The start of the novel sets up Elizabeth’s character as somewhat different from what she has been portrayed as in other modern accounts, particularly the movies directed by Shekhar Kapur. In those movies, she is not portrayed as calculating, or particularly interested in the politics or court life of England. In those movies, she seems like she is thrown in the deep end by her supporters, when in fact, as the third heir of Henry VIII, she never expected to take the thrown. In this novel, she is set up as a manipulator from the start. She is portrayed as a girl and woman who knows how to use her beauty and sex to manipulate men and have people love her, whilst she does the most despicable things. It will be interesting to see whether Philippa Gregory maintains this interpretation of Elizabeth in her next Tudor novel, where Elizabeth is queen.
Hannah is the fool that is begged to the dying King Edward, and later passed over to Queen Mary. For Mary, she has found someone innocent, devote, and honest. Hannah also had the advantage of being employed to say exactly what was on her mind, rather than behave as a normal courtier and watch everything she says. In Mary, Hannah has found a mother figure, and a woman she admires for her courage and capacity for love and forgiveness. Early on, Hannah aspires to be like Mary, because she does not know how to be a woman - she has been hiding as a boy for so long. Later, however, Hannah realises that she pities Mary and wants to ensure that she doesn’t have the same fate in love that Mary had.
Haunted by the burning of her mother by the Spanish Inquisition, Hannah describes her Judaism as “some sickness that we pass on”, claiming that Jews are condemned to “a lifetime of fear, not Chosen so much as cursed”. Her view of her religion changes depending on the political and religious view in England. When Mary is fairly tolerant and forgiving, Hannah hides her Judaism in her heart, but doesn’t condemn her faith. As Mary becomes more extreme, and Hannah is arrested her heresy (though she is released), she comes to fear her religion more and more. She is born into a religion that she didn’t choose, that she is not proud of, and that puts her in mortal danger. However, as she grows to adulthood, and princess Elizabeth is only months away from the thrown, Hannah again embraces her religion and realises that tradition is important and she will be proudly Jewish, in her heart, knowing that she will be safe from a heresy charge. I think her view of her religion depended very much on the danger she perceived herself to be in.
Hannah idolised Lord Dudley, and lusted after him. She realised her feelings for what they were once she finally fell in love with Daniel, her betrothed. Lord Dudley was not a true friend to Hannah. He used her. He put her in danger and took advantage of her loyalty. He did save her in Calais, but that was out of his sense of duty, as he would save his soldiers. He did not care for Hannah, but he also lusted after her once she was grown into a woman. I’m surprised that he didn’t rape her when she refused him, because he would have thought she was his property and he had a right to take what he wanted.
Daniel and Hannah’s romance followed a lovely little Mills and Boon plot - they initially butted heads but were forced into a relationship, they came to desire each other after writing to each other, then Hannah left him once they were married because he had slept with another woman some months ago and had an illegitimate child. I was frustrated that she left Daniel, but there were more factors at play than just deceit. Ultimately, however, they both grew up and learned more over their years apart and ended up loving each other still and resuming their marriage. As I often wonder with ‘happily ever after’ endings, I’d like to know how their relationship was travelling even a month later.