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Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne Hardcover – November 21, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The Virgin Queen, Gloriana, Good Queen Bess; Elizabeth I holds a unique place in the English imagination as one of the nation's most powerful, charismatic, and successful monarchs. Elizabeth usually is imagined as the icy, untouchable figure, re-created memorably on screen by Bette Davis and Dame Judi Dench, but that vision of Elizabeth ignores the turbulent years of her early life, from her birth as the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in 1533 until her accession to the throne in 1558 after the death of her sister Mary. It is these early years that are the subject of David Starkey's fascinating Elizabeth, which was written to accompany the television series about her life.

Starkey argues that Elizabeth, in her first 25 years, "had experienced every vicissitude of fortune and every extreme of condition. She had been Princess and inheritrix of England, and bastard and disinherited; the nominated successor to the throne and an accused traitor on the verge of execution; showered with lands and houses, and a prisoner in the Tower". He draws on his skills as a respected Tudor historian to produce a deft account of the religious, political, and dynastic maelstrom of mid-16th-century England that reads "like a historical thriller." The book carefully picks its way through the finer points of contemporary religious conflict and the peculiarities of Tudor court ceremony, while exploring also the formation of Elizabeth's character in relation to a murdered mother, a charismatic father, a tortured sister, and a predatory guardian. Highly readable, and written with verve and pace, this is a fascinating account of the young Elizabeth. --Jerry Brotton, Amazon.co.uk

From Publishers Weekly

The Virgin Queen's posthumous retinue of admirers is threatening to outnumber the acolytes who surrounded her in life; here, in a very accessible way, Cambridge University historian Starkey (The Inventory of King Henry VIII etc.) addresses Elizabeth's young life in all of its "aching vulnerability," following her from childhood into the earliest years of her reign. Eschewing the evocative extravagance of Alison Weir's Life of Elizabeth I, this book's 44 brief chapters move crisply. Starkey's account is innocuously populist: he aspires to telling "a wonderful adventure story," in which allegations of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of Elizabeth's stepfather, Thomas Seymour, remain more spicy than disturbing. Still, despite his admission that he himself has half fallen for Elizabeth, what separates Starkey from other popular historians of the reign is his resolute avoidance of sentimentality. He presents us with a hard-headed queen, quite capable of chopping off the right hand of an obstreperous pamphleteer. He steers clear of the temptation to romanticize her as a national savior, suggesting that the restored Catholicism of the preceding reign (once described by a historian as "the least English episode in our history") was no less quintessentially English than Elizabethan Protestantism, itself eventually destined to degenerate into intolerance. 16 pages of color illustrations not seen by PW. (Dec. 2)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1st edition (November 21, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060184973
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060184971
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #898,929 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

61 of 66 people found the following review helpful By A. Maxham on April 17, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I very much admire Mr. Starkey's purpose in writing this book. He makes the case in the beginning of the book that much ado is made of Elizabeth's Gloriana years- the near-stereotypic years of Elizabeth in white face and huge ruff, draped and dripping in pearls. However, not as much information has been provided concerning her early development as a child, and really, as a human being. This exploration of the psychological development and its influence on later life does seem to be the new popular wave in biographies- "The People You Thought You Knew," and all that. I was very excited by the prospect of the additional detail and attention paid to this more-neglected period in Elizabeth's life.
Did he succeed- Well, yes. Sort of. If you've never read anything about Elizabeth, I can't say I really recommend this book as a starter- I think I'd start with another book- perhaps the books by Alison Weir? Her book on the children of Henry VIII covers much the same ground and other detail as this one, and she has another book focusing on the totality of Elizabeth's life. These may be a better initial orientation.
However, if you are familiar with Elizabeth's life- there is some new and interesting discussion in here- learning more about when famous paintings were painted, the history of clothing in those paintings, dispelling myths (or at least making an argument for dispelling them), and the re-interpretation of communications (Eg: When Elizabethe complains of being ill-used by her family, she probably didn't mean "family" in the modern sense of biological family (i.e., the Queen Mary), but instead the 1500's meaning of family, which referred to the staff and help who lived with her.)
There is some frustration in the support of assertions in the book.
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59 of 65 people found the following review helpful By CYNTHIA ABEL on November 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Starkey brings his expertise on the Tudor era for a new look at the young Elizabeth I from her birth through her coronation and the religious settlement that set the tone of her reign.
Most intrigingly, Starkey convincingly argues that Elizabeth had a relatively secure childhood, adored her father(and had good reason to), was not a helpless princess-in-waiting, but a great magnate in her own right by adulthood, with a sizable affinity, and probably did plot or condone her servants plotting against her sister, Mary I. These are just a few of the conclusions Starkey draws about Elizabeth, using surviving contempory documents and evidence.
There are a few flaws to the book: most noticeably, Starkey uses some modern slang and comparisions that may well yank the absorbed reader from Elizabeth and her world that he otherwise so throughly draws. Tudor history amateurs, like myself, will spot Starkey's incorrectly stating Anne Boleyn had dark auburn hair and other small details as disturbing. Also when discussing Elizabeth's Protestanism under her brother Edward and paying especial attention to the simple, modest wardrobe, Elizabeth adapted as a Protestant symbol of proper womanhood, Starkey does not point out how revolutionary such simple and plain dress was for royalty, who were expected historically to pile on rich fabrics and jewels as their right, but how much it saved Elizabeth in costs. Starkey also fails to mention that in the early years of her reign, Elizabeth continued to dress herself fairly understatedly(again saving money in the years England was rebuilding itself from debt to solvency). But this is an altogether reccomended biography for those unfamiliar with the early years of Elizabeth I.
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45 of 54 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 3, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I couldn't wait to read this book. When I finally got a copy, I settled down and read for many hours. I was disappointed in what I found. The dust jacket praises the book as "meticulously researched." If it was, then why on page 12-13 does the author find it a quirk of history that Henry VIII's love letters to Anne Boleyn wound up in the Vatican Library? Scholars of Anne Boleyn and Katherine of Aragon know that the letters got there during Henry's attempts at divorce - they were sent there by the Spanish faction to help persuade the Pope that Henry's real motives for a divorce were less than aboveboard. Reading further, I found more and more mistakes, such as the one about Anne Boleyn's hair color. In one instance he even confused two of Henry's wives (Anne Boleyn and Anne of Cleves, perhaps an editing mistake). I realize that it is a huge task to try and condense any history of Elizabeth into a short book (a little over 300 pages, my favorite book about Elizabeth is over 700 pages), but that does not excuse the mistakes.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Sylvia P. on December 11, 2004
Format: Paperback
Like many here, I am a huge Tudor buff, so I was eager to read Stakey's version of the truth. I was living in England while I read this book and Starkey had a few TV programmes and they were all quite interesting, and I knew his books would be just as captivating for a fan of the Tudors. I was not diappointed. The book was was good read. I really liked having the family tree in the front of the book, I referenced that on several occasions. What made it even more fun, was living in the country where she ruled as I had a real life vision of many things described in the book. After reading this book, I wanted to read even more about Elizabeth as well as her rival, Mary Queen of Scots. I recommend this book to fans of history or the Tudors.
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