Saturday, March 15, 2014

383 (2014 #11). Elizabeth I

by Margaret George

I've read a number of fictional books with Queen Elizabeth I of England as the main or a supporting character, two by Alison Weir and two by Philippa Gregory, but this is the first to concentrate solely on the latter part of her life, and that was refreshing.

The book begins with the approach of the first Spanish Armada in 1588, when Elizabeth is 55 has been queen for 30 years, and continues through her death in 1603 at age 69.  Through it, the reader sees a mature queen dealing with threats from Spain and Ireland, numerous seasons of bad weather and poor harvests, conniving courtiers, and of course, the "problem of the succession" for the Virgin Queen.

Meanwhile, she faces the problems of aging, such as hot flashes and forgetting things, confiding in her two closest attendants and friends, her first-cousin-once-removed Catherine Carey Howard, and Marjorie Williams Norris.  I loved these sections as they really humanized Elizabeth and made her a character with whom I could empathize.

Elizabeth narrates much of her story, alternating with her rival in love, her first-cousin-once-removed Laeticia "Lettice" Knollys Devereux Dudley Blount.  Elizabeth has banished Lettice from court since the latter's marriage to Elizabeth's favorite, Robert Dudley.  Lettice is also the mother of Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex who led a disastrous attempt to unseat Elizabeth, so the reader gets some insight into his character as well as those of the other conspirators.

The reader also gets to know the many advisers of and military leaders for the Queen, from statesment like William Cecil and his son Robert, to adventurers Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh.  All of these characters and more come to life and feel like real people rather than just names in a history book.

Margaret George also works the literary lights of the day into the story, from Edmund Spencer and John Donne to Francis Bacon and William Shakespeare.  I particularly loved how the author wove Shakespeare's plays into the story.  The (fictional) affair between Shakespeare and Lettice was a little far-fetched, however.

Like all of George's other books, this one is long - 671 pages.  However, it held my interest all the way through.  It is much better than the last two books I read by George, Helen of Troy and Mary, Called Magdalene, falling up there with The Autobiography of Henry VIII and The Memoirs of Cleopatra.  I'd definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in Elizabeth I or the Tudor era.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

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