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*** The Author ***
Eleanor Alice Burford Hibbert, the daughter of a London odd-job-man, lived between 1906-1993. When she first started writing she used her maiden name of Eleanor Burford. Later, using the pen name of Jean Plaidy, she was a prolific writer of historical fiction. Her other pseudonyms were Elbur Ford, Kathleen Kellow, Ellalice Tate, Anna Percival, Victoria Holt and Philippa Carr.
In trying to find out just how productive a writer she was, I found over 100 titles under the name of Jean Plaidy alone. She said that researching and writing her books was like a drug to her. She felt miserable if she took only a week's break. Her research included going on cruises, to see places she wanted to write about, as well as doing a great deal of reading.
The Royal Road to Fotheringay is one of twelve novels about the Tudor period re-printed recently by Arrow in paperback. Arrow have also recently re-printed three Jean Plaidy novels about the Medici, four about the Plantagenets and three about the French Revolution.
*** Writing Style ***
As I have only recently discovered that I like Jean Plaidy's books, I have so far only read three, but the writing style has been similar so far.
The three books I have read have all come from the Tudor series, and are Lord Robert (Elizabeth I's special friend), and the two books about Mary Queen of Scots, Royal Road to Fotheringay and The Capitve Queen of Scots.
Common features of all three of these books are the historical accuracy and the feeling that I had got to know the main characters extremely well.
At the back of the books are details of research she has done. Being historically accurate was obviously very important to her. (If, on rare occasions, she thinks the way she has interpreted the facts may be disputed, she gives her reasons for thinking the way she does.) She was skilled at putting flesh on the bare bones of history by her writings.
The writing style is slightly old-fashioned, but not difficult to understand. I believe that is deliberate to enhance the reader's appreciation of the historical setting.
As it was a usual part of a young royal's education to learn Latin and French, the occasional phrase in these languages appears in the books. I didn't understand most of these phrases, but I don't think I lost any enjoyment of the story because of it.
The only thing I really don't like about her style is that she tends to use small amounts of repetition. For instance she might write that a character thought about saying something, and then when they decide to actually speak their thoughts out loud, something similar it written in full again. I feel that if she had taken a little more time reviewing the almost completed novels, this minor irritation might have been spotted and rectified. As the books have enough important substance, there really is no need for this sort of padding. I suppose some readers may find these sorts of reminders useful though, especially if time constraints mean that they can't read much in one sitting.
Although the writing style is good, and I will read more by this author, I am dropping one star from the rating, as I don't feel this is quite as good as Philippa Gregory's historical novels, which I would usually give the full five stars to.
*** Background to Plot ***
The story opens with Mary, who is already Queen of Scots, aged 5, playing with her four young friends, who remain an important part of the story both through this book and the sequel. At 6 years old she is betrothed to the heir to the French throne, and sent to be brought up in France, to prepare her for being their Queen, as well as that of Scotland.
Especially as I have recently read Jean Plaidy's book Lord Robert, which is equally about Elizabeth I, as well as her special friend in the title, I couldn't help comparing the two women. Both had difficult lives, both were queens at the same time in history, both had special friends whose wives died in suspicious circumstances, but their personalities were very different. While the most important thing to Elizabeth was to get and maintain power, Mary often let her heart rule her head. Mary had a happier childhood than Elizabeth, but Elizabeth's experiences helped make her a stronger monarch.
As some of the actions Mary and Elizabeth took affected them both, I was also interested in the way in which the author, through the different books, showed things from various viewpoints. These queens are cousins, but they often call each other "sister". This seems to be a friendly way of recognising the sisterhood of queens.
I liked experiencing the differing ways of life and protocol in the French and Scottish Courts through Mary's eyes. The French thought they were a lot more refined. Mary has trouble making up her mind whether she prefers gracious or brash suitors. Behind their external appearances, will she eventually realise that the intentions of most of them are similar? Getting family members married to the "right" person is all part of the political power struggle to most of the nobles. Also, readers will find the regents ruling countries, because the monarchs are too young yet to rule themselves, on both sides of the Channel, reluctant to give up the power they have.
This book ends when Mary is 24 years old. For those of you who know this history, I will tell you that Mary is at Lochleven. For those who don't know the significance of this, I wouldn't spoil the plot.
Ironically, despite the book's title, Fotheringay isn't mentioned once. To learn about what happened there, you can read traditional history books, or read Jean Plaidy's sequel, The Captive Queen of Scots. This sequel has less action in it than the earlier book, but the fact that much of the time is spent in a part of England that I love, The Peak District, meant that I found it equally enjoyable, for partially different reasons.
*** Warning ***
If you don't already know what happened to Mary while she was growing up in France, don't read the synopsis at the back of this paperback. It is only short, but it contains a plot spoiler about something that happens quite a way into the book.
*** Conclusion ***
Good historically accurate novel, with plenty of action, but not quite as good writing style as my favourite author in this genre, Philippa Gregory.
Recommended. I will be reading more of Jean Plaidy's books.
Paperback: 512 pages
Publisher: Arrow Books Ltd; New Ed edition (7 Jun 2007)
Price: RRP £7.99
At just six days old, Mary Stuart became Queen of Scots. At just six years old she was betrothed to the Dauphin Francois, the future King of France. Reluctantly leaving Scotland, Mary is raised in the decadent French court in preparation to become the Queen of France. But her reign with Francois is short-lived. Widowed at just eighteen years old, Mary is once again forced to leave her home to return to Scotland. Now a Catholic queen of a Protestant country, Mary must rule with caution and choose her next husband prudently.