A Constant Heart by Siri Mitchell is a novel set in the closing years of Elizabeth's reign & is a faskinating look at the extreme lengths to which peeps went in order to curry favor with the queen & advance at Court.
It does have the annoying 1st person thing going on with 2 POVs, but not as irksome as Philippa Gregory does it as every 2-line break you know you're switching from one to the other. The main characters are the Earl of Lytham & his new bride Marget & them's the 1st person voices.
Lytham was married once before to some beauteous wench who slept around Court circles & he managed to obtain a divorce. His main reason for remarriage is merely to secure sufficient funds to regain the family seat, Holleystone, that his wastrel older brother lost. He doesn't even meet Marget, a wealthy merchant's daughter, until the wedding & is appalled to see how gorgeous she is. Having been burned once in love by a pretty wench with a fickle heart, he doesn't want it to happen again.
Poor Marget does not make a good impression on her 1st Court appearance & is mocked by Elizabeth herself as being a "gypsy" (tho wasn't that her nick for one of her boytoys?). This is because Marget is dark-haired where the other ladies either flatter the queen with red wigs or dye their own hair, & does not apply the layers of "paint" to her face to give her the blanched complexion preferred in the day, a style set by Elizabeth. Lytham ain't too fussed with this blunder (altho the dummy never noticed it in the 1st place so pray how was the wife supposed to know?) & frets that this new marriage is going to ruin his chances to get Elizabeth to visit him on progress. He's got a Crown lease on a humungous house that he's draining his coffers to renovate as an acceptable place for the queen to visit.
Lytham is pretty much a clueless idiot LOL as he turns his wife over to a Lady de Winter to assist her in becoming more of an asset to him. Poor Marget gets her eyebrows plucked, her hair dyed (& it wasn't L'Oreal in those days, apparently that stuff hurt), learns to paint, is taught how to conduct herself at Court, & eventually does begin being an asset to him. Of course this makes the lout fall in love with her when previously he had been keeping his distance for fear of such.
The path to royal favor ain't easy & apparently the clueless Lytham doesn't get it that his wife is expected to accommodate certain powerful men (incl Essex) in order to advance his cause. This turns out to be what Elinor, the 1st wife, was doing. Marget, however, can't bring herself to do so, being in love with Lytham for some stupid reason & having "a constant heart" (hence the title).
I personally ain't seeing what he's got to recommend him LOL as the man is obsessed with sucking up to Elizabeth & beggaring himself in doing so. It doesn't even occur to him to cut his losses & retire from Court & live happily ever after with his wife. OK well it does but he immediately rejects it because he is a courtier & courtiers are supposed to be at Court sucking up to the queen & to not be at Court is to be nobody & nothing.
Meanwhile Marget is suffering from some mysterious ailment where her hands alternately hurt & go numb & it ain't carpal tunnel syndrome, plus she's got the lethargics. She also gets pregnant 4x; the 2nd one she miscarries early on, the 1st & 3rd are boys born prematurely who only live a few days, & the last one is a stillborn daughter. She offers Lytham a divorce because it seems she's "barren" & incapable of giving him an heir. To his credit the jerk refuses. The odd thing is that her mysterious illnesses seem to be better when she's not at Court....hmmm.
Finally Lytham's ruinous house is added to the list of the queen's progress & he's all jumping up & down in excitement bankrupting himself to show Elizabeth a good time. Marget is tearing her dyed hair out because he is such a moron that he even employs an alchemist to try & make him some gold LOL
At the very last minute Elizabeth decides the roads is shite from too much rain & she's not gonna bother continuing her progress this summer. Lytham has sunk every last groat into this extravaganza & gets irked with Marget for inviting the townsfolk to come party anyway. She's all well jeez what else are we sposed to do with all this food, let it spoil?
Lady de Winter natcherly is the villain of the piece. In "helping" Marget, she's actually subtly hindering. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned sorta thing as she had the hots for Lytham etc. Marget ends up eventually being banished from Court by Elizabeth in a fury for dressing better than the queen LOL The poor thing has pawned every bit of her jewelry in trying to advance her idiot spouse & this is what she gets for it in the end.
Stupid Lytham is now in a panic that his chances are ruined & he sets out to pen a sonnet praising Elizabeth to the skies in order to try & save himself. He presents it to the Court & Elizabeth is all flattered until he gets to the last verse where he mentions his inamorata (which is sposed to be the queen natch) has "azure eyes" (which would be the wife not Elizabeth LOL). Elizabeth is in a towering fury (pun intended) & Lytham is all o shite whoops & in fear she is going to send him to the Tower to watch his head roll.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, Lady de Winter is visiting Marget in exile & convincing her that she is the reason poor Lytham just can't get ahead. So Marget decides to run away from home LOL Meanwhile back at Court the queen is completely unfussed with Lytham & his gypsy wife. The imbecile finally realizes this whole sucking up thing ain't worth it & throws himself on Elizabeth's mercy & manages to get himself appointed ambassador to Polonia so she ain't gotta look at either of em any more.
To not be at Court is a living death for a courtier but he finally decides the wife is worth it & goes to fetch her. Chaseabout Raid follows LOL as she's run away from home & Lytham is in a panic trying to find her as Elizabeth gave him a deadline & if he's still in England by the end of the week tis the Tower for him for insulting her by daring to prefer his wife to Gloriana, but he finally gets a clue & a spine & refuses to leave without her.
Reconciliation scene blah blah blah & off to Polonia they go THE END.
What was interesting was the author's afterword in which she explains what's up with Marget's health issues. Yesm it's that LEAD BASED PAINT. Here are the gory symptoms:
~dissolving hair follicles (might splain them high Elizabethan foreheads?)
~rapid aging of skin (to which the solution was MORE PAINT ACK!)
~speech & memory issues, difficulty in concentration
~tingling & numbness in hands & feet, tremors
~lethargy & fatigue
~irritability (I'd be crabby by this pt too LOL)
~miscarriages, stillbirths, & premature births
~paralysis & seizures
~coma & death
The author speculates that this could be what kilt Elizabeth in the end Whatcha think?