Two women play a game of cards while their mistress, Amy Robsart, rests upstairs. They hear a crash. ‘Down for a shilling,’ one of them jokes. ‘Up for another,’ the other replies. Later, concerned that there is no further sound, they go to investigate. And there, at the bottom of a corkscrew stone stairway, they find Amy dead, her neck broken.
As Amy was the inconvenient wife of Queen Elizabeth I’s beloved, Robert Dudley, there was a motive for murder. But was Amy killed, did she kill herself, or was her death the consequence merely of an unlucky fall? These are the questions at the heart of Chris Skidmore’s forensic research. Principally, however, Death and the Virgin is a love story, not a detective story.
Skidmore paints wonderful, intimate scenes of Elizabeth and Dudley sitting apart from everyone else, laughing at private jokes, or risking a fleeting caress. We see Dudley through her eyes: ruthless ambition belied by a boyish sweetness. He was married, however, long before she became queen. And we are