Hearts Through History Romance Writers

The King’s Deception – Elizabeth I was a man!?!

by | June 13, 2013 | 20 comments

Elizabeth Tudor - age 16

Elizabeth Tudor – age 16

From MSNBC – “The King’s Deception,” a new book by Steve Berry, has brought together evidence of what may be one of the most jaw-slackening deceptions in the history of the English monarchy. Berry alleges that Elizabeth I of England died from the plague at age 10 and her attendants, fearing a gruesome execution from King Henry VIII, disguised a 9-year-old village boy to buy themselves time to escape the country. The subterfuge worked so well because Henry barely knew Elizabeth, and with all who knew her (him) too frightened to allege anything and risk execution for treason, the boy grew up, took the throne as the Virgin Queen and played the part till death. 

My first thought was ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  I have an MA in History with a concentration in Tudor and Stuart England.  I immediately started thinking of reasons this could not be.  I eventually looked up the author and the book only to discover its 1) fiction 2) a contemporary novel about where the hero uncovers this deception as part of an international plot.

  There are many reasons the above ‘deception’ wouldn’t work.  A) If two people know a secret, then it won’t be a secret. B) The boy imposter would have to be a eunuch because of things like a beard and Adam’s apple.  C) Thomas Seymour wasn’t a fool or gay, neigher was Robert Dudley. D) Elizabeth spoke several languages and read several more, including Greek and Latin – where would a village boy learn that? E) Elizabeth lived life surrounded by dressers, maids, servants, some of who helped her bathe.  F) And several times before she became queen, she was under close confinement or house arrest, hard to keep up that deception.  G) Her ministers knew when she was too old to bear children, (most likely as her servants knew when she ceased to menstruate) as they quit pressing her to marry and started pressing her to name an heir… 

 I could go on and on and on, but I guess I’ll take this ‘deception’ in the same vein that watching a James Bond movie is an accurate depiction of the British Secret Service.  Not.

 What did you think when you read the MSNBC paragraph (besides the fact that it’s misleading)?

What reasons would you add to my thougths?


  1. Angela Quarles

    I saw the announcement too, and my first thought was that it had to be some guy theorizing it, because of course it couldn’t have been a woman that was one of the greatest British monarchs, if not the greatest. Then I read the article and was like ‘oh, it’s a Steve Berry novel’

  2. nancy

    My thoughts went along with Angela’s , that the book ahd to be by a man who didn’t think a female could accomplish what she did. In effect, that is what the book is about,
    The child could be taught every thing needed for I don’t think Elizabeth was so much more accomplished at 10 than aristocratic boys, but even that would require so many more people being in on the scret, that it doesn’t sound at all possible.’Terry’s other arguments against a substition are well founded.Despite what some people want us to believe, men and women are not the same and are not interchangeable.

  3. Laura Mitchell

    Say what???? Oh puleeze!

  4. Ella Quinn

    I saw the author’s interview on Morning Joe. He makes no sense at all, mostly because of the reasons you stated. He also said that people would have gotten in trouble if it came out she’d died because Henry would have been upset. Uh? This guy knows jack about history.

  5. Gerri Bowen

    It caught my interest. Read the article. Yes, makes a good plot for a book. Not very plausible for real life. But what really put me off was the insinuation that Elizabeth must be a man because she was such a great queen.

  6. Jillian Stone

    Hi Terry!

    It’s an intriguing premise at first blush, but as you say it really doesn’t hold up if you think about it for longer than a few minutes. Hmmm–let’s see if we can make this work: Maybe he should have made the imposter a hermaphrodite?

    I saw Steve Berry speak at 2011 RWA Nationals with Diana Gabaldon in NYC. He writes Dan Brown-ish subgenre thrillers, but I have never read one of his books. He seems like a very nice man.

  7. Angelyn

    The notion of the queen’s childbearing capability was raised when Francis, Duke of Alencon came courting (she in her mid 40s) An awkward moment, perhaps, in more ways than one during the doctors’ examination.

  8. Terry Irene Blain

    As a history teacher I have real problems with ‘news’ like this – many people won’t read far enough to realized it’s fiction (and had no basis).

