Read The Marriage Game Online

Authors: Alison Weir

The Marriage Game

The Marriage Game is
a work of historical fiction. Apart from the well-known actual people, events, and locales that figure in the narrative, all names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to current events or locales, or to living persons, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2014 by Alison Weir

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.

Originally published by Hutchinson, a member of The Random House Group Limited, London, in 2014.

and the H
colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.

Weir, Alison.
The marriage game : a novel of Queen Elizabeth I / Alison Weir.
pages; cm
ISBN 978-0-345-51191-1 (hardcover : acid-free paper)—
ISBN 978-0-8041-7730-6 (eBook)
1. Elizabeth I, Queen of England, 1533-1603—Fiction. 2. Leicester,
Robert Dudley, Earl of, 1532?-1588—Fiction. 3. Queens—Great Britain—Fiction.
4. Great Britain—History—Tudors, 1485-1603—Fiction.
I. Title.
PR6123.E36M37 2014
823′.92—dc23   2014031538

Title-page image: ©
Jacket design: Natascha Nel
Jacket art: lady’s jacket, linen embroidered with silk, seventeenth century (detail) (© Victoria and Albert Museum)


When I was fair and young, and favor graced me,

Of many was I sought, their mistress for to be;

But I did scorn them all, and answered them therefore,

“Go, go, go seek some otherwhere!

Importune me no more!”



She had put on the black mourning gown. Even though her heart was singing for joy, she knew she must appear decently to mourn the sister she had feared and come to hate. She was thus attired with jet glistening on her tight black bodice, on her long train, and at her ears, her red hair coiled up under a peaked cap. On that crisp November afternoon of her accession day, she made her stately, smiling way through the ranks of eager courtiers who thronged the palace of Hatfield to the soaring great hall. Hastily hung with damask, it was to serve as her council chamber, and upon the dais there was set a rich chair beneath a canopy of estate of cloth of gold, emblazoned with the royal arms of England. The lords assembled along the polished oak board bowed low as she strode in briskly and took her place—her rightful place, she told herself—on her throne. The seat of government, she reflected, smiling at the expectant men, and now I know what it is to be charged with the sacred care of my people.

Immediately after they had come upon her in the park with the momentous news that she was now, by the grace of God, Queen of England, Elizabeth had hastened back through the patchy November mist to the palace of Hatfield to give thanks to God for this, the most manifold of His blessings. He should not have cause to regret it, she vowed. She would do her duty and more. She would put an end to the strife and bloodshed over religion and the succession. She would be a
mother to all her subjects, loving and cherishing them as if they were truly her children, and guiding them in the way they ought to go. She would win and keep their love and their respect, and they would be her shield against the enemies who would surely beset her.

She surveyed the men who would serve her, a mere woman, her eyes bright and dancing, her narrow pointed face alive with triumph. She had accomplished it! She had survived! And now she would rule. Briefly, she wished her father, great Harry the Eighth, could have lived to see this day. All her life she had craved his approval, and yet it had never occurred to him that his daughters might be capable of ruling England. All he had wanted, for most of his long reign, was a son to succeed him. For that he had married six times. Would he be proud to see her now, seated in this chair of estate he had once occupied? She hoped so.

She thought too of her mother. That the disgraced Anne Boleyn’s bastardized infant should have come through so many perils and inherited the throne was surely a sign of God’s approval. Anne had been vindicated at last. If there was exultation in Heaven, this was surely the occasion for it. Maybe Anne knew now that her blood, cruelly shed by an executioner’s sword, had not been spilled in vain.

Elizabeth shivered, and not just because the lofty hall was chilly. She felt quite overcome with gratitude to God, who had brought her safely to this place. She was twenty-five, and all but two of her years in this world had been testing. But she had been honed from fine steel. She had survived bastardy, scandal, controversy, and accusations of treason and heresy. Converted to the true, Protestant faith in childhood, she had steered herself steadily through the stormy waters stirred up by her Catholic sister, the late queen, and come at last to a safe harbor. Who would have thought that she, the least of King Henry’s children, would one day wear a crown?

