As the Spanish Armada approaches Irish shores, Elizabeth I feels the full burden of her royal office. She must not let England fall to her former husband, King Philip of Spain. And Princess Anabel, their daughter, has yet to declare with whom her allegiance—and her support—lie.
Exiled Stephen Courtenay is in France with his brother, Kit, who has his own reasons for avoiding England. But rumblings of war, a sinister plot, and their loyalty to the crown call them home. Yet not even Pippa Courtenay, their sister, gifted with divine sight, can foresee the grave danger that awaits them all. As Queen Elizabeth commits her riches, her honor, and her people to the approaching conflict, she will risk everything—even her life—to preserve England’s freedom.
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Praise for The Virgin's War
“If you can’t manage without HBO’s Game of Thrones . . . this Shakespearean-era fantasy may be your cup of tea. . . . This volume imagines that Queen Elizabeth, known as ‘The Virgin Queen’ actually wasn’t one—but married King Philip of Spain. When the couple becomes estranged, their daughter Princess Annabel must choose her alliance. It’s a quandary that makes the clash between the Starks and the Lannisters look tame.”—New York Post
“Not only has Andersen created a believable world, but characters readers have taken to heart. There is intrigue, passion, family drama, loyalty, sadness and great joy within these pages. As the novel moves quickly and intelligently to its climax, [Laura] Andersen fans will rejoice!”—RT Book Reviews
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1 November 1584
I confess to being unreasonably envious of you! Would you believe that it snowed here yesterday? Yes, it melted by morning, but when I think of you and Stephen in the temperate Loire Valley, I long to board the first ship that will take me away from Yorkshire.
And yes, I know, I am the one who counseled Anabel to take up residence this far north. But do you not remember Madalena’s Moorish grandmother telling me that I am by nature contradictory? Who am I to gainsay such a wise woman?
I am not the only contradictory female in Yorkshire. I suppose you know from Anabel that Brandon Dudley and Nora Percy married suddenly last month. Not, despite what the gossips say, because there is a child coming too soon—no, for all its apparent suddenness, this wedding has been looming for some years. I am only surprised that they waited this long. Nora is already thirty and has been in love with Brandon forever. But her mother did not approve—probably because Eleanor Percy hoped that one day her daughter would learn to be as cynical at manipulating men as she is herself.
Although Eleanor’s manipulations have not been notably successful lately. The Earl of Ormond proved willing to be her lover, but not her husband. And with the dangerous situation in Ireland, Ormond has finally broken with Eleanor for good and sent her back to England. She was not invited to her daughter’s wedding.
Nor was the queen informed of the marriage in advance, despite Nora being her niece. Anabel is a little tense, awaiting her mother’s response.
I wish you would write more often. To me, not just to Anabel. It has been surprisingly lonely being apart from all my siblings. At least you and Stephen are together, and Lucie has Julien.
Still, there is little time to indulge in self-pity in this household. Anabel is almost as ferocious a ruler as her mother, and Matthew—
Pippa Courtenay broke off writing. For a woman who had often been told she never lacked for things to say, she could not find the words to finish that sentence. How to explain her current tenuous relationship with Matthew Harrington, a man she had known since birth? At the age of fifteen, she had allowed herself one reckless moment with him—and had spent the last seven years ensuring they never again crossed the boundaries of simple friendship.
Twice in the last eighteen months she had attempted to explain to him the wisdom of that decision and persuade him to look for his future happiness elsewhere. It had not gone according to plan.
Which seemed to be the theme of the Courtenay family these last two years. After a bloody mess in Ireland, her older brother Stephen had spent five months confined to the Tower of London. He’d subsequently lost his title and estates as Earl of Somerset, then been unofficially banished from England. Now he and Kit—Pippa’s twin—were training in France and serving with their father’s old friend, Renaud LeClerc. And Lucie, though gloriously happy in her marriage to Renaud’s son, Julien, had suffered three miscarriages in the last two years.
