Book Review, Historical Fiction

Book Review: The Queen’s Fool by Philippa Gregory

I really love the various historical fiction series from author Philippa Gregory.  Each book is infused with such period detail that I can visualize the world completely, from the social mores to the clothing, horses and food.  I borrow these books from the public library, and they don’t have the entire series or some are missing, so I read them out of sequence, which is okay – you don’t have to read them in order.  Some, like The Queen’s Fool, stand alone in the Boleyn sequence, so that you can read this book and enjoy it as a good historical fiction, or read it along with the other Boleyn books by Gregory, and it works fine either way.


The Queen’s Fool tells the story of Hannah Greene, a Jewish girl who with her father, escaped persecution in Spain.  They pretend to be Christians but maintain their Jewish heritage in secret, lighting a forbidden and hidden Sabbath candle, and networking with other Jews in hiding. Hannah is promised to marry Daniel Carpenter, a good and honest young man studying to be a doctor, but Hannah has earned a measure of independence. She wears boy’s clothing and works with her father in his printing and book shop in London.  Hannah also has the gift of sight, and this gift eventually earns her a place in the court of King Edward as the king’s fool, then upon his death, as Queen Mary’s fool.

A fool during the Elizabethan era did not mean a stupid person. Instead, it meant an amusing person; someone the monarch kept around to bring honesty and humor to the court.  Hannah’s position means she can be honest with the monarch when others must remain as courtiers, flattering and playing politics. Another fool at court, Will, is more like what we would call a comedian today, making jokes during serious matters or to lighten the mood at court.

Hannah is only 13 when three men appear at her father’s bookshop, one of whom is dressed completely in white and riding a white horse. It turns out there are only two men, one of whom is John Dee, the other a highly placed nobleman at court. The third is the angel Uriel, who she sees with her second sight. Dee, the court astrologer, is instantly transfixed by Hannah, and she is pledged to the court so that her mystical second sight can be used by Dee and others to help the Boleyns attain the throne.

Hannah is a woman torn between polar opposites. In politics, she loves Queen Mary, but is torn because she believes Princess Elizabeth will be a better monarch. She is torn between her attraction for Daniel and her attraction for Robert, the Duke at court. She is torn between wanting to be a woman and wanting the independence of a man, and of wanting to remain free and unencumbered but wanting the security of life with Daniel.

I liked this book a lot, and especially the character of Hannah. While she does seem almost too modern for the time period in fighting for her independence, I found her love for both Daniel and Robert convincing, as was her loyalty to Queen Mary and her mixed feelings about Elizabeth.  I won’t spoil the end of the book for you, but there is a plot twist when Calais, the city in France held by the English, falls that I did not like. I found it very contrived. But let’s see if you feel the same way after reading The Queen’s Fool.

I enjoyed this book so much that I went back and borrowed The Red Queen, one of the others in this series, and plan to read more of Philippa Gregory’s wonderful historical romances.  4 stars out of 5 for this one.

I borrowed my copy from the Prince Edward Public Library, but you can also purchase it through Amazon or your favorite online bookseller.

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