In the first two years of her reign, England's Elizabeth I went to war against France, squashed assassination plots against herself, and embarked on a lusty affair with Sir Robert Dudley, a married man! Okay, so historians have never corroborated that last part, but such a scandalous possibility makes for a bodice-ripping read. Even juicier: The Elizabeth-Dudley rumors are linked to one of the 16th century's greatest unsolved mysteries. (Hint: It involves a suspicious death.) None of the characters in The Virgin's Lover are particularly fine-tuned (here the Virgin Queen is malleable! Here she's resolute!), and Gregory's style can be jarringly anachronistic the phrase ''small fry'' in 1558? We daresay not! but as lightweight historical fiction goes, this is jolly good fun.