The Girl in the Glass Towerby Published 02 Jun 2016
|The Girl in the Glass Tower.pdf|
Arbella Stuart is trapped behind the towering glass windows of Hardwick Hall. Kept cloistered from a world that is full of dangers for someone with royal blood. Half the country wish to see her on the throne and many others for her death, which would leave the way clear for her cousin James, the Scottish King
Arbella longs to be free from her cold-hearted grandmother; to love who she wants, to wear a man's trousers and ride her beloved horse, Dorcas. But if she ever wishes to break free she must learn to navigate the treacherous game of power, or end up dead.
The Girl in the Glass Tower Reviews
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The Girl in the Glass Tower weaves together the stories of two women, drawing on historical fact about each of their lives, although in reality, as the author admits in her afterword, there is no evidence to say they ever met in the way imagined. However, this is historical fiction after all and I really liked the way the author made connections between the situations of the two women.
Aemilia Lanyer (referred to as Ami in the novel) was an English female poet who became mistress to Henry Hunsdon, first cousin of Elizabeth I. When she fell pregnant, she was married off to Alphonso Lanyer. We encounter Ami in this novel following Alphonso’s death, left in poverty to bring up her son, Henry. Ami comes into possession of Arbella’s papers which include fragments of a memoir. [Although Arbella’s letters do still exist, the existence of a memoir is an invention of the author for the purposes of the novel.] Through reading Arbella’s words, Ami hopes to assuage the guilt she feels at having failed her friend. The reader will find out more about this towards the end of the book. Ami shares the same sense of expectation as the reader as she reads through the papers:
‘She can sense that her own story is about to intersect with Lady Arbella’s. The idea excites her, makes her wonder how she will be portrayed, whether she will recognize herself. Will she be there substantially, at the heart of the story, or as a ghost in the margins?’
At the same time, Ami must struggle with the challenges of daily life as a widow without financial means. I found the depiction of Ami’s everyday life and her efforts to carve out a living really convincing and engaging. As a single woman, and one who is educated to boot, she attracts the suspicion of her neighbours at a time when accusations of witchcraft were rife.
Arbella’s journal reveals her life in a gilded cage, existing in an atmosphere of constant threat because of her royal blood and the ever present fear that she may be used as a figurehead for rebellion by competing political and religious factions. Unknown to Arbella, those who would use her for their own objectives may be closer than she imagines – ‘invisible malign forces’. Intelligent, educated and with a gift for writing, Arbella lacks control of her own destiny. Even a potential marriage would have political consequences so she must remain unmarried and unfulfilled. In the imagination of the author, Arbella seeks to exercise a degree of control over her life in the only way available to her.
As presented in the book, there are large gaps in Arbella’s journal covering periods of years. Ami seeks to fill those gaps and bring a resolution to Arbella’s story: ‘It is the story of a woman silenced and with her pen Ami will give her a voice.’
I’d come across references to Arbella Stuart when reading other historical fiction of the period but knew little about her so I very much enjoyed having some light shed on her sad and ultimately tragic life. Arbella Stuart joins the list of Tudor and Stuart women who suffered because of their position in the royal succession and the political machinations of others. I enjoyed this book and will certainly seek out other books by Elizabeth Fremantle.
I received an advance reader copy courtesy of NetGalley and publishers, Michael Joseph, in return for an honest review.
So, this book was recommended to me and to be fair it was an entertaining novel. However, there was something about it that didn’t quite resonate with me. Maybe it was the length of the book (which IMO should have been shorter) or maybe that I felt little empathy for the characters, I can’t quite put my finger on what it was. Could just be that I’ve read loads of pretty similar novels and I’m getting just a bit bored. It was good to finally read some historical fiction that doesn’t just re-hash the same Tudor stories, but I’d take some Phillips Gregory over this. In summary, it’s entertaining and perfectly readable but not the best piece of historical fiction I’ve ever read.
