Review: The Queen’s Almoner by Tonya Ulynn Brown

Sometimes loyalty to the queen comes at a cost.

Thomas Broune is a Reformer and childhood friend of the young queen, Mary Stuart. When Mary embarks on a new life in her estranged homeland of Scotland, Thomas is there to greet her and offer his renewed friendship. But the long-time friends grow closer, and Thomas realizes his innocent friendship has grown into something more. Yet he is a man of the cloth. Mary is the queen of the Scots. Both of them have obligations of an overwhelming magnitude: he to his conscience and she to her throne. 

When he must choose between loyalty to his queen or his quiet life away from her court, he finds that the choice comes at a high price. Driven by a sense of obligation to protect those he loves, and crippled by his inability to do so, Thomas must come to terms with the choices he has made and find a peace that will finally lay his failures to rest.

My Review

Much has been made of Mary Queen of Scot’s beauty, and our protagonist in this story is fatally smitten with her. Actually, it’s more than her physical charms that captured Thomas Broune; he was practically raised with Mary and knew her when she was an  innocent, untouched by the ruthlessness of royal courts. The story begins with her return to Scotland—a recently widowed queen of France—unprepared for the coarse, sometimes brutal manners of her Scottish subjects. Their platonic relationship takes up where it left off, but soon Thomas discovers that he is hopelessly in love with her. Since he is a Protestant minister—and a commoner—it’s surprising that he’s countenanced in her court, but it does seem that he is usually in the background, though always allowed access to the queen. His feelings toward her interfere with having a normal life, for what mortal woman could compete with a beautiful queen? In desperation he distances himself from Mary and even takes a wife, but his efforts are stilted and his poor wife must take second place in his heart.

This is the period of Mary’s reign when she is striving to assert herself, though the politics are minimal. Her Italian secretary Rizzo plays a prominent role (Thomas is jealous of him), and while Thomas is absent with his pregnant wife Mary begins her courtship with Darnley. When we finally meet her future husband, the relationship has progressed too far to stop:

“Does he always do that?” I queried. Mary looked up at me, the hurt on her face was almost too much for me to bear.
“Do what?”
“Speak to you as if you were a bothersome child. Sulk when he doesn’t get his way.” I couldn’t stop. I knew my words were probably hurtful, but I was bothered by the display I had just witnessed.
“Thomas, please. Not you too. I summoned you here to support me, not throw in your lot against me also.”

It doesn’t look good but there’s nothing Thomas can do about it; not only that, but he has his own problems at home. Nor can he interfere when the Earl of Bothwell asserts himself and takes his place as Mary’s second husband (after Darnley is murdered). Mary has begun her long slide toward infamy and imprisonment, and Thomas can only watch helplessly as she makes one wrong decision after another. One can only conjecture that both of them would have been much happier had she been born a poor farm girl rather than the Queen of Scotland.

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Meet Tonya

Tonya Ulynn Brown was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, USA, but now calls southeastern Ohio home. She spent her younger years right out of college, living in Europe and teaching English as a second language. She attributes her time in Eastern Europe as being one of great personal growth, where her love for history, the classics, and all things European was born. Tonya holds a Master’s degree in Teaching and is now an elementary school teacher where she uses her love of history and reading to try to inspire younger generations to learn, explore and grow. Along with all the historical characters that she entertains in her head, she lives with her husband, two sons and a very naughty Springer Spaniel. Her mother has also joined their home, making for a cozy and complete little family.

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