Nearly a quarter-century ago, an English technical journalist and industrial editor named Valerie Anand (1937-) sat down to write a series of mystery novels set in the court of Queen Elizabeth I. To Shield the Queen, published in 1997 under the pen name Fiona Buckley, was the first of what to date is a series of eighteen books. It’s a worthy introduction to the long-running series and a great read for anyone enamored of historical mysteries. Anand’s protagonist, Lady-in-Waiting Ursula Blanchard, has the stuff to sustain readers’ interest through thick and thin. And there is no lack of intrigue in Queen Elizabeth’s court.
To Shield the Queen (Ursula Blanchard #1) by Fiona Buckley (1997) 288 pages @@@@ (4 out of 5)
A passel of recognizable historical figures
Anand has done her research well. To Shield the Queen is set in 1560, four years after Elizabeth’s accession to the throne. If you’re familiar with the history of the period, you’ll recognize the Queen and a number of other familiar figures in her court. Robin Dudley, Lady Jane Seymour, Sir William Cecil, Lady Katherine (or Catherine) Grey, and Sir Thomas Gresham all figure prominently in the story. So does the atmosphere of treachery and intrigue that permeated Elizabeth’s court, with Queen Mary of Scots and her Catholic allies plotting to overthrow or murder the Queen.
Plenty of intrigue in Queen Elizabeth’s court
Recently widowed by smallpox, Ursula Blanchard gains a position at court among the Ladies of the Presence Chamber. (They’re ranked below the Queen’s intimates among the Ladies of the Privy Chamber but are still privileged.) However, Ursula quickly finds that she is too poor to support the lifestyle expected of her position. Robin Dudley and the Queen herself rescue her from poverty. Dudley pays her a lavish sum to journey to attend his dying wife miles away from London—to reassure her that he is not attempting to hasten her death to free himself to marry Elizabeth.
In fact, there is a “sizzling attraction” between Dudley and the Queen, and everyone knows it. However, as history has taught us, the Queen has no intention of marrying Dudley, or anyone else, for that matter. But the gossip was unstoppable, nonetheless. And Dudley’s wife fears he will have her murdered before her life is taken by the breast cancer that afflicts her. Ursula will be hard pressed to convince her otherwise.
Conspiracies, plots, and abundant intrigue
Established in Dudley’s home, Ursula soon finds herself under suspicion by nearly all the men and women surrounding his wife, Amy Robsart. In short order, the conspiracies that fester in the Queen’s court surface in Ursula’s life. She will, in the end, unravel not one but two dangerous plots that threaten the Queen. And in the process she will prove herself to be an able investigator and catch the attention of Elizabeth’s Secretary of State, Sir William Cecil. Her success bodes well for the adventures that surely will follow as she makes her way through the thickets of intrigue in Queen Elizabeth’s court.
For additional reading
I’ve reviewed two other mysteries set in the same period: Murder by Misrule (Francis Bacon Mystery #1) by Anna Castle (A lawyer is murdered in the Elizabethan Age) and A Prisoner in Malta (Christopher Marlowe #1) by Phillip DePoy (A delightful historical mystery novel starring Christopher Marlowe).
If you’re looking for exciting historical novels, check out Top 10 historical mysteries and thrillers reviewed here (plus 100 others).
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