Hands came to rest on Pippa’s shoulders and she gasped. The Princess of Wales said teasingly, “Run out of things for which to scold Kit? I can provide you a list if you need it.”
“But then what will you write to him?”
Anabel took a seat next to Pippa, radiant in one of the soft-hued, luminous gowns meant to distinguish the princess from her royal mother’s taste for richer jewel-toned colours. With a small, secret smile, she confided to Pippa, “Don’t worry about me. I have no shortage of things to write to Kit.”
No doubt. Pippa put aside her unfinished letter and deliberately changed the subject from emotional entanglements to something less fraught. Like politics. “How is the news from Dublin?”
Anabel pulled a face. “It continues disastrous. With the fall of Waterford, only Dublin and Cork are open to reinforcements, and that’s presupposing we have any to send. No one thought the Spanish troops would remain in Ireland this long, but success breeds willingness and King Philip has had little difficulty rotating men in and out without losing the advantage.”
King Philip being also Anabel’s father. She had not referred to him as such, not even to Pippa, for two years. Not since the Spanish fleet had landed ten thousand soldiers to oppose English possession of Ireland. The Spanish king was the enemy now, or at least well on his way to becoming such.
“I suppose Mary Stuart continues to crow about it in her correspondence all over Europe,” Pippa noted. After escaping English captivity several years before, the one-time Scots and French queen had added Spain to her list of royal titles with her marriage to King Philip. Even more than her husband, Mary violently opposed all English interests.
“Certainly, Mary cannot contain her satisfaction when writing to her oldest son. James’s letters to me are three-quarters rants about his mother and one-quarter demands that England do something about Mary Stuart and Ireland. Not that he’s offering any material help.”
The courtship of King James VI of Scotland and England’s Princess of Wales had thus far been conducted entirely on paper. Pippa couldn’t help teasing, “Leaving no space for a single word in any of those letters about his most cherished bride-to-be?”
With simply the slant of her eyebrows and the curl of her lip, Anabel could switch from charming to haughty. Rather like her mother. “I am quite happy to escape fulsome and insincere compliments, I assure you. I am less happy when King James presumes to criticize England’s queen and Parliament for not sending more aid to Ireland. In my last letter, I pointed out that Scotland is also a Protestant nation and perhaps they would be interested in lending money or men for the fight in Ireland. I imagine that will shut him up for a bit.”
“This is quite the most amusing courtship I’ve ever witnessed,” Pippa offered lightly.
“Just so long as James remains content with the courtship rather than pressing for a consummation of the treaty.”
Anabel didn’t have to add the obvious—that she continued to hope the marriage might never take place. Anabel was stubborn and passionate and hardheaded and romantic all in one. As long as she remained unwed, there existed the smallest hope that she might be allowed to marry the man she loved: Kit Courtenay.
Pippa sighed inwardly. The course of true love never did run smooth. But this is beginning to be ridiculous. For all of us.
“The Queen of England will not be kept waiting by a rebel Irish countess!” Elizabeth Tudor snapped. It really wasn’t fair to snap at Burghley, who did no more than deliver the message that Eleanor FitzGerald was running late. But he’d had thirty years of serving royals and knew fairness was not to be expected.
That didn’t mean her Treasury Secretary wouldn’t offer his own retorts. “I could hardly burst into her bedchamber and drag her out half clothed,” he said mildly.
“Oh, she’s fully clothed, mark my words. This is a tactical move.” Elizabeth, a princess since birth and a queen since she was twenty-five, knew all about tactical moves. She allowed her ruffled temper to smooth into glass. “Eleanor FitzGerald thinks she is announcing Ireland’s independence. Truly independent rulers do not have to make such petty shows.”
She caught the mordant humour in Francis Walsingham’s eye at her pronouncement, but the Lord Secretary held his tongue. Like Burghley, Walsingham was present in order to intimidate the Irish countess as well as to provide Elizabeth with his experienced judgment after the encounter.
