Thursday 31 August 2017

STRANDS OF MY WINDING CLOTH by Gemma Lawrence @TudorTweep

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: Gemma Lawrence is one of my favourite authors ever, and I adore all her books!

I have been so looking forward to this, the 4th book in the Elizabeth of England series.  It covers of the reign of Elizabeth I from 1560-1567, after the death of Amy, wife of Elizabeth's great love, Robert Dudley, to the resolution of the succession question.  The Queen is under great stress as she is pressured by Robert for his hand in marriage, and by the rest of her realm, and beyond, to choose a husband and name an heir.  In case you are wondering, the 'winding cloth' of the curious title (which I love) refers to her death shroud; Elizabeth is only in her late twenties, but feels that death is ever with her, not only in the passing of those close to her and her own health problems, but because of the endless discussion about who will sit on the throne after she is gone.

This book has much to do with the politics behind the gaiety of court life, as Elizabeth struggles against her cousins (Mary of Scots, Margaret Lennox and Katherine Grey), and those who consider them to be not only the rightful heir, but, perhaps, to have a better claim on the throne that she has, despite her being the last child of Henry VIII... meanwhile, there is trouble to the north, and in France and her own country, with the never ending Catholic vs Protestant wrangles.

This part of Elizabeth's reign is not something I knew about, which meant that I learned much from this book.  I didn't know, for instance, that James 1st was the great-grandson of Henry VII, though how that had eluded me I don't know.  I knew how all the cousins (second and otherwise) were related, but had to stop and think, often; I would have loved a family tree at the beginning of the book (hint, hint!).  I felt I understood Elizabeth more and more as I read; this book is listed as a biography rather than historical fiction.  Clearly her personality is shaped by her early life: the fate and loss of her mother, her father's attitude to marriage, her abuse (and the shame she felt at her response) at the hands of Thomas Seymour, and her abandonment by just about everyone.  Those who she could rely on were her friends: Parry, Blanche and, of course, Kat Ashley.  As the book went on, I came to wonder if she was by nature, or was made to be by circumstances, almost asexual; not a bad thing for a monarch to be, in those times; certainly friendship was more important to her than romantic love, and she clung to Kat Ashley as a young girl clings to her mother.   I had sympathy for Robert Dudley ~ she expected him to remain true to her whilst never giving him what he really wanted, but dangling it, always out of his reach, letting him believe that she would one day grant him her hand in marriage.  No wonder, then, that he sometimes acted outside her best interests ~ and will, in volumes to come, replace her.

Threaded throughout the story is the drama and catastrophe of Mary, Queen of Scots; fascinating, I must read about her soon, too.  At the end of the book, Elizabeth and Robert draw parallels between their own situation and that of Mary's.  

I loved the representation of Tudor life, the changing of the seasons, the peep into how the people of 450 years ago actually lived, and the strange beliefs held by even the most educated and intelligent.  When the winds whistled around the castle walls, I could imagine being there.

Terrific book, a great achievement, well worth the hours spent reading it ~ it's long!  Highly recommended, but do start at the beginning, with The Bastard Princess. 👑


  1. Couldn't agree more, a terrific book. This author deserves worldwide recognition.

    1. Indeed. She's definitely in the top 3 best histfic authors I've ever read.

  2. Enjoyed the post, Terry. Loved what G. Lawrence said about the book. And the cover is great. One to add to my list of must-reads. But yes, start with The Bastard Princess.

  3. Do you mean the dedication/author's note? If so, it brought tears to my eyes. I used to talk to Gemma on Twitter about the Tudors, generally, then when I read her stuff I was bowled over by how good she was. Thing is, like many of the best writers, she doesn't realise how good she is. Julia and I were discussing this on the phone the other day! She proofread the book and said that even though it's really long (130K words), and she knows all the history, she was riveted. That she's ever been rejected by any agent or publisher gives me even less faith in the industry than I had already!!

  4. Love Gemma Lawrence's books - will definitely buy this one! Thanks for the reminder!