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)
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