By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
Suleiman the Magnificent, Sultan (and basically emperor) of the Ottoman Empire has invited all the kings and rulers to send a chess master and representative to take part in the greatest chess match ever. He is a man very few people ever say no to; two Papal representatives attend. Henry VIII of England, whose delegation travels the farthest, decides to send his teen-aged daughter Elizabeth. After all, she is third in line to the throne at this time, and not expected to reign. She is accompanied by several chaperones—her tutor, one lady in waiting, a nice, stalwart couple, and ten guards. Not many guardsmen when going into possibly enemy territory, especially when they can’t enter Istanbul proper… Her tutor happens to be Roger Ascham, worldly, esteemed scholar and solver of mysteries. When a papal representative is murdered, The Sultan asked Roger to investigate. (His name was suggested to the Sultan by Michelangelo.)
There is a lot of name dropping here, but it all could have happened. The story moves along with several more murders, which as it turns out are all connected. Elizabeth learns lessons daily about dealing with nobles and royals from other countries and other religions. I didn’t know all that much about chess, playing the game that is, but I still found it interesting. And as Reilly wrote in the afterword, Elizabeth’s younger years are not that well documented. She could have gone abroad. Elizabeth meets Ivan IV of Russia here (known to history as Ivan the Terrible), who did correspond with her and even proposed to her. History would indeed be different had she accepted.