This is my third Philippa Gregory audiobook taking me through the turbulent Tudor times. After listening to the stories of Henry VIII wives, The Queen’s Fool moves onto the era of his children: Edward VI’s short reign, Mary’s ascension to Queen and Elizabeth waiting her turn. Once again Philippa Gregory has a rich vault to mine in regards to the basic facts of the royal family. Their non-fiction story is so fascinating before you apply a layer of fictional poetic license to it, that it’s quite astonishing – I couldn’t help but be completely sucked in.
As the title suggests, this novel is narrated by the queen’s fool, Hannah Green. She is a young Jewish girl from Spain who, with her bookseller father, had to flee from persecution. They travel across Europe and end up in England. A fluke encounter with a member of the queen’s court, where Hannah unwittingly reveals she has the gift of sight (premonitions and revealing elements of the future) means she is promised as the Holy Fool to the monarch: There to be a companion and use her unique skills. In an interview after the audiobook, Philippa Gregory reveals she based Hannah on a real girl recorded as being in Mary and Elizabeth’s courts.
It is a clever way to tell the story of Mary’s reign, using a character that has no particular gravitas at court herself, but is privy to everything the queen does as she is a loyal companion. It also feels realistic that she would befriend Elizabeth, so we get an insight into her life as well. Hannah’s own story is revealed too and she is a very likeable character. Intelligent and sensitive, she battles with being Jewish in Catholic England, where people are being literally burnt for not being the ‘right’ religion, she is betrothed to Daniel, a Jewish boy, but the idea of not marrying for love doesn’t sit well with her and she longs for independence in a time when women just didn’t have that option. You care about her and root for her, hoping she makes it through the notoriously cut-throat Tudor times.
There is a section of the book that took the plot away from court and to Calais for a while and I’ll admit that I did find my attention waning a little bit then. As interesting as Hannah’s story was, I am all about the queen and princess and what they are up to, so felt like I was waiting for Hannah to return to England to get back to that setting. If the action had remained at court, this would have been a 5/5 for me, but I still enjoyed every minute (and there were a lot of them with its 21 hour running time!) of this audiobook and fully recommend it.
Audiobook narrated by Yolanda Kettle / Running time: 21 hrs 11 mins / Published by HarperCollins 2018