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It is 1585 and, having reigned over England for nearly three decades, Queen
Elizabeth I continues to face bloodlust for her throne and the lingering threat of familial betrayal. A channel away, a destructive wind of fundamentalist Catholicism blows across 16th century Europe, with Spain's Philip II, its figurehead. Backed by the Church in Rome and armed with the Inquisition, Philip--with his powerful army and sea-dominating armada--presents an imminent threat to Queen and Country--the dark and pious king is determined to wrest the Protestant "heretic" from the throne and restore England to the glory that is the Roman Catholic Church. Preparing to go to war to defend her empire, Elizabeth also struggles to balance ancient royal duties with an unexpected vulnerability in her love for Raleigh--despite his status as a commoner--who remains forbidden for a Queen sworn body and soul to her country. Unable and unwilling to pursue her passion, Elizabeth encourages her favored lady-in-waiting, Bess, to befriend Raleigh and keep him near. But such a strategy places Elizabeth at the center of their courtship, where she has no choice but to observe their growing intimacy. In the dashing and adventurous
Raleigh, she sees not only an intellectual and spirited equal, but also a clarion of lands beyond, the unexplored globe, infinite freedom. By electing Bess to take her place, she is ultimately forced to make the anguishing choice between being a woman and being a Queen. And as she charts her course abroad, Elizabeth's trusted advisor, Sir Francis Walsingham, continues his masterful puppetry of her court at home--and her campaign to solidify absolute power. Through an intricate spy network, Walsingham uncovers an assassination plot that could topple the throne. But as he unmasks traitors that may include Elizabeth's own cousin Mary Stuart, he unknowingly sets England on a course of destruction.