Sir William Cecil, faithful, clever friend throughout the years of trial and testing, took his place at Elizabeth’s right hand, laying before her the accession proclamation for approval. It would be cried in every town and city in the land, and sent to royal and princely courts throughout Christendom.

“Thank you, William,” she said, twinkling at him. An unwonted smile creased his long, serious face, and he bowed his head, stroking his beard. A stout Protestant of thirty-eight, and a clever lawyer, he had effortlessly slipped into place as her chief adviser; she knew she could trust his wisdom, his ability, and his fidelity. He was a man who liked simple pleasures, hardworking and discreet, and above all trustworthy. He had proved himself in the dark days of her sister’s reign by his quiet but constant support.

“Madam, there is the matter of public mourning for the late queen.”

“Three days should suffice,” she told him. She doubted that many would mourn Mary for long, not after her savage persecution of heresy. Mary had sent three hundred Protestant souls to the stake. That must now stop. Elizabeth had already given the order sparing all the poor wretches who yet remained in prison awaiting a dreadful death. She would never have her subjects, even Catholics, burned for their beliefs. She would not make windows into men’s souls, so long as they showed themselves faithful and obedient.


“Your Majesty, we must remove to London as soon as possible. So many have come here that there are no lodgings to be found for them.” They had been arriving for days, a steady stream of courtiers who had abandoned the dying Mary to seek favor with her successor. Elizabeth shuddered. Heaven forbid that should one day happen to her, when she saw death approaching.

Cecil was going through his agenda. “There is Your Majesty’s coronation to be planned, but we can discuss that anon. As for shifting the court, and all your Majesty’s household and stuff, I would advise the urgent appointment of a Master of Horse.”

Elizabeth’s eyes scanned the expectant men seated around the table. Somberly but richly clad like herself, they were all substantial persons of rank and breeding, hardheaded and ambitious. She realized that, as a woman, it would take all her skill to manipulate them to her will; but there were ways of handling that. She smiled to herself. She would ration her favors so they would be all the more prized, make her servants work hard for their rewards, and lead them on to live in hope.
Her mother had done it, even with her awe-inspiring father, and so therefore would she. Some of these lords had served Queen Mary, reluctantly at times, she knew. There sat the earls of Winchester and Sussex, who had escorted Elizabeth to the Tower in the dark days of 1554, clearly contrary to their will and better instincts. She did not hold it against them, for they had shown her all the kindness they dared. There too were Throckmorton and Knollys, staunch Protestants both, now able to profess their faith without fear; and Shrewsbury, Arundel, Pembroke, and Derby, shrewd men of experience who had turned their coats to the wind more than once; the clever lawyer Nicholas Bacon; William Parr, brother to the late Queen Katherine, whom Elizabeth had loved but wronged, she remembered painfully; and Lord Robert Dudley.

Robert, magnificently dressed and making his usual extravagant impression, had been seated astride his white charger, waiting to greet Elizabeth as she strode into the courtyard at Hatfield, exultation in her heart. She would forever associate him with that glorious moment. They had known each other since childhood, been prisoners in the Tower at the same time, for Robert—the son and grandson of traitors—had himself come under suspicion. His father, the Duke of Northumberland, had been beheaded by Queen Mary for setting up the usurper, Jane Gray, in her place, and the Dudley family had duly fallen. After his release, Robert clawed his way back into favor, proving his loyalty and his prowess on the battlefield.

He was opinionated and a braggart, and some found him insufferable, but Elizabeth had always been fond of him, for she knew there was kindness, loyalty, and a serious mind beneath the bravado. There was an inner man whom few knew, who had robustly espoused the Protestant cause, was fascinated by science, geometry, mathematics, astronomy, maps, and navigation, had read the classics and could speak fluent French and Italian. Robert had also distinguished himself gallantly in the tiltyard and in war, yet what most people saw was a showily dressed young man who rode a horse as magnificently as he jousted, who danced and sang divinely and was expert at tennis and archery. But what counted most to Elizabeth was that he had been a good
friend to her throughout the dark days of Mary’s reign, even to the extent of impoverishing himself for her sake. It was for that kindness that she was now about to reward him.

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