on March 2, 1999
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." "Elizabeth" is not very good history and "Shakespeare In Love" is pure fiction. Nonetheless, I applaude both movies for they have engendered a new interest in the period and its personalities. Students are now asking me what books they should read to learn more. I recommend Weir's Elizabeth (and other of her works) because they are written in an interesting and engaging fashion. Later on I will suggest that they move on to Hibbert, Johnson, Ridley, etc.
This book reveals the human face of one of the most dynamic personalities of the Western World and does it in a highly engaging and readable form. Unfortunately, the only people who read what most of us historians write is other historians. No one else is willing to tolerate the pedantry and deadly dryness of the academic style.
I commend this book and recommend it enthusiastically to all those interested in Elizabeth and her age.
on June 9, 2000
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.
on October 26, 2000
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.
on June 19, 2002
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".
on January 7, 2008
I am supplying this information from the back cover of the book because Amazon does not supply any:
"This book begins as the young Elizabeth ascends the throne in the wake of her sister Mary's disastrous reign. Elizabeth is portrayed as both a woman and a queen, an extraordinary phenomenon in a patriarchal age. Alison 'Weir writes of Elizabeth's intriguing, long-standing affair with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, of her dealings - sometimes comical, sometimes poignant - with her many suiters, of her rivalry with Mary, Queen of Scots, and of her bizarre relationship with the Earl of Essex, thirty years her junior. Rich in detail, vivid and colorful, this book, the finest yet by one of our most popular and readable historians, comes, perhaps, as close as we shall ever get to knowing what Elizabeth I was like as a person."
on December 5, 1999
I found this one of the most engrossing books on Elizabeth I in years and I have read several. Alison Weir's interpretation of the greatest of English monarchs is sensitive and thorough. I felt as though I was transported back 450 years; the atmosphere that Ms. Weir provides in this work of non fiction gave a true rendition of realism for those precarious times in European history. This allowed you to understand the reasoning behind this enigmatic and yet, mysterious woman.
She is mysterious because all we know about Elizabeth I comes through the pages of history; she rarely spoke of the inner trifles she had dealt with, in particular that of her mother, Anne Boleyn. However, she was a person of great strength and character. Many books, movies and sadly enough, even history professors have tried to read these unwritten pages in order to malign her. Even though she was by no means perfect, I am glad that Alison Weir has provided a dignified image of the icon that was Glorianna, and of the human being herself. She does this remarkable woman justice. This is also one of the most amazingly researched books with new information and insights. I have read so many books on Elizabeth I, that they all read pretty much like carbon copies. "The Life of Elizabeth I" is wonderfully fresh and enlightening; it also gave me more appreciation for this truly "modern" woman in a time when women were considered inferior and unimportant.
on July 13, 2009
I'm currently in the middle of reading this great historical read. I have read several of Alison Weirs other books and have found them all equally intriguing, captivating and well researched. I was a bit nervous about this book as I had read The Life of Elizabeth I and was afraid it would be incredibly similar. This however is not the case; this book is a unique view into the life of Elizabeth as a woman, a queen and the scandals of her life. I would highly suggest this book to anyone who is interested in learning more about the life of an extraordinary monarch.
on February 2, 1999
I confess to being dumbfounded by these harsh reviews of Weir's ELIZABETH. As a devout Elizabeth student, I've read dozens and dozens of biographies. The range is as one might expect: from dry and pedantic to worshipful and silly. But by no means did I perceive Miss Weir's book to be even remotely a 'tabloid style' biography. That Weir only outlines England's long involvement with the French Protestants is no cavalier treatment of great history; 45 years of epic history were encompassed in Elizabeth's reign, and it is significant that every biographer I've read makes his presence felt by selecting the very limited history he may, even then, just briefly explore. Weir tries to focus on character, and, I might add, helps to put the Earl of Essex in his place. Furthermore: I fail to see how it can be maintained that her scholarship is shoddy. From Holinshed to Camden to Neal, her bibliography reads right. More tellingly, she excerpts unexpected moments from these oft-quoted sources. No, this is not a great historical biography. But in terms of a popular treatment of Elizabeth, reaching many unfamiliar with the lady, we could have done far worse. Good Lord, people - save some venom for Edith Sitwell or Christopher Hibbert.
on January 10, 2002
I was first drawn to this book by the film based on it starring Cate Blanchett. Since reading 'Elizabeth I', I've gone on to read all of Weir's historical works.
Weir is pitch-perfect at writing popular history. Her style is accessible without being insipid. She never writes down to her popular audience and never writes over their heads and into the rarified air reserved for academics. Though I'm no expert in this field, she seems well researched and accurate. She is careful to cite differing opinion and explain why she disagrees.
Elizabeth is an ideal subject for Weir. This most important of Renaissance monarchs is due a fresh look in a post-feminist, post-Thatcher era. Weir brings new insight to Elizabeth's intelligence, her statecraft, her personal relationships, the circle of her ministers and her place on the European world stage.
One slight fault, not enough is included about Elizabeth's theological thought and the (brilliant) Elizabethan Settlement. Without Elizabeth's leadership and penchant for tolerance, the Church of England might by now be but a historical oddity.
After you read this work, I suggest proceeding with Weir's "The Children of Henry VIII" for a look into Elizabeth's early life. Then, Weir's two other works on Henry: "The King and His Court" and "6 Wives of.."
Weir is hands-down my favorite non-fiction writer.
on December 19, 2000
Alison Weir has turned her scholarly attention on a woman she has touched upon in two previous books, The Children of Henry VIII and the Six Wives of Henry VIII. This time around Ms. Weir's entire skill and art are put to the service of a very remarkable woman who rightfully defined the age in which she lived. The author's love for her subject shines through on every page and the only quibble (and it is very small as quibbles go) is that, on occasion, Ms. Weir is more apologetic than she needs to be. All that aside, this is a marvelous book that brings the actual person alive for the reader and goes beyond the mythology to create a biography that fits wonderfully in amongst Ms. Weir's set of Tudor history books. Another fine achievement from the pen of this wonderfully readable and entertaining historian.