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Queen's Courier Kindle Edition
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In the prequel, Abduction of the Scots Queen, Matho Spirston kidnapped the infant Mary, who would one day be known as Mary Queen of Scots. As soon as Matho handed the infant queen to Margaret Douglas, aka Meg. daughter of Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus and Henry VIII’s sister, Meg, rode away. Subsequently, Marie de Guise, Queen Dowager of Scotland, blamed Meg for the abduction. If Mathew, Earl of Lennox, had not spoken up for her, in Queen’s Courier Meg would still be incarcerated in a wretched jail, “her hair full of creeping things.” After her ordeal, she and Lennox realised how much they cared for each other, although Lennox, greedy for power, courted the Queen Dowager. Yet, Meg, as King Henry VIII’s niece marriage or “any sexual liaison was forbidden without royal permission in order to protect royal line of succession. To disobey would be to risk imprisonment or execution.”
Lennox hates Matho, and – as the saying goes – would like to have his guts for garters. However, Meg sometimes thinks of the Englishman with regret. Remembering “his rough speech and the strange, unlikely attraction between them gives her a frisson of excitement, even danger”.
Henry VIII wants the little Queen Mary to marry his son, the future Edward VI, Marie is praying her baby daughter will marry Prince Henri and Catherine de Medici’s son. “Little Mary would thrive in the sunny fields of France and a French marriage would give Scotland the security the country badly needed.”
In Northumberland, Matho, who looks forward to bringing Phoebe Kirkton home from Scotland as his bride, has been summoned by his friend, Harry Wharton’s father. Wharton orders him to escort Meg to Morpeth. Reluctantly Matho obeys and tells her: “You should be scared of me, what if I wanted revenge?”
This is a bloody period in the borders between England and Scotland. Reivers, some of whom are engaged by the English to pillage the area, and make it easier for Henry VIII to invade Scotland.
When describing the landscape Black’s word pictures always capture the scenes. For example: “Many horses that had ridden at speed across the frost-silvered grass had pockmarked a plain trail leading toward the hills shining grey-white in the starlight.
Black’s grasp of the politics in this troubled era is admirable. The Scottish lords meet frequently to plot about the Scottish Regency. Lennox wants to become Regent of Scotland instead of Arran. But Marie de Guise knows that she must become Regent and ‘somehow she must contain her nobles and bring them together for her daughter’s sake.
Against his better judgement, Matho is persuaded to act as Marie’s spy, taking messages between Stirling Castle, London and France to her French relatives, but he has to keep clear of not only the machinations of Henry VIII's information network, but also his invading army.
Although I enjoyed every part of this novel, and the characterisation of major and minor characters is excellent I particularly like Black’s description of Marie de Guise in her private and public role.
I recommend this talented author’s fascinating novel with a believable plot and protagonists.
King Henry is adamant that Scotland must be brought to heel before his troops leave to conduct war with France. Marie or Mary of Guise, Queen Dowager of Scotland, is determined to carry out schemes so that her daughter Mary will eventually obtain and hold power over Scotland. A great deal of this novel lies in the machinations of Henry and British lords to take away castles in Scotland and make promises for local rule that shift with every wind. Still as all are greedy for power, they all connive to be in the right place at the right time, often promising loyalty to both sides at the same time.
Matho is a carrier of letters or spy who tries to stay out of trouble but always seems to anger the wrong people, including Marie of Guise. He occasionally travels with other spies and must be wary as everyone’s services are for sale to the highest bidder. For all of his experience, he plays the game but frequently blunders in speech, accidentally revealing news others should not know. However, what he longs for most is his own great love, Phoebe, and their future together. Instead he finds himself avoiding British and Scottish warriors who are more engaged in skirmishes to capture local territories in Scotland than conduct an all-out war.
The story culminates in a period of quiet when Scotland is relatively quiet, for now, and new adventures await all in France where a new battle is about to commence and new fortunes will be lost and made.
For one unfamiliar with the historical period covered in this novel, an over-abundance of characters can be difficult to connect to their rightful place and position; but the passionate, temperamental and determined essence of the characters makes up for that overabundance. Jen Black does a fine job of depicting men and women avid to own their Scottish land and heritage as well as those who serve them. Obviously well-researched and nicely crafted, this is fine historical fiction.
I especially loved the portrayal of Mary of Guise, a wise, resourceful woman left alone to rule a country where the vultures constantly gather to take her throne and probably her life. Mary is determined to preserve the country for her infant daughter, who went on to become Mary, Queen of Scots, but she needs all her powers of diplomacy and cunning to stay Queen. I really felt for her.
Against his better judgement, Matho is persuaded to act as Mary's spy, taking messages between Stirling Castle, London and France to her French relatives, but he has to keep clear of not only the machinations of Henry VIII's information network, but his invading army too. Then there is Matthew, Earl of Lennox, who doesn't trust Matho an inch and is hoping to win over Meg's Uncle Henry so he might marry her. But is the price he is expected to pay too much?
A beautifully written novel of Tudor England and Scotland with the atmosphere perfectly portrayed. I would say I cannot wait for the next one, but I have read that too, and it didn't disappoint.