Carolyn Meyer is my favorite author. From reading her work, it’s clear she puts massive amounts of research into her books.
“Beware, Princess Elizabeth” is, in my opinion, the best of her “Young Royals” series, which covers female royalty through the ages. Meyer’s depiction of the worst and most challenging years of Elizabeth Tudor’s life as she struggled to eventually become the Queen of England is masterful and suspenseful.
The book begins with the death of Elizabeth’s father, King Henry VIII, when Elizabeth is 13. Elizabeth’s already precarious situation in the royal family grows even more uncertain without her father’s fickle love and protection, as she is last in line for the throne after her younger half-brother Edward, and her older half-sister Mary. Edward dies very soon after taking the throne, having been sickly all his life. Mary takes power, recognizing the threat Elizabeth poses as a rival for the crown, and although she proceeds to make her life miserable, Mary knows she can’t have Elizabeth killed since she is loved by the people.
The years of Mary’s reign of terror as “Bloody Mary” are shown through Elizabeth’s eyes, although most of the 11 years between the death of her father and her becoming queen are spent in dank palaces, and at one point, the Tower of London. Elizabeth is entirely at the mercy of Mary’s whims as to what to do with her.
Elizabeth’s determination and spirit are portrayed realistically, with ups and downs, making her not just a fiery princess, but one who also has doubts and fears. Her reliance on others is not downplayed, making it clear she cannot do everything herself and needs help from others to survive and maintain hope.
Mary, while the villain of the story, is not just the cruel queen depicted in recorded history. There is an indicated reluctance in what she does to Elizabeth for the sake of holding power and keeping Elizabeth from being a threat, and a hint of sadness at the circumstances of Mary’s reign, with no children or loving husband.
As a long time admirer of Queen Elizabeth I, I was empowered by seeing her triumph over the obstacles sisterly rivalry gender. I also got the sense of the sadness she must have felt for the sacrifices she had to make to get the throne. For me, her win is bittersweet, knowing that the character Meyer shows in Elizabeth would much rather have never had to choose between family and power.
Compelling and engrossing, “Beware, Princess Elizabeth” is a thrilling jewel for anyone who loves historical fiction.