At a time when an innocent woman could be burned for heresy or strangled for witchcraft, to spy on the queen for the love of a traitor was the most dangerous choice of all. Into a Tudor court on the brink of treason comes Hannah, a young Jewish girl on the run from the Inquisition. Sworn into the service of a handsome Robert Dudley, he sends her as a Holy Fool to spy on Princess Mary Tudor, the forgotten heir to King Edward’s throne.

Instead of the tyrant of popular legend, Hannah finds a woman waiting for her chance and only wanting the best for the kingdom – while her sister Elizabeth waits to take advantage of any mistakes, and longs for her death.

Caught in the lifelong enmity between the rival daughters of Henry VIII, torn between her infatuation with Dudley and duty to her family, thrilled by her own rare gifts, but scared of the unknown, Hannah must find a safe way through dangerous times. Times in which she is both key witness and key player, when the wrong religion is a death sentence, science and magic are one, and true love can mean death.

Behind the book

Released in 2003

Whenever people tell me their favourite of all my books, this is the one that is most often mentioned. I think people love the character of Hannah, who is invented but inspired by the existence of a real female 'Fool' who served Mary I. If you have a hardback edition you can see the royal picture which is thought to show her in a doorway in the endpapers. It is one of my favourite books and led on to The Virgin's Lover.

Book opens in 1548

Henry VIII is dead, succeeded by his only legitimate son, nine year old Edward VI. Too young to rule, the realm is governed by a Regency Council, led by his uncle, Edward Seymour. Edward has continued his father's reformation of the church and Protestantism is becoming established, however England is still unsettled with rioting and rebellions common. Edward was close to and well loved by both of his half-sisters: the Catholic Princess Mary, daughter of Katherine of Aragon and the Protestant Princess Elizabeth, daughter of the executed Anne Boleyn. However, he and his advisors were concerned that should he die without issue, his sister Princess Mary would return the country to Catholicism.

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The Romantic Times, a ‘Top Pick'

"Rich with authentic drama….This is masterful storytelling and historical fiction at its very best."

Romance Reviews Today, a ‘Perfect 10’

"An amazing journey of hope, promise, stark fear, and pageantry….A well-researched, heart-stopping historical novel with a very memorable heroine."

Everything Express

"a fascinating tale."

Full Review


"Full of convincing historical facts of the Tudor period and intertwined with rich authentic drama this is Philippa Gregory at her best. She writes quite brilliantly about the massive power struggle between Elizabeth and Mary.... Full of realism, wonderfully heart-warming and brimming with love and betrayal this is sure to have you reading long into the night."

Full Review

Daily Mail

"A rich brew of passion and intrigue"

Independent on Sunday

"The kind of pleasure only a born storyteller can offer"

Sunday Express

"Gregory has taken the story in which we all know the protago­nists and the hand history dealt them and has infused it with an extraordinary sense of suspense, drama and surprise"