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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.
Weir succeeds in making Elizabeth and her subjects come to life in this clearly written and well-researched biography. All the important people and events in the queen's life are covered, and even those readers familiar with Elizabeth's story will find this an enjoyable read. Of particular interest are the author's speculations about one of the most infamous episodes in Elizabeth's life -- the mysterious death of Amy Robsart, the unfortunate wife of the man who was probably the queen's great love. Weir's take on this much-discussed subject is both fascinating and convincing.
A good introduction for those unfamiliar with Elizabeth I that librarians owning Elizabeth Jenkins's classic Elizabeth the Great (1958) as well as the numerous more recent biographies will still want to purchase.
-- Elizabeth Mary Mellett, Brookline Public Library, MA
Here she brings her characteristic exhaustive attention to detail, an experienced sense of narrative pace and style, and a passion for her subject. One promptly senses Weir's intimate familiarity with Elizabeth's private and public life, an asset when she scrutinizes the many facets of Elizabeth's motivation. Weir begins her study by describing the scene of Elizabeth's accession to the throne in 1558, providing a concise description of the new ruler's character: "She was a mistress of the arts of deception, dissimulation, prevarication and circumvention, all admired attributes of a true Renaissance ruler." For the book's remainder, Weir expands on these observations, illustrating how the new queen used her formidable intelligence and cunning to stay alive and remain fiercely independent. One of the most remarkable facts about Elizabeth is that she never married; Weir vividly explores the complex causes and effects of this decision: her mother's execution by her father, the question of her chastity, her wooing by her later rival Philip of Spain, her reliance on male advisors and friends, and her intimacy with several men (in particular the Earl of Leicester, whose wife's murder cast suspicion on Elizabeth herself, and the Earl of Essex, whom Elizabeth executed as a traitor). Weir also weaves through the narrative the ever-present religious conflicts between England's Protestants and Catholics, and Elizabeth's efforts to keep them under control and remain a popular ruler.
A riveting portrait of the queen and how the private woman won her public role.
"An excellent account of the greatest of England's remarkably great queens."
--Daily Telegraph (London)
"Weir succeeds in making Elizabeth and her subjects come to life in this clearly written and well-researched biography."
--Library Journal (starred review)
"An extraordinary piece of historical scholarship."
--The Cleveland Plain Dealer
1. Elizabeth, the future queen of England, endured a turbulent childhood. What role did her father, Henry VIII, play in her development? How did the beheading of her mother, Anne Boleyn, profoundly influence the young Elizabeth? How did her succession of stepmothers–and their various fates–affect her? Did the specter of her sister Mary's reign haunt Elizabeth upon her accession to the throne?
2. How was Elizabeth's stay in the Tower of London pivotal in her life and in her development? How did religious struggles and political intrigue land her there? How did her confinement forever influence her views about punishment, imprisonment, and death?
3. Which of Elizabeth'straits made her so popular with her subjects from her accession onward? Why did she hold their opinion in such esteem? Was she afraid of making decisions that would make her an unpopular ruler?
4. Elizabeth had to face a public with a less-than-progressive view of women. How did she combat this bias? What were Elizabeth's own views about women, and how did they reflect the mores of her time? How did Elizabeth use her sex to her advantage? In which ways was it a disadvantage? How did Elizabeth use the legend of the "Virgin Queen," and later of "Eliza Triumphant," to bolster her image in the eyes of her subjects?
5. From the outset, Queen Elizabeth surrounded herself with a bevy of learned courtiers. How did she choose the men who were to become her most trusted advisers, such as Cecil, Dudley, and Norfolk, among others? How did men fall in and out of her favor? How did rivalries and the formation of factions affect the reign and Elizabeth's governance? How did her advisers' viewpoints shape her thoughts on policy?
6. How did the intrigue and speculation over whom Elizabeth would marry shape her reign? Why did the government feel it integral that Elizabeth marry? Why did they believe that the public would turn against her if she did not? What reasons, both personal and diplomatic, did Elizabeth have against marriage? Why do you think that, as a child, Elizabeth allegedly declared, "I will never marry"?
7. Do you believe that Robert Dudley (subsequently the Earl of Leicester) was Elizabeth's one great love? Which aspects of his personality most appealed to the queen? How did his ideals affect her reign? How did his status as a married man make him a more or less desirable prospect? Based on their actions, do you think that both Elizabeth and Dudley hoped they would someday marry? What were the arguments against Elizabeth marrying a subject? Were there any other suitors in the court who Elizabeth seemed to favor?