It was a further five minutes before the pages proclaimed the arrival of her ladyship, the Countess of Desmond. Arrived in England as emissary for the rebel earl, her husband, the only reason Elizabeth had agreed to meet with Eleanor FitzGerald was to impress upon the woman the might and power of the English court. Elizabeth had never been to Ireland, but she had read scores of accounts and knew that the Irish nobility—saving, perhaps, those such as her cousin, the Earl of Ormond—often lived in worse conditions than even her own middle-class merchants. Just because England was finding it difficult to fund a sufficient force of soldiers to beat back the Spanish didn’t mean the Irish had any chance at all in the end. Indeed, without Spain’s interference, the uprising would have long since been over.
A point Elizabeth did not hesitate to make when the tardy countess finally arrived and made her barely adequate curtsey. “I thought the entire point of Desmond’s rebellion was resistance to foreign interference,” the queen intoned. “We English have been part of Ireland for more than four hundred years, and yet we are accounted more foreign than the Spanish, who share no heritage with you at all?”
Twelve years younger than the queen, the thirty-nine-year-old Eleanor was not easily frightened. Dressed soberly in a black gown that perhaps hinted at cultural mourning, the dark-eyed countess said stoutly, “The Spanish share our faith. And we have less quarrel with foreign soldiers who fight and then leave, than we do with men who seize our lands for their own and pretend they belong.”
“As did the FitzGeralds,” Elizabeth pointed out waspishly. “Not all that many generations ago.”
“Long enough ago that we have earned the right to govern our own lands, and ensure our children can do the same,” Eleanor blazed back. With two sons and four daughters, the countess had all the protective instincts of a mother. Perhaps even more than her husband’s future, she wanted to ensure her children’s.
At this point Lord Burghley intervened with his trademark logic. “If you believe the Spanish will allow you self-governance, then you are being willfully blind. It is just possible that King Philip is willing to commit troops merely for principle’s sake, but Mary Stuart wants much more. Surely you have heard the rumors that their youngest son will be proclaimed Prince of Ireland in the coming year.”
“He is two years old. We do not fear a child. Not the way we fear men who have determined the best way to rule Ireland is to murder every last Irish soul, thus leaving a clean slate for the English.”
Elizabeth waved a hand in disdain. “I am not impressed by overwrought melodrama. If you want the fighting in Ireland to stop, the answer is simple: evict the Spanish. When you have done that, then England and Ireland will have something to say to one another. Until then, go back to your husband. Tell him I have no place for traitors at my court. You will be escorted back to your ship tomorrow. My lady countess,” she added pointedly.
The queen almost thought the woman would respond, for Eleanor had a very Irish glint in her eyes, but protocol prevailed. When Lady Desmond had left, Elizabeth looked at the one man in her government sure to have even more disdain for the countess than she herself. Burghley was a realist, but Francis Walsingham despised Catholics and the Spanish in equal measure. Long an advocate of a swift, harsh end to Ireland’s rebellions, he was even more fiery now that the Irish were supported by Philip’s troops.
“Well?” she asked her Lord Secretary pointedly.
Walsingham’s hooded eyes had never grown easier to interpret. “The Spanish won’t go. Not until they’ve made a serious play for Dublin.”
“Dublin will never fall.”
“Not in battle, but it might be starved into submission. If the Spanish decide to blockade the port—”
“Then they will be committing to open warfare against all our forces,” Elizabeth snapped. “Philip isn’t prepared for that.”
“Yet.” Walsingham let the syllable hang ominously, but said no more.
Elizabeth would like to have believed her Lord Secretary had learned discretion during his banishment from her court two years ago, but she doubted it. Walsingham was who he was and she valued him for it. Even if sometimes she wanted to kill him as well.
Of the two of them, Walsingham did not hold grudges. And though Elizabeth did, she knew the difference between wisdom and vanity. He had hurt her pride two years ago with his opposition to her proposed French marriage, but she could swallow pride for the greater good. Especially as there was no chance of that particular dispute resuming, for Francis, the young Duc d’Anjou, had died earlier this year of a tertian fever. It was just as well the queen had thought to take Anjou for herself and tied Anabel to James of Scotland, or else England would be doing some rapid maneuvering at this point.