  9. Terry Irene Blain

    Henry would be upset – guess the author didn’t bother to check any dates, as Henry VII was dead before Elizabeth was born. I do wish people who write historical fiction had a clue about HISTORY!!

  10. Terry Irene Blain

    Geri, I think you’ve hit the underlying insinuation that a women couldn’t have done such a great job as ‘queen’.

  11. Lani

    Horribly deceptive, but, holy cow!, that author must have a genius for a promotion manager! I want that promotion manager for myself!!!

  12. Beppie Harrison

    I wonder if the book has “A Novel” prominently featured on the jacket/front cover?

    Can understand, however, why agent & publisher grabbed onto it with loud cries of rapture. This surely is one that isn’t going to fade away unnoticed.

  13. Terry Irene Blain

    Good point, Angelyn. That wasn’t one right of the top of my head, as I was so mad that the article read as if it was based on serious research. As we can see, it was based on NO research.

  14. Kathy Crouch

    I read one of his other books and he did the same thing with the Templar Knights. Still was a great book and when I saw the name Steve Barry I was like oh he has another book out.
    I loved all your pointers as to why it wouldn’t fly.

  15. Lacey Falcone

    It is an interesting premise at first blush…but, not a practical one. Like Jillian, I saw him speak at RWA nationals a couple years ago – he does seem like a nice man, who originally struggled as a writer, as we all have. He does not write historical (and, we’ve all seen various opinions on how accurate historical has to be). I have not read him myself, but do have one of his books in my TBR pile. And, on a personal level, he gets huge kudos from me because he went on a USO tour downrange and signed books for the troops. Without reading his book to see how or if he explains it all…it’s hard to put forward an opinion. When Dan Brown came out with The DaVinci Code, I did read Holy Blood, Holy Grail, which was written by historians and their premise became the basis of his book. Did Steve Berry reference a historian? It will be interesting to see where this goes… 🙂 Good post, Terry!

  16. Georgie Lee

    I don’t think she was a man, but I do think it is fun to play with history sometimes, especially if it gets people interested.

  17. Terry Irene Blain

    I don’t mind a authors taking a little liberty with history. But I always include ‘author’s notes’ for my historical to explain things I might have changed or things I think the reader might have wondered about.

    My main problem, I guess, is with the reporting which made it sound like it was a academic work – not just some novel. Like Lani said – he has a great publicity machine.

    Here’s hoping that some people do as Lacey and Georgie says, that the novel will send them to some actual history about Elizabeth.

    If you want to read a little about Elizabeth I, try Elizaabeth I, CEO: Strategic Lessons from the Leader who Built an Empire by Alan Axelrod.

  18. morgan k wyatt

    Thanks for bringing it to my attention, I missed this article. It is somewhat frustrating all the time I spent reading historic maps, trains schedules, censuses to be correct for the period while another someone can make something up and people accept it unquestionably.

    The nudity issue would have been difficult because often the queen would conduct meetings with her ministers while being dressed.

  19. Terry Irene Blain

    Morgan, I think you bring up the real thing that ticked me off. We historical author do a lot of research to get thing right (authentic.) I really hate it when the whole premise of the novel is based on something totally inaccurate/wrong.

  20. Teresa D'Amario

    You know, I watched the Cable version of “king Arthur”, and it showed all kinds of funny stuff about Merlin, and later, someone came online and said “Merlin was just….” and quoted the tv series. I was shocked to think ANYONE would think that was real! Is it that this is fiction, and therefore, should be taken as such.

    I don’t know the author well myself, but I also take characters and change things about them – because I write fiction. Yes, we get alot of things authentic, but this is no different from the books that were written in the 80’s by Marion Zimmer Bradley – where she changed the roles of people and wrote books about the women in history. While it’s great to believe that women had those freedoms she wrote about, you and I all know it was fiction.

    My problem with this entire situation is the way MSNBC wrote it like it wasn’t fiction. It’s like Dan Brown’s books – they are fiction. Nothing proves that they are not, and while some believe those historical “fictions”, most are aware that there is no support for those books.



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