Great TOME beware!
updated on 12 Feb 2017
Excellent historical fiction which soon draws the reader into this period in English history and its intrigue and plot. The narrative covers two parallel stories, the first being the life of Lady Arabella Stuart who was destined to succeed Elizabeth 1 to the English throne. For her 'protection' she is taken to rural Derbyshire at Hardwick. I loved this as we used to live near Hardwick Hall and visited on many occasions, so this brought the backdrop much more realistic for me. The second story looks at Ami who has been exiled from court and whose story becomes entwined with the first. How the two narratives come together in the second half of the book is done well. This is a well written historical fiction, even for those readers new to the genre. I felt the overall desolation of Arabella who was technically under ' house arrest' and how awful to have so many silently plotting against her. Elizabeth Fremantle is a master other craft and this is no exception. Arabella perhaps one of the lesser known characters from the 16 th Century, however in some ways I can see why. She isn't the most endearing of women. As I couldn't warm to her,this reduced some of the enjoyment for me, hence the 4*
Quite disappointing. I've enjoyed two of Elizabeth Fremantle's previous books Queen's Gambit and Sisters of Treason so was surprised by how much this book didn't grip me and was even boring. Nothing happened until 3/4 of the way through and even then I wasn't feeling it. The majority of the book was presumably a set-up of our main character but I found her flat and not well developed even after 300 pages... And the secondary character never became someone I cared about either. Shame.
“It was the sheer size of the windows that made the rooms at Hardwick so impossible to heat… Grandmother seemed impervious to the chill and could not hide her delight at her vast shimmering rectangles of glass, fit for a cathedral, the talk of all Derbyshire.”
(photo by my husband Mark)
Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall: so went a common saying about this large Elizabethan country house. Built at a time when glass was exceptionally expensive, it was the pride of Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury, the richest woman in England after the Queen herself. If you look carefully in the photo above, you can see her initials ("ES," for Elizabeth Shrewsbury) atop many of the towers; she knew how to stake her claim. It's now a National Trust property, and Mark and I paid a visit to Hardwick Hall and its grounds on our trip to England in 2014. Portraits of its former residents, the country's monarchs, and other English notables grace the interior walls. If you get the opportunity to see it in person, go!
Elizabeth Fremantle’s The Girl in the Glass Tower delves into the life story of another Elizabethan woman who resided there, but whose story was more tragedy than triumph: Lady Arbella Stuart, granddaughter of both Bess of Hardwick and Margaret Douglas (Henry VIII’s niece). Though she's a minor figure now, for much of her lifetime Arbella was considered a likely successor to Elizabeth I. Her royal lineage proved to be a terrible burden. Other parties wrought conspiracies around her for their own ends, and her long-lived grandmother, Bess, kept her under tight control, ostensibly for her own protection. While some of Arbella’s decisions cost her dearly, Fremantle shows in no uncertain terms how her behavior was a natural result of the restrictive environment she endured.
Half of the novel comprises Arbella’s memoir, written in Jacobean times while incarcerated in the Tower of London, where she looks out on the courtyard from above, recollecting her too-short life, which comprises constant reminders of “the impossibility of freedom.” Her mother died when she was a child, and her female role models are few. Her aunt, Mary Queen of Scots, is executed as a traitor. An earlier potential successor to Elizabeth’s throne, the late Katherine Grey, had married against the Queen’s wishes and paid a great price.
The stories of these women are threaded through the novel’s melancholy atmosphere; they haunt Arbella and remind her of their fate, which could also be hers.
Raised by Bess of Hardwick to be a future queen, Arbella grows up too aware of her position, leading to missteps that make her appear haughty. In this world of plots and counterplots political and religious, she does have loyal servants and loving relatives, but not everyone – family included – has her best interests at heart.
Alternating sections introduce Aemilia Lanyer, called Ami, a talented poet banished from court because King James didn’t approve of her feminist writing. Left impoverished after her spendthrift husband’s death, and determined to conceal the identity of her son Hal’s true father, Ami contends with a treacherously nosy neighbor and unwanted advances from her landlord (I particularly enjoyed how the subplot involving these characters turned out).
The two women's tales are nicely harmonized. Their lives intersect at a few critical moments, and it’s only after Arbella’s death, and she reads her memoir, that Ami truly knows the person who Arbella was. The Girl in the Glass Tower is a deep, intimate exploration of a little-known royal woman’s life.