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The Life of Elizabeth I Paperback – October 5, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

The long life and powerful personality of England's beloved Virgin Queen have eternal appeal, and popular historian Alison Weir depicts both with panache. She's especially good at evoking the physical texture of Tudor England: the elaborate royal gowns (actually an intricate assembly of separate fabric panels buttoned together over linen shifts), the luxurious but unhygienic palaces (Elizabeth got the only "close stool"; most members of her retinue relieved themselves in the courtyards), the huge meals heavily seasoned to disguise the taste of spoiled meat. Against this earthy backdrop, Elizabeth's intelligence and formidable political skills stand in vivid relief. She may have been autocratic, devious, even deceptive, but these traits were required to perform a 45-year tightrope walk between the two great powers of Europe, France and Spain. Both countries were eager to bring small, weak England under their sway and to safely marry off its inconveniently independent queen. Weir emphasizes Elizabeth's precarious position as a ruling woman in a man's world, suggesting plausibly that the single life was personally appealing as well as politically expedient for someone who had seen many ambitious ladies--including her own mother--ruined and even executed for just the appearance of sexual indiscretions. The author's evaluations of such key figures in Elizabeth's reign as the Earl of Leicester (arguably the only man she ever loved) and William Cecil (her most trusted adviser) are equally cogent and respectful of psychological complexity. Weir does a fine job of retelling this always-popular story for a new generation. --Wendy Smith --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Weir describes herself as a social historian but admits that when chronicling the lives of the flamboyant Tudors, it's impossible to keep domestic politics and world affairs apart. One could hardly ignore the threatened depredations of the "invincible" Spanish Armada or pass over the intrigues of Mary Queen of Scots as she struggled to seize the throne and return England to Roman Catholicism. Weir has already negotiated the complex matrimonial life of Elizabeth's father in The Six Wives of Henry VIII and the early lives of the resulting progeny in The Children of Henry VIII. After a lonely and often perilous childhood during which Elizabeth was once imprisoned in the Tower and was nearly executed at the behest of her half sister, Queen Mary, 25-year-old Elizabeth ascended to the throne when Mary died. The prevailing expectation was that she would speedily marry a strong man who would then take over as king: as Elizabeth herself admitted, it was commonly thought that "a woman cannot live unless she is married." Elizabeth did nothing of the kind and, as Weir details, she did quite well for herself manipulating the royal marriage mart of Europe. Weir uses myriad details of dress, correspondence and contemporary accounts to create an almost affectionate portrait of a strong, well-educated ruler loved by her courtiers and people alike. Hot-tempered, imperious Elizabeth has been the subject of innumerable biographies, many very good. But Weir brings a fine sense of selection and considerable zest to her portrait of the self-styled Virgin Queen.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reissue edition (October 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345425502
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345425508
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (339 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #54,561 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Alison Weir is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Innocent Traitor and The Lady Elizabeth and several historical biographies, including Mistress of the Monarchy, Queen Isabella, Henry VIII, Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Life of Elizabeth I, and The Six Wives of Henry VIII. She lives in Surrey, England with her husband and two children.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

440 of 453 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 2, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Like many of your other reviewers I was amazed at the negative nature of some of the reviews. Statements such as the book is filled with filth, is based on gossip, is a tabloid history, focuses on Elizabeth's flirting with Dudley and others are simply preposterous. These statements prove again that a little imformation in the hands of some can be a dangerous thing - read a book or two and one becomes an instant expert.
How would one write a history of the Tudor period and not rely on gossip? The whole corpus of the primary documents of the period are largely gossip. Gossip also influences history and the players on its stage. Elizabeth simply could not marry Dudley, perhaps the only man she truly loved, due to the gossip surrounding the death of his first wife Amy Robsart Dudley. Gossip is relevant if people believe it (and it is the nature of humans to believe it).
Elizabeth's courtships, flirting, etc. is also of the greatest historical significance. Constant courtship was the device she employed to convince her male courtiers that she planned to marry and produce an heir (hopefully male of course). In fact, she had no intention of marrying, knowing that the moment she did power would immediately pass to her husband whoever that might be.
As to the charges that the book is filled with filth and Monica type tabloid journalism again shows a total ignorance of the period. The Tudor court was a vey racy place even by modern standards. Readers offended by such information should stick with their Jerry Falwell tapes!
