The Tower by Flora Carr - review by Suzi Feay

Suzi Feay

All the Queen’s Women

The Tower


Hutchinson Heinemann 257pp £16.99

Alison Uttley’s novel A Traveller in Time (1939), republished last year, introduced many a dreamy teenager to the story of the imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots, dethroned, diminished but still, siren-like, able to enchant male followers to their doom. Young Penelope, staying in an English country house that once belonged to the Babingtons, is able to slip back and forth across three hundred years to witness the plot to free the captured queen that takes its name from the family, but not to avert disaster.

Flora Carr picks up the siren motif in her more adult, considerably less ornamental take on an earlier episode in Mary’s troubled history. Its focus is another period of incarceration for Mary, this time at Lochleven Castle in Scotland, a stronghold in the middle of a loch. The timespan of the novel is comparatively small, comprising less than a year. A pregnant Mary arrives with two attendants, the Frenchwoman Marie de Courcelles, always called ‘Cuckoo’, and a young Scot, Jane, through whose eyes we see much of the action. Jane is insecure and of lower status than the ‘jewelled ladies’ (for some reason this is always italicised) who have served Mary hitherto.

There is some jockeying for the position of chief confidante, which both women realise they have lost out on with the dramatic arrival of Lady Seton, Mary’s childhood friend. They are all stuck in a stinking chamber, allowed very little access to open air and forced to endure the blandly

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