Friday, June 12, 2009


This book is on my list of nonfiction reads. Another thrift store pick, I expected a rather dry read. Instead, this is a fascinating biography of a fascinating and complex woman who ruled England with a velvet fist. 

The book reads like good fiction. I found myself as impatient to find out what happened next as I've been with any fantasy novel. Queen Elizabeth spent her whole life in peril of being beheaded. Even before she took the throne, she was confined to the Tower (where all accused of high crimes are taken before their beheadings) by enemies who had their own ideas about who should succeed their current Queen.

I recently saw the excellent Elizabeth I on HBO, and have seen some of the first and some of the second movies about Elizabeth that Cate Blanchett did. The HBO miniseries presents Elizabeth as continually being frustrated in her attempts to marry. But according to Jenkins, Elizabeth was reluctant to marry. She points out that by the time Elizabeth was eight, she had attended two executions. By then her mother and first step-mother were headless corpses, and it was then (or soon after) that she first uttered the sentence, "I will never marry." 

Jenkins take on Elizabeth was that she deliberately used the prospect of marriage as a diplomatic and negotiating tool. The alliances and treaties drawn up were frequently negotiated with the prospect that Elizabeth would marry one Prince or King or another. Of course, she never did, and Jenkins theories as to why are interesting.

Jenkins explains in her forward that many historically important events are glossed over or barely mentioned in favor of studying the world immediately surrounding Queen Elizabeth. Many times as I was reading my mind drifted back to the HBO series, and I wonder now if the writers used this book heavily. I do think they would have been better off presenting Elizabeth's reluctance to marry, which feels far more plausible than the idea that many men were, for whatever reason, reluctant to marry the Queen of England. However, I think both the book and the TV series got the intrigue and constant planning aspects right. 

In short, terrific read. Jenkins is now firmly on my list of authors of whose work I can't wait to read more. Here's a link to the book. It appears to be out of print, but a plethora of cheap copies are available. 


freddie said...

Apologies to those with RSS feeds. Really I should not publish these reviews before I've had coffee. Plethora of grammatical errors - some of which I've left in the review. Screw it. I'm getting coffee. : )

moonrat said...

heeheehee. you're cute.

this morning, i checked my RSS before i had MY coffee, and your review seemed just fine :)

(guess i shouldn't be editing before 9!!)

Chris Eldin said...

I'm currently drinking coffee, and see no errors at'all.

This sounds like a great book! I rarely read non-fiction, but I'd be tempted by this one. Thanks for the review!!

Kenito said...

I have read many books about Elizabeth I, some good and some bad. This ranks among the best for detail and researched facts. Elizabeth saw marriage as a dangerous game, death from politics and childbirth being equally omnipresent. As she said " this house there will be no master only a mistress.." She was boss and no man was going to rule her, not even Leicester.