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on 25 December 2013
I bought this book as I had heard of Penelope Rich, however the story which I had heard was of a woman who was able to divorce her husband for his impotence & was then named "bigamist" when her husband remarried & fathered children on his new wife. This was a far more mundane story of a woman who took a lover &, eventually, married him after getting her husband to divorce her. Perhaps there was another Penelope Rich.
I found the story full of speculation rather than fact or even reasonable conjecture & the author's continual insistence that Penelope's family was descended from Henry VIII as "fact" was simply irritating. I also got the impression that the author had been unable to decide whether to write an historical biography or fiction &, to my mind, ended up with a muddle between the two.
The book is not a difficult read, although quite a lot of it is about those other than the subject but it is neither a fulfilling & well researched piece of history nor an historical novel.
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on 17 August 2009
This is a truly wonderful book about a truly remarkable woman! Married to one man she loathed, she had the audacity to begin an affair with another man which would last until his death!! Not only that but she also gave birth to her lovers children who bore her husband's name and eventually divorced her husband to marry him. Then to top it all when her second husband died and his family challenged his will, Penelope took on the full force of the legal system and WON!What a truly remarkable woman. Her immense strength of character and the love she had for those around her simply shine out of this fantastic book. It makes such a change to read about such a person from this era of our history and all I have is admiration for the author who must have felt such an empathy for Penelope. Please, read this book. You will not be disappointed.
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on 10 October 2009
The first in-depth study of Lady Penelope Devereux, sister to the ill-fated Earl of Essex is a brilliantly written and extemely well researched study of this forgotten star of the Elizabethan court. Long believed to be the cousin of Elizabeth 1, Sally Varlow debunks this myth in this first few pages. Found in a Latin dictionary belonging to Sir Francis Knollys(grandfather to the Lady Penelope) is the proof that Mary Boleyn, grandmother to the Lady Penelope was in fact the daughter of Henry the eighth and not of William Carey, her husband. This fact goes a long way to explain Elizabeh's extraordinary patience with the rebellion of Robert, Earl of Essex and the Lady Penelope who was just as deeply involved as he - if not more so.

The book traces the tragically short life of this intelligent, strong-willed woman through her childhood and youth at Elizabeth's court, her desperately unhappy marriage, and her long love affair with Charles Blount. She adored her brother Robert Earl of Essex and the author shows her to be the driving force behind the rebellion which cost him his life. The Lady Penelope's relationship with Charles Blount, on whom Elizabeth relied saved her from reprisals. Finally she fell from grace under King James because of her eventual marriage to her lover. The book offers facinating new insights into the politics and relationships of Elizabeth's court. I only wish there are more extant portraits of The Lady Penelope, a truly beautiful woman.

I have already read it twice, the second time with increasing pleasure. I shall re-read it and I thoroughly recommend this book to anybody interested in the Eizabethan period and women's history.
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on 27 May 2008
This true story of the life, loves and political intrigues of a strong, beautiful and multi-talented woman at the court of Queen Elizabeth 1st reads as if the Lady Penelope had only died yesterday, so vividly does Sally Varlow bring her subject to life. I thoroughly recommend this book, but be warned - long after you have finished it you will find your thoughts returning again and again to this bewitching figure from history.
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on 14 August 2013
It's an informed read, but quite dry really. I've taken a break of a few days for that reasons and can't say it's gripping. It is, however, chock full of facts and does link events and people constantly.
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on 22 August 2013
I presumed this was a historical novel, in the Philippa Gregory vein, but it is just a fact based narrative with no actual story so I abandoned it after a few chapters.
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on 2 June 2008
For all its verve and colour, the Tudor court was a treacherous place. The ambitious needed quick wits, strong nerves, connections and a great deal of luck to survive. Even favourites were vulnerable; an unwise liaison, an unsought pregnancy, the slightest smear on the reputation of someone near the Queen could bring sudden disaster. Sally Varlow's admiration and sympathy for her heroine is clear and her considerable achievement has been to provide an account of Penelope Devereux's life which is detailed yet utterly readable, and which leaves you caring about the outcome. If Tudor England is your thing `The Lady Penelope' should certainly be on your bookshelf.
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on 4 August 2007
The author has managed to bring Lady Penelope to life, no wonder that she was at the centre of so much intrigue and drama at court. I keep being drawn back to the wonderful portrait that the author has found and used for the cover which already show a woman of great beauty but also those eyes suggest someone of tremendous charm, intelligence and charisma. I started the book quite slowly because of the huge cast of characters, many with similar names, but with the help of the family trees at the back and the engaging way in which the book is written, I was soon drawn into the extraordinary story of this woman who apparently participated in many of the events of those turbulent times. It is clear that very careful research has gone into this book but it is never dry and I was completely enthralled as the story unfolded. It is hard to understand how someone so passionate and 'alive' and likeable can have been ruthlessly airbrushed from history. What a great film heroine she would make!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 13 February 2008
I really enjoyed reading this book - but have some caveats. Firstly, this is not really a 'rediscovered' story: any historian of this period certainly knows more about Penelope Devereux that appears in this book. But certainly, Penelope is not as generally well-known as other Tudor/Elizabethan women. I also think Varlow's supposed huge discovery of Penelope being the illegitimate great-grandaughter of Henry VIII is greatly over-rated since nearly all the great Tudor families were related, and the Careys/Devereux would have been related to Elizabeth through Anne and Mary Boleyn as sisters. In any case, Penelope is possibly only Elizabeth's great-half niece, so hardly the threat to the crown that Varlow would like to have us think...

That apart, this is an entertaining and rivetting read. Varlow writes easily without writing down or making the 'history' dull. I did feel, however, that the first part of the story was far more flowing and engaged than the second - as if the author has perhaps lost some interest once Penelope was in her forties and established?

I also can't help thinking that while this is supposed to be a biography of a 'lost' woman, it concetrates hugely on her male relatives: brother, husband, lover/husband... therefore perhaps falling into the same trap that allowed Penelope to be 'lost' in the first place?

These might be niggles to some, and I don't think they prevent this being an entertaining read, but the book raises some interesting questions about women's lives and roles that it doesn't even begin to answer.
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on 16 May 2008
Very accessible, and a free-flowing read. I was impressed by Sally Varlow's depth of research and her obvious love for her subject - not just Penelope Rich, but the whole epoch, which she brings vividly to life. It was not the "romance" which made the book difficult to put down; Sally Varlow presents a wealth of background information and brings a sturdy and very plausible analysis of the political life of the times which for me was particularly rewarding. Thanks for that.
Stuart Monro
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