8. How did Elizabeth use the possibility of her hand in marriage as a bargaining chip with world leaders? What were the arguments for and against Elizabeth marrying another monarch? Did she have any genuine affection for her foreign suitors, such as Philip of Spain, Archduke Charles, Henry of Anjou, and Francis of Alencon (later Duke of Anjou)? How did she use the possibility of marriage to forge alliances both within and outside of England? Which of the country's alliances were the most tenuous, and could have been solidified through the union of marriage?
9. How was the question of succession paramount in Elizabeth's reign? Why did she deign to handpick a successor despite pressure to do so? What events made the succession question a more urgent one? For the good of the country, would Elizabeth have been better off marrying, having children, and taking the focus off the matter?
10. How did the threat of religious struggle shape Elizabeth's reign? What did Elizabeth fear most about this potential unrest? Why was Elizabeth opposed to religious extremism in all its forms, including Puritanism? How was she tolerant of non-Anglican religions, and how did she seek to limit their reach? Why did she retain elements of the Catholic faith for the Church of England?
11. How did Elizabeth's relationship with Mary, Queen of Scots evolve? How did the two women attempt to forge a friendship? Why did these efforts ultimately fail? In your opinion, did the two ever have true affection for one another? Why did Mary ultimately begin to conspire against Elizabeth? Why was Elizabeth reluctant to take action against Mary in any way, until she was forced to?
12. Elizabeth once said, "To be a king and wear a crown is more glorious to them that see it than it is a pleasure to them that bear it." How did this statement illustrate her feelings about being the sovereign? How did she view herself as a link with God? How did this affect her dealings in government, particularly with Parliament? As a ruler, did Elizabeth share any similarities with her father, Henry VIII?
13. How did Elizabeth's mercurial nature and indecisiveness affect her reign? Could she have halted any of England's crises with more decisive and swift action? In which ways was she a careful and pensive ruler? Did she improve her tendencies toward procrastination as the years wore on?
14. Elizabeth died without ever specifically having named her successor. Based on her reign, what attributes do you believe she would most value in the ruler that followed her? How was the political, economic, and social climate different upon James I's accession to the throne than when Elizabeth began her rule?
15. How did the problems England faced at the end of Elizabeth's reign compare to those she battled at the beginning? How was it a more secure country? Less secure? Had the notion of the monarchy changed at all?
Posted May 20, 2009
If you like to read history but have trouble finding readable authors, look no further. Alison Weir is one of the most engaging writers of the Tudor period in England that I have ever had the pleasure of coming across. This fascinating, in-depth, and easy to follow portrayal of one of the most complex and daring queens in English history is a must read. I recommend it not only to history buffs but also to any female who feels inspired by strong women ahead of their time.
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Posted July 23, 2010
This is by far the best and most detailed biography on Queen Elizabeth I. Alison Weir has obviously done a tremendous amount of research and writes in a way that completely engrosses the reader, making them feel as though they are actually there. Elizabeth I is one of the most well known monarchs, but few really know that much about her. She had a very unique life from the start, born a princess and heir to the English throne before being practically disowned after her mother was executed by her father, she was then reinstated into the line of succession thanks to one of her many step mothers, only to fear for her life again when her sister "Bloody" Mary became queen. Elizabeth I was an interesting, intelligent, independent woman who was full of contradictions. Most of the people around her tried to take advantage of her but she was usually savvy enough to realize this. This is not a light read, but with the amount of information, and Weir's writing style, the reader is left wanting more. Alison Weir is arguably the "go to" person for Tudor history, and she does not disappoint with "The Life of Elizabeth I."
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Posted June 9, 2005
and I learned so much about the fascinating life of this strong woman! It is easy for a book that covers so much material to verge on the deathly boring, but this is not the case here. Weir does a remarkable job in portraying Elizabeth's inner turmoil and outer pleasures by re-creating her court and lifestyle. An excellent read.
