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Watch the Lady by Elizabeth Fremantle
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774238,443 (3.91)8
"From "a brilliant new player in the court of royal fiction" (People), comes the mesmerizing story of Lady Penelope Devereux--the daring young beauty in the Tudor court, who inspired Sir Philip Sidney's famous sonnets even while she plotted against Queen Elizabeth. Penelope Devereux arrives at Queen Elizabeth's court where she and her brother, the Earl of Essex, are drawn into the aging Queen's favor. Young and naive, Penelope, though promised elsewhere, falls in love with Philip Sidney who pours his heartbreak into the now classic sonnet series Astrophil and Stella. But Penelope is soon married off to a man who loathes her. Never fainthearted, she chooses her moment and strikes a deal with her husband: after she gives birth to two sons, she will be free to live as she chooses, with whom she chooses. But she is to discover that the course of true love is never smooth. Meanwhile Robert Cecil, ever loyal to Elizabeth, has his eye on Penelope and her brother. Although it seems the Earl of Essex can do no wrong in the eyes of the Queen, as his influence grows, so his enemies gather. Penelope must draw on all her political savvy to save her brother from his own ballooning ambition and Cecil's trap, while daring to plan for an event it is treason even to think about. Unfolding over the course of two decades and told from the perspectives of Penelope and her greatest enemy, the devious politician Cecil, Watch the Lady chronicles the last gasps of Elizabeth's reign, and the deadly scramble for power in a dying dynasty"-- "The author of Queen's Gambit and Sisters of Treason presents the story of Penelope Devereux, so beautiful she was the subject of Sir Philip Sidney's greatest love sonnets, so canny that she plotted to influence who would take the throne after Elizabeth I--while helping her brother Essex stay closest to the aging queen's heart"--… (more)

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Penelope Devereux Rich is best known as the muse behind Sir Philip Sidney's sonnet cycle, Astrophil and Stella When she was only 13, she was betrothed to Sidney, who was the nephew and only heir of Queen Elizabeth's favorite, the Earl of Leicester. But when Leicester wed the queen's cousin--Penelope's mother--and she gave birth to a son, Sidney lost both his inheritance and his future bride.

That, however, is not the end of Penelope's story, and Fremantle fleshes it out with both imagination and fact. As a lady-in-waiting, a great beauty, and sister to the queen's next favorite, the Earl of Essex, she wielded extraodrinary influence. Fremantle comes up with her own intriguing explanations for the unhappiness in Penelope's marriage to Lord Rich and the unparalleled freedom she gained. (She conducted a long-term affair with Charles Blunt, Baron Mountjoy, giving birth to at least four children by him; seven others were acknowledged by Rich, but some may have been fathered by Blunt.) She was also politically influential: Freemantle builds on suspicions that she may have been working to secure King James of Scotland as the queen's heir and that she was deeply involved in her brother's fateful 1601 rebellion.

The novel is narrated from two alternating points of view. Robert Cecil, son of Elizabeth's longtime chief advisor, Lord Burghley, appears as a first person narrator who is both attracted to Penelope and, because of his jealousy of Essex, antagonistic towards her. Penelope's own story is told in the third person by a narrator privy to her thoughts and actions. Unexpectedly, this divided narration works quite well. The story is an intriguing one and has inspired me to read a biography of Penelope Rich that has been languishing on the shelf for several years. ( )
1 vote Cariola | Sep 24, 2016 |
I enjoyed the richness of daily life details, and to some extent, the view of the development of relationships and allegiances. I've never seen an Elizabethan historical fiction dealing with the aging queen, or the end of her reign. That said, the pacing of the story was slower than I wanted in spots, and I felt stifled by scenes that went on too long, or played at a more muted affect. ( )
  ewillse | Jan 18, 2016 |
I've quite a bit about the Elizabethan Earl of Essex, but I was hardly aware of his remarkable sister prior to this novel. Penelope, Lady Rich, is a strong figure in this novel - she bargains with her husband for the freedom to live as she wished, negotiated with foreign governments to win her family favors, and navigated the politics of Queen Elizabeth's court much more successfully than her more famous (or infamous) brother. Highly recommended for fans of Tudor England. ( )
  wagner.sarah35 | Nov 28, 2015 |
Fascinatingly powerful!

A compelling novel of the Elizabethan Court, the interactions of Elizabeth favourites, including Robert Dudley, the Earl of Essex and his sister Penelope Devereux. We are treated to a tale that exposes the jealousies and jostlings for Elizabeth's favour of the major and minor satellites that surround her.
Penelope Devereux remained one of Elizabeth's preferred ladies-in-waiting for more than twenty years. Elizabeth, ever jealous of her favours arranges marriages to her accord. Woe betide those maids who marry outside her will. Banishment, the tower, penury--all are weapons Elizabeth employs against those who thwart her will. As Lettice Devereux, Essex and Penelope's mother, can attest. The pages are riddled with examples of Elizabeth's grasp upon those she favours. Essex and Penelope are no less touched by this control. Penelope at a young age is promised to Philip Sidney (portrayed as a chivalrous poetic knight), whose sonnets of Astrophil and Stella are tributes to her. She is heartbroken when instead of Sidney she is married to Rich, orchestrated it is later discovered by Elizabeth.
Robert Cecil is another who's family star is ascendence. Firstly via the work of his father, a favoured advisor, and then through his own efforts. Presented as a machevellian figure, with a spy network that stretches into the heart of the Spanish court and beyond, Cecil is a character in constant turmoil as he forever seeks with his actions, approval by his father and his Queen.
This is a novel of the last days of Elizabeth's reign when the fears for succession become a political nightmare of intrigue, self serving greed, compromise and ambition.
At the personal level this is a novel of Penelope's unrequited love and passionless duty, and of a woman walking the thin path of societal approval combined with a not-so-secret romance. Penelope Devereux, Lady Rich, is linked by marriage to Lord Rich, by first love to Philip Sidney, and by mature love and understanding to Blount, the Earl of Devenshire.
Penelope has the added burden of being the person designated by her mother to help reinstate the Devereux name and Lettice herself to the court. Penelope plays a deep game as she supports her brother, The Earl of Essex, through his fits and passions and disregard of the Queen's instructions. She is in contact with the Scottish Court over the succession, and is propelled by forces within and without to navigate the maelstrom of the Elizabethan court. The slightest slip will lead to, at the least banishment, at the worst, 'The Tower.'
Reading Fremantle's notes about her research adds further illumination to Penelope's story. Fremantle's treatment of the agreement between Rich and Penelope is believable. She owns to a certain poetic licence taken where the facts are not available. All to the good to render us a story that is both fascinating in its truths and comprehensive in its fictional licence.

A NetGalley ARC ( )
  eyes.2c | Jun 9, 2015 |
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Stella, star of heavenly fire,
Stella, lodestar of desire
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For Alice, who would have been Stella had I got my way
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The wax sizzles as it drips, releasing an acrid whiff
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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