Who Was She:
Elizabeth I has to be one of the most famous rulers in history, and for good reason. She ruled without a man by her side and made decisions that still affect her country to this day.
Born to the famous, or rather the infamous, Henry VIII and his ill-fated second wife Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth’s childhood was filled with uncertainty. Her life and freedom depended on who was in favor at the time. While relatively ignored during Edward’s (Henry’s son) reign, her position during her half-sister Mary Tudor’s reign was more precarious. At one point she was actually imprisoned in the Tower of London. (Although she was not entirely blameless as she was party to a plot to overthrow Mary’s rule) But when Mary died it was Elizabeth who succeeded her on the throne.
The beginning of Elizabeth I’s reign was consumed with the question of who Elizabeth would marry. Her marriage would affect not only the question of succession, which would take on greater importance as she aged; but also which religion would dominate in England. Elizabeth’s marriage to a Catholic could have brought England back to its Catholic roots. Her marriage would also decide England’s allies. This situation required a champion player of the marriage game. She juggled many suitors keeping each of them interested, but still at arm’s length and in suspense. Her “attentions” kept these suitor’s countries from declaring war because they were interested in acquiring England’s resources. This changed as Elizabeth got older and was considered too old for marriage. Elizabeth never married and is now known as the Virgin Queen. But this juggling of suitors definitely consumed a lot of time when she was younger.
As Elizabeth’s reign went on the question of how they would keep Catholicism from gaining the upper hand took on greater importance. Over time, harsher laws were introduced to outlaw and limit the practice of Catholicism. Obviously, this did not go over well with the Catholic countries in Europe, especially Spain. The Vatican also urged rulers to lead England back to Catholicism. Caught up in the issue was Elizabeth’s cousin Mary Stuart, Queen of the Scots. Mary Stuart, who considered herself the rightful queen, gained much support outside of England, thanks to her Catholic background. But her attempts at gaining control of the throne failed, due in part to the loyalty of Elizabeth’s subjects both Catholic and not. All Mary’s scheming ended in tragedy with her execution.
My Thoughts on the Book:
The writing in this book was marvelous; fast paced and kept my attention from beginning to end. The author has very clearly done her research and incorporated primary sources that were fascinating, insightful and always relevant. She obviously has a passion for her subject, and it’s hard not to get caught up in her enthusiasm. I find a sign of a good book is when the author’s passion is contagious.
Her book stays focused on Elizabeth and this is definitely a strength of the book. It would have been very easy to get caught up in the lives of the men who surrounded Elizabeth. But as I wanted a book about her and not about the men in her life I was pleased to see the author stayed so focused on her subject.
As I reviewed another of Alison Weir’s books, I found it interesting how much I liked this one. I enjoyed Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life (link here), but I found it a much denser read. The reason could be because I was just starting to read more nonfiction at the time. Or Maybe it was because the author had to rely on the men in Eleanor’s life to tell her story. But if I had to choose which book I preferred it would be her book on Elizabeth I.
Elizabeth I was a fascinating woman; temperamental and undeniably royalty, but also human. She made many decisions that would impact both England and Europe. Many of her decisions still have a lasting impact to this day. And she did it all without a man at her side.