I have taught Tudor history for 34 years and I have seen more interest in the Elizabethan Age over that last 6 months than at any other time in my career. The reason is two recent movies: "Elizabeth" and "Shakespeare in Love.
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157 of 160 people found the following review helpful By Gillian M. Kendall on June 9, 2000
Format: Paperback
Yeah, O.K., I'm a Shakespeare scholar -- the kind that writes articles 7 people in the world read (and one of them's my husband, and I think he only reads the beginning and the end). I knew I shouldn't like this book. I was ready not to like this book. I was ready to indulge in a feeding frenzy of nit-picking.
The problem is, I really liked the book. Really. Sure, this is a popular treatment of Elizabeth I's life, but what does that mean? It means that Weir occasionally glosses over complexities and that her prose is jargon free. She doesn't enter any spiral-of-doom of arcane theory, and she seems to have a good time romping around the Renaissance. I couldn't put the darn book down.
Perhaps what shows the honesty of this book is an admission Weir makes herself: she set out to show Elizabeth I's private life, and found she could not. No reader should miss that this is a world in which the very concept of a private life has yet to be articulated in any way familiar to us. Weir didn't come up empty (as she seems to think); she enables us, through her presentation, to realize the ways in which privacy in the Renaissance *isn't*. Weir searched for the inner Elizabeth and didn't find her, making us wonder about the entire issue of interiority.
I wanted more, of course, more subtlety, more arcane documents, a more clearly articulated point-of-view (and less psychoanalysis, though there isn't much). But this book is sound -- and it's not to be condescended to. I dare attach my name to that.
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91 of 92 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
In "Practicing History" Barbara Tuchman wonders aloud why anyone would want to write yet another biography of an English monarch, and anyone reading yet another life on such a famous person as Elizabeth I must ask himself what a new book offers that hasn't been done many times before. Alison Weir's approach to her subject is a very conventional one, and she offers no new interpretation of the queen and the accomplishments of her reign. Her Elizabeth is not the finger-breaking shrew of Carolly Erickson, or Jasper Ridley's hesitant ruler who got along mainly by charisma and luck. Weir doesn't have the elegant and economical style of Elizabeth Jenkins, whose "Elizabeth the Great" is probably the best written biography of the Virgin Queen. There are, however, several reasons to read this book. Most importantly for those unfamiliar with Elizabethan age, Weir explains a great deal about daily life in Elizabeth's time, particularly for courtiers, and she does it without interrupting the flow of her story. She also takes pains to let the reader know what has survived the homes and castles that she has mentioned, so that the modern reader can make a pilgrimage if possible(or to know how much has perished.)Most importantly, she cleans off the accumulation of legends that had somehow become facts over the ages. Elizabeth's famous lament upon hearing of James's I birth that she was "but a barren stock"--a quote used by Antonia Fraser, Elizabeth Jenkins, and many others was in fact from a second-hand account, as indeed are many of the famous stories of the queen's life. Weir's disclosure of all these second-hand sources is the main reason to read this book.
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107 of 112 people found the following review helpful By "badric" on June 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
Apart from her obvious talents as a historian and biographer, Alison Weir is an exceptional story teller. The historical events in this biography have been dealt with many times before but I don't think Elizabeth's character, personality and motivations were ever described in such vivid and exciting terms. The book is especially rich on Elizabeth's personal life, her relationships with her many suitors and how she played one against the other to her advantage, and how she handled one international crisis after another and always managed to come out on top, even in the most desperate circumstances. Pope Sixtus V, one of her many enemies, once said admiringly: "She is a woman, only mistress of half an island, and yet she makes herself feared by Spain, by France, by the Empire, by all!".
Ms. Weir also gives a detailed exploration of how Elizabeth built her own legend and through cunning, intelligence, talent and perseverance created the almost preternatural characters of Gloriana and The Virgin Queen. Elizabeth was an exceptional personality, a woman who managed to remain in control of her kingdom for many years at a time when women were considered too weak and unstable to occupy any position of power. And she didn't just remain in control, she also managed to transform England from a rather weak country living in the shadows of France and Spain into a major power. Despite having almost everything against her, she obtained the love and respect of her subjects and in the process became an almost legendary figure.
As Ms. Weir so aptly puts it: "No English sovereign, before or since, has so captured the imagination of his or her people or so roused their patriotic feelings".
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