Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Young Bess: Margaret Irwin

Young Bess is the first book in a trilogy about Elizabeth I of England, written by Margaret Irwin and first published in 1944.  It covers her life from the time she was 12 until she was about 20, including Henry VIII's death, his son Edward VI's years as king (from age 9 to 15), and Elizabeth's relationships with her brother Edward and Princess Mary, her sister. A large part of the story is about her living with her stepmother Catherine Parr and Tom Seymour, who married Catherine after Henry VIII's death. While Tom was married to Catherine he pursued Elizabeth, a teenager at the time, and she was also attracted to him. So a very awkward and potentially damaging relationship develops. 

I was interested in this book because I had read good reviews and wanted to learn more about Elizabeth I, what happened to her between the time her mother died and the time she  ascended to the throne. For those who know Elizabeth's history backward and forward, it is probably old hat but for me it was a revelation.

Elizabeth's teenage years were very interesting. As the daughter of Anne Boleyn (referred to as Nan Bullen in the book), she was labeled the Little Bastard by her father. At times her father was friendly, at other times he sent her away. I was surprised by the education she was getting and the amount of time she spent with her tutors. She was learning six languages and was eager to learn. She could translate passages from English into Italian, Latin, and French at the age of 12. She knew she was second in line to the throne and was determined to be prepared if that happened. The politics were incredibly complex, and I was amazed at the scheming and treachery. (I know, I am very naive.)

The story was beautifully written, vividly describing details of the life at that time. I learned a lot, I was entertained, and I enjoyed reading the book. What more can you ask for? I am very eager to continue the trilogy. The next two books are Elizabeth, Captive Princess and Elizabeth and the Prince of Spain.

The Wikipedia article on Thomas Seymour points out that he is a character in three historical mysteries by CJ Sansom (Revelation, Heartstone, and Lamentation); that will be interesting when I read those novels. 


Publisher:  Sourcebooks Landmark, 1998 (orig. publ. 1944)
Length:     381 pages
Format:    Trade paperback
Setting:     England
Genre:      Historical Fiction
Source:     Purchased in 2020.


Rick Robinson said...

Not my cuppa, I don’t think.

TracyK said...

I agree, Rick, not your kind of book.

Margot Kinberg said...

I do like a well-written historical novel, Tracy. And it sounds as though this one effectively combines fiction with what we know about Elizabeth I. Glad you enjoyed it.

TracyK said...

Margot, I haven't read much of this type of historical fiction because I do wonder how closely the author sticks with facts and the author always has to do their own interpretation. But after reading Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, I was hooked.

Katrina said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed this one. I've now read the whole trilogy and while I think the first one was the best the others are still well worth reading. I believe that Margaret Irwin did a lot of research before embarking on this series. I think it was common for high status females to have a very good education back then. Mary, Queen of Scots was very well educated too, it's just a pity that she didn't have common sense, especially where men were concerned!

TracyK said...

Katrina, I am glad I saw your review and was alerted to this book. It came at the perfect time for me. The Seymours are a fascinating family. And I am eager to read more about Elizabeth.

TracyK said...

Katrina, I forgot to say that I am interested in Mary, Queen of Scots, too. Someday I will be looking for books about her, but now I have plenty to keep me going.

CLM said...

This is one of my mother's favorite books (I like the trilogy too but not quite as obsessively as she does). I coaxed her to review it for me not long ago:

Two years ago she and I went to London and we spent a day at Hatfield House which was awesome.

One of her and my other favorites is A Traveler in Time by Alison Uttley, about Mary Queen of Scots.

TracyK said...

Constance, you are lucky to share the love of reading (and the same type of books) with your mother. The only one in my family (growing up) that I shared reading with was my grandmother. Not many others in my family read like I did. Visiting Hatfield House sounds wonderful.

I do have a link to your mother's review, which was very good, at the end of my post.

Thanks for the recommendation for A Traveler in Time. I looked it up at Goodreads. Time travel and Mary, Queen of Scots. That sounds very interesting; I love time travel stories. I have not read much children's fiction, but I think I would enjoy this one. People variously describe it as fantasy, historical fiction, and children's literature. What fits best?

Neeru said...

Not for me but I am glad you enjoyed it, Tracy. Hope you enjoy the sequels too.

TracyK said...

Thanks, Neeru. I am sure I will, I have already ordered the second one.

CLM said...

I missed the end! Thank you for including a link to her review. I am so glad that both you and Katrina enjoyed this book. Irwin's books about Montrose and Prince Rupert, are, oddly, more old fashioned than the three about Elizabeth, and more sentimental but I really enjoyed them. However, I would suggest focusing on this trilogy. I know that Thomas Seymour's behavior to Elizabeth was completely self-serving and inappropriate but he seemed so dashing and romantic when I was 13 like Elizabeth.

A Traveler in Time *is* a children's book and it is time travel, but I wouldn't describe it as a fantasy (except for the fact that time travel doesn't happen in real life - disappointingly). We had a nice hardcover with dust jacket and I must have lent it to someone who never returned it. I have a Puffin paperback now. You should get it from the library and read a chapter to see if you like it. I am not a huge MQoS fan (although I usually identify with Catholic heroines) but the book is definitely a cult favorite. Maybe we all fall for Anthony Babington! Sometimes books inspired by a house as this was are magical. Hmmm, wouldn't that be an interesting paper topic? One could write about Thackers (this one, Green Knowe, the real Manderley, and probably several others.

I am very lucky that my mother and I share so many interests (we also both love college basketball). A couple of my absolute favorite authors - Elswyth Thane, Mary Stewart, Georgette Heyer, Noel Streatfeild, Janet Lambert - were introduced to me by her. I think it was startling for her when I started bringing home books from the library that she fell in love with, after many years the other way around. These days she reads a lot more nonfiction history than I do.

TracyK said...

Constance, I agree, Irwin did a good job of portraying Thomas Seymour as romantic and very appealing. It was impossible to dislike him. I am interested in learning more about the Seymours.

Thanks for all the information on A Traveler in Time. I will definitely read it. I do like books that focus on a house. And my husband has a lot of books about country houses; that is different, but still.

And it is interesting and fortunate that you and your mother both like college basketball. I watched professional basketball in the 1990s and neither my husband nor my son were very interested. At least my son and and my husband both read a lot, and we suggest and loan books to each other.

Clothes in Books said...

I read this book a long time ago, and liked it very much. I have always loved historical fiction about the Tudors, right up to Hilary Mantel now!

TracyK said...

Moira, It was reading Hilary Mantel's books that inspired me to read more on this subject, and I prefer historical fiction to nonfiction if it is well done and accurate. I had read some good reviews on Young Bess, but it was even better than I expected. The second book in the trilogy is on the way, but taking its time.

I have also gotten a copy of The Mirror & the Light and will read that before the end of the year.

col2910 said...

Glad you enjoyed it Tracy, but one I'll easily avoid.

TracyK said...

I understand, Col, and this is entirely not your thing. But, then, you probably already know much more about Elizabeth I than I do.