely 17 when chosen to accompany Swedish Princess Cecelia on a visit to the English court in 1564. Immediately upon arrival, Elin catches the eye of Lord Northampton and stays on when Cecelia leaves, becoming a maid of honor to the queen. But Northampton is not free to marry her, and when eventually he is, the marriage only lasts five months before he dies, leaving Elin—now Helena—a marchioness and the highest-ranking lady in the land after Elizabeth. The two women’s friendship intensifies, although later the closeness is jeopardized by Helena’s second marriage to Thomas Gorges, not a nobleman. But Helena’s romantic history is in essence a background to and insider’s perspective on the real and familiar story of Elizabeth’s reign—the plotting; the Catholic enemies; the question of marriage; the execution of Mary Queen of Scots. Byrd ends with Helena as Elizabeth’s chief mourner.
A capable, empathetic historical recap with an unusual heroine, but it fails to set the Thames on fire.