Reading Group Guide
Because thou has offended our sovereign the King’s grace in committing treason against his person . . . thou hast deserved death, and thy judgment is this: that thou shalt be burned here within the Tower of London, on the Green, else to have thy head smitten off, as the King’s pleasure shall be further known of the same.
—Duke of Norfolk, pronouncing sentence against his niece,
Queen Anne Boleyn, on 15 May 1536
More than ten years ago, I set out to write one book reimagining history if Anne Boleyn’s final miscarriage had never happened. A story of a king-who-never-was, of the friends who loved him and broke his heart . . . and of the sister who was left to pick up the pieces.
I’m fairly certain Queen Elizabeth would find both The Boleyn Trilogy and The Tudor Legacy Trilogy presumptuous. I only hope she would not find them insulting. More than a year before any of these books were conceived—the very first time I wondered what might have happened if Anne Boleyn had not miscarried her baby boy in January 1536—I got as far in my thinking as “And if that boy had been healthier than Edward VI, then neither Mary nor Elizabeth would have ever been queen” before mentally recoiling at the thought.
Physics, I understand, posits the Many Worlds theory, in which every permutation of choice and event leads to a timeline split from the one we currently experience. I don’t care how many timelines might exist: I cannot conceive of a single one in which Elizabeth Tudor was not Queen of England. On every visit I’ve made to Westminster Abbey since beginning this series, I pause a moment in the north aisle of the Henry VII Chapel to pay my respects at her tomb. And I offer the same silent plea to this greatest of English queens: “Don’t be mad.”
Would I meet Elizabeth if I had the chance? Yes. Fearfully and trembling. And I imagine the interview might go something like this:
ELIZABETH: So you are the scribbler who has played so fast and loose with my life and heart.
LAURA: Your Majesty. [Quite likely attempting to curtsey without utter humiliation]
E: Why take so bold a chance?
L: For your mother’s sake, at first. Anne Boleyn was in an impossible situation almost from the moment your father fell in love with her. Is it wrong to wish fate had been a little kinder to her?
E: Fate . . . or my father?
L: That is not for me to say.
E: And yet you had so much to say on so many topics of which you can have no knowledge. Walsingham would consider you the worst sort of meddler—the ignorant sort. And yet . . . I admire cleverness. And there are elements approaching cleverness in how you dealt with men like Northumberland. That is certainly a man who would have found a way to get himself executed no matter what world he lived in. And Guildford never had the nerve to carry off plotting.
L: I thought you might not mind the possibility of Mary Stuart’s escape. As you were so notably reluctant to condemn her.
E: I did not at all enjoy your implication that Mary Stuart could ever have outwitted me. The situation you created there serves as perfect justification for never marrying. No man to attempt to master me . . . and no child as a hostage to fortune. Though I admit, Anne is not an entirely displeasing imaginary child.
L: May I ask you about Robert Dudley?
E: You may not. That is one liberty too great.
L: If you were to leave your own memorial, what would it be?
E: Perhaps what I spoke at Tilbury in 1588. Not 1586, as you so casually altered in your timeline. I believe that I fulfilled what I promised then. Until the last day of my life, I placed my chief strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and goodwill of my subjects, and then I laid down my life, my honour, and my blood for God and my people.
Despite that fantastical conversation, the truth is we do not have to imagine what Elizabeth might say about her own legacy. She said it herself, in a speech to her final Parliament in November 1601. [Note: Elizabeth often used king and prince interchangeably with queen to denote her position.]
To be a king and wear a crown is a thing more glorious to them that see it than it is pleasant to them that bear it . . . There will never Queen sit in my seat with more zeal to my country, care to my subjects and that will sooner with willingness venture her life for your good and safety than myself. For it is my desire to live nor reign no longer than my life and reign shall be for your good. And though you have had, and may have, many princes more mighty and wise . . . yet you never had nor shall have, any that will be more careful and loving.
