A biography of Lady Penelope Devereux, sister to the Earl of Essex, who was Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite.
Sally Valow claims she wants to reclaim Lady Penelope from the vilification started by Robert Cecil during the reign of James I. The book covers what is known of her life, or what can be inferred, from various letters, other people’s diaries, Court records and legal records.
Lady Penelope was born into a privileged circle. She had royal connections and her parents were favourites of Queen Elizabeth – at least whilst her father was alive. After the death of Lord Hereford her mother married Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and incurred the wrath of the Queen! Despite this both Penelope and her brother, Robert Earl of Essex, were popular at Court.
Penelope was married to Lord Rich, a wealthy landowner with Puritanical tendencies, for dynastic reasons but later fell in love with Lord Mountjoy who she had a long and happy relationship with. During the reign of James I she and Lord Rich were divorced, almost unheard of at the time, on the understanding neither would marry again. Penelope broke this agreement by marrying Lord Mountjoy and thus offended King James, bringing to an end her glittering Court career.
In a lot of respects Penelope was a very modern woman. She was intelligent, educated and a political “mover and shaker”. At the time of the Essex plot against Queen Elizabeth she was believed to have been one of the instigators and plotters.
I didn’t find the book particularly gripping or easy to read. Somehow Lady Penelope never quite came off the page, which is disappointing for someone who must have been a vibrant character in her lifetime.
I did however enjoy understanding more about Elizabeth’s Court and the key players in it during the Queen’s later years.