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The Girl in the Glass Tower

by Elizabeth Fremantle

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Arbella Stuart is of the royal blood and potentially an heir to Elizabeth I. In order to keep her safe, Arbella is in the care of her grandmother Bess of Hardwick and kept far away from court and any Catholic sympathisers who may wish to influence her. Whilst young Arbella tries to rebel, her older self becomes resigned to her fate. Upon the death of Elizabeth Arbella is summoned to court as a cousin of the new king, however falling in love with a distant relative is seen as defiance. Arbella's tale is told by Amaelia Lanyer, a disgraced female poet who lived at court but now must make her way in the world as best she can.

Having read the terrific biography of Arbella Stuart by Sarah Gristwood, I was aware of the character, her connections to the throne and the miserable life she seems to have led. Whilst this book is a completely fictionalised account, it does show evidence of excellent research. I particularly liked the idea that Arbella identified with Katherine Grey and this is an explanation of how Arbells seemed to slip into madness and starve herself to death. The interesting character is Bess of Hardwick, a woman who married well and ended up as one of the richest people in England, she was powerful and complex before her time. Amaelia Lanyer is a character about whom little is known but she was a successful poet and some think she is the 'dark-eyed beauty' of Shakespearean fame. Steeped in knowledge of everyday life at court, in the houses of rich and poor alike, this is excellent historical fiction. ( )
  pluckedhighbrow | Aug 22, 2017 |
Having read about this novel just before Christmas, I've seen it mentioned in several other places since, always with the greatest admiration. I was attracted by the idea of a book set at the turn of the 17th century which focused in on more unusual characters and also promised to teach me more about the history of the period. Both Aemilia and Arbella were real women, although neither was familiar to me. I'm always keen to learn more about women who transcended or challenged the expectations of their time, and both of our protagonists fit that definition. Written with care and sensitivity, Fremantle's book brings them both back to vivid life.

The years have not been kind to Aemilia Lanyer. Back in the fading days of Elizabeth I's reign, she and her poetry were celebrated at Court; but when James I came to the throne, with his dislike of educated women, Aemilia was dispatched to a meaner existence. Now, weighed down with the debts of her dead husband, she ekes out her days in Clerkenwell with her teenage son Hal. It is Hal who offers Aemilia some unexpected distraction from her financial woes. As a young musician at Court, he happens to see the rooms of the late Arbella Stuart being cleared. Remembering that his mother once knew this unfortunate princess, he brings home a bundle of old papers destined for the fire, little realising what a treasure he has found. For this is Arbella's account of her own life: the tale of a woman who dared to dream beyond the confines in which circumstances kept her. Faced with the words of this almost-friend, a woman she never truly understood, and one whom she inadvertently betrayed, Aemilia longs to finally learn the truth about Arbella Stuart...

The full review will be published on Wednesday 1 March at the link below:
https://theidlewoman.net/2017/03/01/the-girl-in-the-glass-tower-elizabeth-fremantle ( )
  TheIdleWoman | Feb 27, 2017 |
Elizabeth Freemantle's novel focuses on two fascinating women who lived in Jacobean England: Lady Arbella Stuart, in line for the throne, and the poet Aemilia Lanyer. The only historical links between the two are that Lanyer dedicated a poem to Arbella, and the two women were at one time both at court and in Queen Anne's coterie. Here, Freemantle has tied their stories together in an engaging, imaginative story.