In my books, I wrote an Anne Boleyn—and a Mary Tudor—and a Philip of Spain—and a Robert Dudley—who never existed. But mostly, I wrote my own Elizabeth. One who did not have to ask why she was addressed as Highness one day and simply Lady the next. One who did not have to worry about being the center of plot after Protestant plot. One who was not arrested at the age of twenty and taken to the Tower. One who did not have to always wonder whether she would be executed before her half sister died. One who did not scratch on the window at Woodstock: Much suspected by me, nothing proved can be. Quoth ELIZABETH prisoner.
And yet, I had to write an Elizabeth who possessed and developed the character traits so notable in her long reign as queen: intelligence, subtlety, practicality, devotion to her people, reluctance to commit to a divisive course until there was no choice, vanity, humour, touchy about her privileges but self-aware enough to know it. What I did in these six books was imagine a different path, different choices, that would bring Elizabeth to essentially the same place in history.
There is a tradition that Anne Boleyn wrote a poem in the days before her execution on Tower Green.
O Death! rock me asleep;
Bring me to quiet rest;
let pass my weary, guiltless ghost
out of my careful breast.
Toll on, the passing-bell;
ring out my doleful knell;
let thy sound my death tell.
Death dothe drawe ny;
there is no remedie.
Despite the story wrought from my imagination, there was no remedy for Anne Boleyn. She died at the command of her king and husband on 19 May 1536, leaving their not yet three-year-old daughter to an uncertain future. I like to think, when I visit Westminster Abbey, that Anne looks with pride on her daughter’s memorial, and the achievements listed in Latin around Elizabeth’s tomb.
Sacred to memory: Religion to its primitive purity restored, peace settled . . . the Spanish Armada vanquished; Ireland almost lost by rebels, eased by routing the Spaniard . . . and lastly, all England enriched. Elizabeth, a most prudent governor 45 years, a victorious and triumphant Queen, most strictly religious, most happy . . . She died the 24th of March, Anno 1603, of her reign the 45th year, of her age the 70th.
To the eternal memory of Elizabeth queen of England, France and Ireland, daughter of King Henry VIII, grand-daughter of King Henry VII, great-grand-daughter to King Edward IV.
Daughter, I would add, of Anne Boleyn, who took as her motto: The Most Happy. In her daughter, I think Anne would have found all the happiness she could desire.
1. In what ways does the title of this novel reflect its content? In what ways does it not?
2. The Virgin’s War is the last in the Tudor Legacy trilogy. What surprised you most? Were you satisfied by the conclusion?
3. Based on your knowledge of Tudor history, what changes would you say made the largest difference in the outcome of the changed course of events?
4. If you had to describe the relationship between Queen Elizabeth and Princess Anne in one word, what would that word be?
5. Throughout the book, it is clear that political relationships and personal relationships are at a dramatic impasse. Which motivation—the political or the personal—do you believe is more vital, either to yourself or to the story?
6. How do the bonds between characters inform their actions? For example, had Anabel and Kit not been in love, do you think she would have wanted the annulment from James so deeply?
7. Pippa stayed away from Matthew for fear of hurting him, and Maisie stayed away from Stephen for fear he could never love after Ailis. Do you think these women took the right courses of action in denying their feelings in favor of practicality? How would their lives have been different if they had followed their hearts?
8. Imagine your favorite character is transplanted into modern times. What would he or she be doing, in his or her career, spare time, et cetera?
9. Both Anabel and Elizabeth make serious sacrifices for what they consider to be the greater political good. What do you think were the hardest choices these royal women had to make?
10. While Anabel is clearly on the English side, she and her mother pretend that she wavers towards the Spanish—and Catholic—cause. In what ways can you relate to the princess’s loyalty to her crown, despite what the other half of her parentage may think about it later?
11. As Pippa imagined as a teenager, she and Matthew most certainly found themselves in terrible danger. What does this say about fate versus free will?
12. How does Navarro’s character change from the beginning of the book to the end? Do you ever pity him? Do you hate him? Do your feelings for him ever change?