Rival to the Queen

Carolly Erickson

St. Martin's Press

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Last Wife of Henry VIII comes a novel about the bitter rivalry between Queen Elizabeth I and her fascinating cousin, Lettice Knollys, for the love of one extraordinary man.

Powerful, dramatic and full of the rich history that has made Carolly Erickson’s novels perennial bestsellers, this is the story of the only woman to ever stand up to the Virgin Queen— her own cousin, Lettie Knollys. Far more attractive than the queen, Lettie soon won the attention of the handsome and ambitious Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, a man so enamored of the queen and determined to share her throne that it was rumored he had murdered his own wife in order to become her royal consort. The enigmatic Elizabeth allowed Dudley into her heart, and relied on his devoted service, but shied away from the personal and political risks of marriage.

When Elizabeth discovered that he had married her cousin Lettie in secret, Lettie would pay a terrible price, fighting to keep her husband’s love and ultimately losing her beloved son, the Earl of Essex, to the queen’s headsman.

This is the unforgettable story of two women related by blood, yet destined to clash over one of Tudor England’s most charismatic men.


Read an Excerpt

Rival to the Queen Chapter 1

Flames crackled and rose into the heavy air as my father’s servants piled more bundles of brushwood on the fire. Smoke rose grey-black out of the flickering orange tongues, the heat from the rising fire making my younger brother Frank draw back, fearful that we too might be singed or burned, even as the stench of burning flesh made us put our hands over our noses and recoil from its acrid, noxious reek.

I did not step back, I held my ground even as I heard Jocelyn’s agonizing cries. I held my breath and shut my eyes and prayed, please God, make




  • Rival to the Queen by Carolly Erickson--Audiobook Excerpt

    Listen to this audiobook excerpt from Carolly Erickson's historical novel Rival to the Queen, narrated by Susan Lyons. From the New York Times bestselling author of The Last Wife of Henry VIII comes a novel about the bitter rivalry between Queen Elizabeth I and her fascinating cousin, Lettice Knollys, for the love of one extraordinary man. Powerful and dramatic, this is the story of the only woman to ever stand up to the Virgin Queen—her own cousin, Lettice Knollys.



Praise for Rival to the Queen

“In her sixth historical novel, Erickson again displays her remarkable ability to paint an exquisitely realistic portrait of Tudor England. . . . This is much more than a historical romance; Erickson's attention to historical detail and the depiction of Elizabeth's struggle to maintain her control over her kingdom make for compelling reading. Fans might also be interested in one or more of Erickson's four Tudor biographies. Historical fiction fans can’t get enough of the Tudors; this engaging story is a worthy addition to the genre.”—Library Journal

“Erickson turns her attention to the dramatic love triangle that changed history. One man, Robert Dudley, held Elizabeth I’s heart and Erickson draws on that love to bring the life of Elizabeth’s cousin and rival, Lettie Knollys, to readers. Erickson portrays Elizabeth as a jealous woman, Dudley as a rake and Lettie as the innocent, endearing her to readers. Rival to the Queen gives this forgotten woman a place in history.”—RT Book Reviews (4.5 stars)

“Erickson's knowledge and exacting recreation of how it really was in the 1500's is astonishing and adds much to the story. (It also reminds me that royalty of that period is not to be envied.)  Beautiful, intelligent and independent, Lettice leads a life of luxury, but because of the times in which she lived and because of her beauty, her life was always lived on the razor's edge. . . . If you are a fan of Carolly Erickson or historical fiction, this book is for you.”—Affaire de Coeur

“Erickson writes gracefully.”—Publishers Weekly

“The romance between Queen Elizabeth and Robert Dudley is a story that has survived the centuries, but what about the woman who married Robert, Lettice Knollys, Elizabeth’s own cousin. . . . A new Carolly Erickson novel is a wonderful and decadent treat, eagerly awaited and Rival to the Queen is no exception. . . . Rival to the Queen shows that political sex scandals and intrigue are not a new thing, and that murder, romance, and power don’t mix well for a happy ending. Fans of Alison Weir and Philippa Gregory will want all of Carolly Erickson’s books on their shelves, these are definitely novels you don't want to miss out on!”—Night Owl Reviews

Rival to the Queen is a richly detailed telling of a woman who falls in love with the man whom Elizabeth loves to dangle and toy with.  From beginning to end, the life and times of Lettice Knollys is intricately portrayed, from her service at court, throughout her first marriage to Walter Deveraux, and on to the days when she meets and falls in love with Robert.  She could easily have died for marrying a man—the queen’s favorite!—without Elizabeth’s consent, but instead she is banished from court forever. In part, Rival to the Queen is historical fiction blended with nonfiction, with a sprinkling of romance to boot!”—Romance Reviews Today

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Carolly Erickson

  • Distinguished historian Carolly Erickson is the author of The Memoirs of Mary Queen of Scots, The First Elizabeth, The Hidden Life of Josephine, The Last Wife of Henry VIII, and many other prize-winning works of fiction and nonfiction. Her novel The Tsarina’s Daughter won the Romantic Times Reviewer's Choice Award for Best Historical Fiction. She lives in Hawaii.
  • Carolly Erickson Photo: Brian Reed







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    Rival to the Queen

    Carolly Erickson



    St. Martin's Press