Elizabeth and the Prince of Spain is the third in Margaret Irwin’s trilogy about young Elizabeth Tudor, the daughter of King Henry VIII and Queen Anne Boleyn who would become Elizabeth I. It is 1554: Elizabeth is under house arrest at the order of her half-sister, Queen Mary I, and faces the constant threat of execution. When Mary weds Prince Philip of Spain, he becomes central to Elizabeth’s struggle for survival.
England is still reeling from religious reformation begun in the 1520s and carried on through the short reign of the Protestant King Edward VI. Mary is determined to bring England back into the Catholic Church at any cost and believes an alliance with Spain will help her do that — and, at 42 years old, she desperately hopes to conceive a son and to remove Elizabeth from the line of succession once and for all.
Philip, meanwhile, is an unhappy bridegroom fifteen years his bride’s junior. His curiosity is piqued by rumors surrounding Elizabeth. Is she truly loyal to her sister and the Catholic Church, or is she playing an elaborate game to mask her intent to rule? Is she more of a threat dead, or alive? When the two meet face to face Philip is entranced by Elizabeth’s wit and strength, and he finds he must balance his royal convictions with a growing and inconvenient desire for the younger Tudor sister.
Irwin’s story stayed true to Tudor history, which I appreciated; however, her overlong descriptions detract from a story that needs little help to be extraordinary. Her characterizations, likewise, were hit and miss. The fragile and paranoid Mary evokes simultaneous empathy and horror through her obsequious devotion to her husband and her zeal for religious reform. She fades before the reader’s eyes as Elizabeth grows ever brighter. Elizabeth is eternally regal and so expertly calculating that even the reader cannot be sure what is genuine, and what is an act.
The problem with Elizabeth and the Prince of Spain, unfortunately, is the Prince of Spain. Irwin’s Philip is whiny, brooding, spiteful and unbearable. Even when it was warranted, I was unable to muster any sympathy for him or to feel anything during the exchanges between him and Elizabeth. Moreover, Irwin devotes far more attention to Philip than she does to her titular heroine, who doesn’t appear until Chapter Seven. It often felt like I was reading about Philip and the Tudors.
Check out our review of Elizabeth, Captive Princess
Shannon lives in Cleveland, Ohio with her boyfriend and a room full of books that she peruses when she isn’t trolling Apartment Therapy for new decorating ideas. In her free time she enjoys maintaining her blog, Reaching for the Moon, working on her first novel, and working with high school and college students in a local Model United Nations program.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Sourcebooks Landmark. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.