The real Arbella's life was quite a sad one. Descended from Henry VIII's sister Margaret (and therefore the granddaughter of Henry VII), she was considered a likely successor to Elizabeth I. In addition, her uncle was Lord Darnley, husband of Mary, Queen of Scots, which made Arbella cousin to the future King James. Arbella's father died when she was an infant and her mother when she was only seven; she was raised by her redoubtable grandmother, known as Bess of Hardwicke. In Freemantle's version, Elizabeth named James as her successor because she felt that England had had enough of a female monarch; the truth is that more likely that the queen's advisors, Lord Burghley and his son Robert Cecil, pressed her to favor James. Although extremely well educated, Arbella was infrequently at court, more often kept under her grandmother's thumb at Hardwicke Hall. She showed little interest in becoming queen, but James suspected her of ambitions to the throne. There were several plots in her lifetime to remove James and make her queen, but she was a loyal subject, even revealing one such plot to the king herself. Quite cruelly, both Elizabeth and James kept Arbella from marrying. They used her as bait in several marriage proposals but likely feared that if she produced an heir, that child, too, could become a threat. In 1610, at the age of 35, she secretly married the much younger William Seymour without the king's permission. Arbella was fourth in line to the throne, and Seymour, who also had Tudor ancestors, was sixth; James clearly saw the marriage, adn possible children, as a threat. When James discovered the marriage, he imprisoned them both, Seymour in the Tower of London and Arbella under house arrest. The two were able to exchange letters in secret and planned an ill-fated escape. Seymour succeeded, but the two never met up, and Arbella was captured and imprisoned in the Tower. In despair, she starved herself to death.

Freemantle sticks fairly close to the factual details of Arbella's life but takes a freer hand with Aemilia Lanyer. The facts: Her father, an Italian, was a musician in the court of Elizabeth I. As a child, she was sent to live in the household of the Countess of Kent, where she received an education. Already known as a poet, she frequently stayed at court where she was often called upon to read her work. At the age of 18, Aemilia became the mistress of the queen's cousin, the Earl of Hunsdon. When she became pregnant, she was banished from court, and her family married her off to a first cousin. It was not a happy union, and when her husband died, Lanyer opened a school to support her children. She published her first book of poetry, dedicated to Lady Arbella, at the age of 42 and was frequently called to court to read for Queen Anne. Although Lanyer and Arbella may have been acquainted, there is no evidence of a friendship between them.

Freemantle, however, imagines a sympathy between these two educated, literary-minded women that blossoms into friendship; that is her main invention and the hub of the novel, and Lanyer is inserted into several of the key episodes in Arbella's life. Lanyer is given a personal as well: we see her interactions with neighbors both kind and cruel, her relationship with her son Henry, her efforts to provide for herself as a widow, and more. As the author's creation, she comes alive on the page; as a woman granted a measure of freedom, she becomes a lively counterpoint to the confined and oppressed Arbella, but both serve as reminders of the limitations placed on women at the time.

Overall, the book was a fine combination of fact and fiction, well researched and engagingly written. Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction set in Tudor and Stuart England. I listened to the book on audio, which was wonderfully read by Emily Watson and Rachael Stirling. ( )
1 vote Cariola | Sep 1, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0718180461, Hardcover)

Elizabeth Fremantle's The Girl in the Glass Tower is a stunning historical thriller set in the chaos leading up to the death of Elizabeth I. Tap. Tap. Tap on the window. Something, someone wanting to be heard. Waiting to be free. Tudor England. The word treason is on everyone's lips. Arbella Stuart, niece to Mary, Queen of Scots and presumed successor to Elizabeth I, has spent her youth behind the towering windows of Hardwick Hall. As presumed successor to the throne, her isolation should mean protection - but those close to the crown are never safe. Aemilia Lanyer - writer and poet - enjoys an independence denied to Arbella. Their paths should never cross. But when Arbella enlists Aemilia's help in a bid for freedom, she risks more than her own future. Ensnared in another woman's desperate schemes, Aemilia must tread carefully or share her terrible fate ...The Girl in the Glass Tower brilliantly explores what it means to be born a woman in a man's world, where destiny is strictly controlled and the smallest choices may save - or destroy - us. Praise for Elizabeth Fremantle: 'The research and historical detail are impeccable ...Fans will enjoy this evocation of Elizabeth's tumultuous court' Times 'A glamourous tale peopled by warrior poets, flamboyant courtiers and shameless loves. Sharp, perceptive and dramatic' Sunday Express 'Fascinating' History Girls 'Enthralling' Historia 'The combination of depth, intelligence and real historical imagination that Fremantle brings to bear on the lesser-known (but immensely powerful) women of the Tudor era is unmatched' Manda Scott 'A wonderful, totally transporting novel that folds you into its world, word by word, page by page. I absolutely loved this book' Eve Chase, acclaimed author of Black Rabbit Hall

(retrieved from Amazon Sun, 29 May 2016 08:15:56 -0400)

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