The Redheaded Princess
Historical fiction, especially concerning European royalty, is a popular genre but generally too bloody, racy or complicated for young readers. Ann Rinaldi's latest novel seeks to remedy that by telling a simplified yet dynamic version of England's Elizabeth I's life before her ascension to the throne.
THE REDHEADED PRINCESS starts when Elizabeth is just nine years old. Her mother, Anne Boleyn, was executed upon her father Henry VIII's order. She lived in her own household far from her father and half-siblings. Younger brother Edward was in line to be king and did ascend while still a child, after Henry's death. Edward was sickly and all of Europe knew he would die young, leaving Mary to be queen. Mary, daughter of the Spanish Catherine of Aragon, was staunchly Catholic, even though her father had broken England's ties with the Roman Church. After Edward's death (and a brief rule by the teenage Jane Gray) and Mary's coronation, Mary and Elizabeth's respective factions battled for the crown. It was a time of confusing religious change and violence.
As long as Mary was queen, Elizabeth was unsafe; she was even imprisoned by her older sister. Yet those around her always told her she would be queen one day. And they were right.
Ann Rinaldi's story captures, in first-person narrative, Elizabeth's and England's uncertainty. In this version Elizabeth is less calculating than history tends to remember her. She is sometimes certain and sometimes unsure of herself, torn between love for her family and the desire to be on the throne. She is at once the beautiful, headstrong daughter of her mother and the powerful and confident daughter of her father. Still, in THE REDHEADED PRINCESS, she is ever aware of her royal blood, her position and power in society, and her future role as queen of her people.
Although known as the “Virgin Queen” Elizabeth was a flirtatious young woman, and Rinaldi touches on that here, even including the infamous scene of Elizabeth found passionately kissing her stepfather while sitting on his lap. This theme, along with some more complicated history and a series of tortures and executions (beheadings and burnings), makes this book more appropriate for readers older than the 8-12 age range recommended by the publisher.
Elizabeth I is a compelling and complex historical figure, and Rinaldi's version is nuanced and interesting. THE REDHEADED PRINCESS is dramatic and exciting with plenty of history, and it is a good introduction to the historical fiction genre for middle school and even young high school readers.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 29, 2008
The Redheaded Princess
- Publication Date: February 1, 2008
- Genres: Historical Fiction
- Hardcover: 224 pages
- Publisher: HarperCollins
- ISBN-10: 0060733748
- ISBN-13: 9780060733742