Ursula Blanchard, illegitimate half sister to Queen Elizabeth, is once again called upon to serve Queen and country. This time the requirement is to marry for political reasons. Ursula has already buried three husbands and remarriage is not on her horizon--although it seems to be taken for granted by those arounds her, Sir Francis Walsingham being the main proponent. Ursula is already fighting off neighbours with an eye to her lands and possessions, and now the court takes a hand.
The proposed alliance is with Count Gilbert Renard, the illegitimate son of King Henri II.
A big question for Ursula is just how much does she have to keep giving, how many times is her life to be disrupted due to her relationship with the Queen. The dangers of childbirth for women, including Ursula and the Queen are referenced. Other issues include the problem of succession, the place of Catholics under Elizabeth's regime and the reality of courtly marriage being just one more move on the chessboard of national or international relations.
Ursula's reasons for acquiescence are as complex as she is. Her complex relationship with the Queen is the leading one.
It seems that there is a French spy at court and that particular worry invades Ursula's haven, along with all the other matters. One of her servants is murdered, another disappears, and the life of an English spy in France is being threatened.
Intrigue and fast action thread the pages and Ursula's pleasing life is sorely disrupted and threatened from all sides.
As the plot unravels we are treated to insights into at a strong woman, wary of her position, with no illusions about her value to the court, who somehow maintains her understanding, insights and compassion.
A fast paced, very human, historical mystery.
A NetGalley ARC