Watch the Lady
I received a copy of this book from Gransnet and it is my pleasure to give a review.
I enjoyed reading Elizabeth Freemantle’s ‘Watch the Lady’ (but was the lady in question the main character, Penelope Devereux, who was watched as she was so beautiful and clever, or Queen Elizabeth 1, at whose court Penelope had been invited as she was the queen’s goddaughter?).
Whichever it was, this book gave a slice of court life in Tudor times and was interesting for that historical perspective (it is some years since I read a historical novel) however I struggled with some aspects of characterisation. Penelope seemed to have a split personality, one moment being madly in love with Philip Sidney (a love that was to be unfulfilled and unrequited) then after his death, equally with Charles Blount, whilst married to her homosexual husband Robert Rich. Each of these men seemed a little one-dimensional, as does the arch-villain Robert Cecil. I almost wanted to hiss and boo when Cecil made an entrance (although there was an element of pathos too, at times).
The overarching story line regards the Queen’s succession – who will it be? Penelope tries to steer the fortunes of her Devereux family to ensure that they will have a stake in the future monarchy and undertakes treasonable acts to do so.
There are some beautiful turns of phrase in Watch the Lady but equally, some verbose phrases too (which may appeal more to perhaps an American market) which I found to be immensely irritating.
A thread of the mental illness of Penelope's brother (yet another Robert!), who inherited the title of the Earl of Essex, also runs through the book but was at that time, undefined. Ultimately, it was this that brought Robert's early demise (and almost that of Penelope, too) as he made poor choices when mentally unstable.
I felt that the portraits ‘painted’ by Elizabeth Freemantle could be a little less clichéd, as, for example, people were either good or bad, beautiful or ugly, loyal or wicked.
As a historical novel (based on fact) this was overall an enjoyable read and could be recommended.