Elizabeth and the Prince of Spain
by Margaret Irwin
Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach
Elizabeth and the Prince of Spain is the third in Irwin's series about Princess Elizabeth before she became Queen Elizabeth I. Overlapping the second novel, Elizabeth, Captive Princess, it offers a fresh angle on the challenges she faced during her sister Mary's reign, focusing on her tricky relationship with Mary's repressed and resentful husband, Prince Philip of Spain.
Before shifting to Elizabeth's story, the first third of the novel focuses tightly on Philip, emphasizing his thralldom to his father, the aging King of Spain, who has dictated that Philip, twenty-seven, must marry the thirty-eight-year-old queen of uncouth England. "Drink English beer, and praise it," his father instructs him. "It's bitter, but better than their wine, since Henry sold the monasteries and lost their vineyards." Philip's mission is to win England back for Catholicism and ultimately the Spanish crown, but Elizabeth's popularity is a hurdle. Her head, Philip thinks, "should be lopped off." Then he meets Elizabeth with her pagan eyes, "the eyes of a mermaid who could lure men to destruction under the cruel, softly curling waves of the translucent sea."
A central theme is the tension between Philip's religious faith and his understanding that politics requires compromise. Fearing he must lose either his soul or his mission for Spain, he tries to steer a middle course between the uncompromisingly vindictive Mary and the politically adept Elizabeth. Meanwhile, he falls deeply in lust with Elizabeth, who must steer a similarly narrow course to keep her head on her shoulders.
Though it includes many fine and thrilling scenes, Elizabeth and the Prince of Spain often slows its pace to offer an in-depth look at the clashing attitudes and belief patterns of the time and the intellectual dilemmas of men like Cardinal Pole, compassionate, intelligent, valiantly devout, and aware of his powerlessness to hold back the tides of history. Readers looking primarily for a brisk story may be disappointed, but the philosophically inclined will find this a meaty and thought-provoking read. (1953; 2011 Sourcebooks edition, 321 pages)
More about Elizabeth and the Prince of Spain at Powell's Books or Amazon.com
Other novels set during the same period:
Elizabeth, Captive Princess by Margaret Irwin (1948), #2 in the Good Queen Bess trilogy. Review or More info at Powell's Books
The Queen's Sorrow by Suzannah Dunn (2008), about a maker of sundials who accompanies Philip of Spain to England. More info
The Spanish Bridegroom by Jean Plaidy (1954), about the courtship of Philip of Spain and Mary Tudor. More info
Nonfiction about Philip of Spain:
With the Heart of a King: Elizabeth I of England, Philip II of Spain, and the Fight for a Nation's Soul and Crown by Benton Rain Patterson (2007). More info
Philip of Spain by Henry Arthur Kamen (1997). More info
The Grand Strategy of Philip II by Geoffrey Parker (1998). More info
Philip of Spain as King of England at www.Archontology.org
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