Elizabeth St. John provides us with a colorful, “what if” view of her ancestress, Lucy St. John Apsley. Lucy, her brother and sisters, are orphaned at a young age and become dependent on their uncle Oliver for protection and guidance. Elizabeth I dies and so ushers in the intrigue, greed, and excess of first James and then Charles Stuart. The St. John family hitches their family fortune to George Villiers, James I’s favorite, and the eventual Duke of Buckingham, a man whose lust for power eventually turns him into the most reviled man in the country. Lucy is earnest, passionate, and dedicated to nurturing the plants in her garden. She falls prey to the wiles of Theo, Lord Somerset, who professes his undying love only to ditch Lucy for a young heiress. When Theo returns after his marriage, offering to make Lucy his mistress, her distaste for the court and their loose morals solidifies. Lucy eventually marries Lord Allen Apsley, the Lord Lieutenant of the Tower, and hopes for a quiet life with a home and children, but the Stuart court does not let her go so easily. The more Lucy’s extended family aligns itself with powerful men, the more at peril they put themselves, their lives, and their families. Lucy does everything she can to persuade Allen to shun court and political advancement. Even so, their fortunes become entangled in the high stakes game of court favorites, where men are ruined or executed when they fail to live up to the monarch’s demanding standards. Lucy can do little but ride the stormy waves, doing all she can to protect her children and the life she holds dear.
This novel is long and because Lucy, as a woman, is not a key participant in much of the action, readers can only see the action through Lucy’s reaction and as such, the plot drags. Lucy craves an independent life, one of her making, but try as she might, those around her assure that she never enjoys one. The story is a bittersweet but insightful look into the life of a 17th century woman. Lucy can only react to all the danger her family and husband place her in, and that makes for a sad tale. This is an important historical perspective, however – one readers rarely see – and because of that, I found it interesting. But it doesn’t make for a page-turning experience, so only the die-hard history fans would probably reach for this one.
Amazon link is here.