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Posted May 12, 2001
Jasper Ridley's biography of Elizabeth I is masterful in its research and in its meticulous portrait of the queen's reign and period. Ridley is incredibly rigorous in his use of and organization of material from the primary sources, and the result is a biography with a you-were-there feel to it, replete with thoughts and attestations by contemporaries. Ridley's biography differs from most others in the Elizabethan field in that it focuses on military and political developments far more than personal studies and expositions. As a research tool, it's without peer. Ridley has consulted not only the calendars of British state papers, but foreign archives in Italy and in Simancas, Spain, giving an extraordinarily broad-based and multifaceted perspective on his subject. Anyone doing research on the period would derive enormous benefit simply by tracing Ridley's research trail as presented in the bibliography. Moreover, Ridley provides extensive information on hard-to-find topics and events that were nonetheless of crucial importance. He discusses the dispatch of English forces to Normandy and the total routing and expulsion of those forces from Dieppe and Le Havre in 1563, a crushing defeat that permanently expelled the English from French soil and made it a bona fide island nation. There is an amazingly thorough discussion of the Anglo-Spanish war that took place in the wake of the Spanish Armada, its damaging effects on both nations' economies, and the reassertion of Spanish sea power in the 1590s that inflicted numerous naval defeats on English forces and frustrated English attempts to generate settlements in the Western Hemisphere while solidifying Spain's many footholds, in part explaining the still-powerful Spanish cultural presence in so much of the Americas. And, there is also an excellent study of the causes and course of the intense Anglo-Irish guerrilla war of the 1590s that so thoroughly damaged the Irish economy and agriculture. In short, as a biography and as a research resource, Jasper Ridley's biography is well worth the read.
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