Margaret (pling) wrote,

"Elizabeth the Queen" by Alison Weir

I've always been fascinated by the history of England in the period around the Tudor and Stuart dynasties. At first it was because the kings and queens then were like the kings and queens in fairy tales, not just figureheads like now. And also because the life of all the people, both aristocrat and common was so very different from anything now - that's always been part of what interests me about history. People are people, but different societies still produce such startlingly different behaviour. Can you imagine if Tony Blair had to flirt with the Queen and pretend to be in love with her to keep her attention and get her to listen to him? But that's exactly what it seems that Elizabeth I's courtiers had to do, even those who held political posts (parliament wasn't quite the same then).

This book is less a politcal history of the period, and more a biography of Elizabeth I from the time she came to the throne. Obviously, as she is the Queen of England it does cover a lot of the politics and events of the time, but all with a more personal twist.

One of the things I hadn't appreciated from my school history lessons, or from what I've picked up from other books about the period, is that Elizabeth I might've been the Virgin Queen but she was a bit of a tart! Although she didn't marry, she spent the first 20 or so years of her reign (till she was about 45) in marriage negotiations with at least one of the European royal families. And most of her favourites at court either were in love with her and hoping to marry her (like Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester) or pretended to be to keep her favour. Even when she was in her 60s and 70s her courtiers kept up a pretence that she was a beautiful as in her youth, and flirted with her all the time.

The marriage negotiations were, it appears, mostly a sham to keep the other nations in alliances. The people of that time were very sexist - it was believed, even by Elizabeth herself, that a woman couldn't rule as well as a man. People also wanted Elizabeth to marry to ensure the succession, but she didn't want to have an heir named while she was alive in case they became a centre of rebellion, much as people had tried to make her be whilst her sister Mary was on the throne. She also didn't want to have to submit to the authority of anyone - and by the mores of the time she would've had to obey her husband, even though she was Queen.

As should be obvious by now, I really enjoyed reading this book, I felt it was well written and it seemed scholarly whilst still being readable. The author really brought to life the events during Elizabeth's reign, and I think I'm going to look for all her other books about that era (I think there are six, covering from Henry VIII to James I and VI).
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