On Sunday the 8th day of September in the year of Our Lord 1560, 28-year-old Amy Dudley was found dead at the foot of a staircase at Cumnor Place, a country manor house in Oxfordshire, near the college town of Oxford, England. Since her childless marriage to Robert Dudley, Amy had not had a home of her own, but was always a guest in others’ homes while her husband was at court. Cumnor Place was owned by Anthony Foster, a friend of the Dudley family since the days of John Dudley. As there were no witnesses, almost immediately rumors spread that Amy’s husband, Lord Robert Dudley, had conspired to have his wife killed so that he could be with the 25-year-old Queen Elizabeth, now in the second year of her reign.
Beginning with these historical details, A. Piper Burgi has skillfully woven an almost 500-year-old “whodunit” of love, rumor and courtly intrigue. The story is told from the alternating viewpoints of Thomas Blount, cousin and steward of Robert Dudley, and Katherine “Kat” Ashley, governess and lady-in-waiting to the Queen. Although the courts ultimately found Amy’s death to be a tragic accident, the tale sets forth the many theories that abounded then and continue today on whether Amy’s death was accidental, murder or suicide. As Robert Dudley was a favorite of the Queen, spent more time at court with her than with his wife, and was the son of John Dudley, who was beheaded along with his son, Guildford, and daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey, for their conspiracy to deprive Queen Mary of the throne, there was reason to think Robert Dudley was behind the death of his wife. It would be up to Thomas Blount to do all he could to prove Robert innocent.
A. Piper Burgi clearly researched In the Shadow of Her Majesty: A Tudor Novel thoroughly to give her readers a rollicking good read, full of humor, intrigue, tension and darkness behind the velvet and lace elegance of early Elizabethan England. Protagonist Thomas Blount is witty, intelligent, and just the right champion of Robert Dudley’s rights, even though Blount himself is not always sure Robert is innocent. Blount walks the tightrope between help and harm and verbally spars with his old nemesis, Edith Odingsells, who may be the only one he can rely on to help him get to the truth. He doesn’t care for her, but explains “if she were a man, she would be the kind who never stabbed his opponents in the back.” We find many twists, turns, and uncovered secrets in this story. Even Blount has some secrets of his own. Each character was well described, giving the reader a clear picture of that person while reading along.