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Posted February 11, 2009
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I actually love the book but...it could have been so much better, I did not like the vast number of colloquialisms in the writing style and did not like especially the laundry list reporting of character and personality traits, nor thos describing physical appearence. Far too much needless and meaningful detail. I doubt seriously that the good queen or anyone else went without bathing every three or days which is still common in a number or rural areas across Europe and Britain. Most of the rural, impoverished types have still taken great pride in being and presenting themselves reasonably clean. I also did not particularly like the way Mary, Queen of Scots, was portrayed and the author has apparently never talked to one that has been captured by an opposing armed force and imprisoned. It is a warrior's code that he will make every effort to escape and aid others to escape. Why should someone just accept imprisonnment and any kind of treatment. The fact is that she came as a supplicant, was imprisoned for 18 years, and legally murdered. What really gets me is how men of honor could be so foul and cicious in planning her elimination. She had become an intolerable political burden that had to be disposed of and they did. Queen Elizabeth did prove one thing: she had learned her lessons well in growing up and she knew, that as a female, she always must hold out the possibility of marriage and a heir but she also knew that if the happened, her life as Queen was over. They would have deposed her in favor of the heir and a male regency. She Knew that and she played the game masterfully until it no longer mattered. One thing that should be remembered. Mary's claim to the right of succession was correct and had been validated by Henry VIII when he saw the possibility of unifying England under Her and Edward. Does anyone believe that Henry was so stupid he did not understand just where she stood in succession rights? People say that the Salic Law did not apply and the is strictly true in the inheritance of land but is it true in Consecrated and annointed coronations where the new King has to be crowned and annointed by the priest or Bishop ? If it did not matter, why the importance and stress on Dynastic marriages in the first place. Last point, your character and reputation never belong to you. It belongs to those people in the community who will define you as they have others heard you are. It may or may not be true and you do have a chance to rebut it but you can do everything possible in a lawful and legal way and stil be defined by your neighbor as a lunatic. Just a thought I do love the book and have already read it three times. Perhaps the next edition will be cleaner. One lst points: the author used the word prevarication (lie) on many occasions when I thought she might have meant procrastinate. She certainly did that she she vacillated many time over whether to do or not do a certain thing or just play it out until is was forgotten. It is a good book and you will feel that you got your money's worth.
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Posted October 24, 2007
I'd been meaning to read this book for years, and finally got to it this month. It is an exhaustive - and at times exhausting - biography jam-packed with minute details about the personalities and relationships of Elizabethan court life. So, be forewarned - this is not really a history of the Elizabethan Era or the English Renaissance. A little less of who said what to whom on what day, and more of the broader picture, would have been welcome.
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Posted November 28, 2000
After watching the films Elizabeth and Shakespeare in Love, I was hooked on the life and times of The Virgin Queen. Thus, I ran to the book store to find anything I could read to learn more about this fascinating woman. This book illustrates the her ups and downs and triumphs as Queen, and what she went through trying to maintain her religon. I especially liked the family trees given to trace her lineage. Allison Weir's description of Elizabeth's Coronation made me feel as if I were lined on the streets watching it for myself. And, how she describes what Elizabeth went through, as a devout Protestant, at the hands of the Catholic Preists made me shiver. It was brilliantly written, so much so, I read it twice! Excellent!
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Posted February 13, 2014
Posted August 23, 2013
about Elizabeth and history of her suitors, I initially did not know this will be a biography and when I realized it I was a little upset because I don't really like to read biography especially 600 pages of it, however book turned out to be pretty interesting even though I still believe it could of been like 100-150 pages shorter because through out the book some of the stuff becoming repetitive.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 20, 2013
Weir is one of the best writers of English history of this generation. Her heavy reaserch and flowing prose weave history of one of the world's greatest nations, and its personalities, into readable enjoyment. If you haven't, give her a try! :)Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 5, 2009
This is the 4th book I've read by Weir and like the others its great! It has so much information about Elizabeth. I feel I got alot of insight to the person that she was. I didn't know much about Elizabeth before I picked up this book. I never knew she was so vain and attention hungry. I hate what she did to Mary Queen of Scotts. I read this book after reading about Mary and I'm still on Marys side! Elizabeth to me had no regard for anyone but herself. Then again if I was queen....maybe I would to. I would recommend this book for a great bio read. Ms Weir can write so that you don't want to put the book down no matter what!
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Posted April 26, 2009
Posted November 5, 2008
I was absorbed in this book. I like Tudor history. It's very descriptive...some times too much. It seems these people were so obsessed with her becoming a wife. Now I know why she and I never got married! It's exhausting at times. But, it is a good book. Not an easy read but great history. Now onto my Stephenie Meyer vampire books....
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Posted October 1, 2008
This book was very good it had a lot of details and was very well written.I learned a lot about Elizabeth.I liked the movies but this book had so much more information and that was what I was looking for.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 1, 2007
Posted April 23, 2007
I made the mistake of reading historical accounts by Antonio Fraser before reading Weir. Ms. Weir simply jumps around too much and even contradicts the accounts of events. In addition, as a researcher I like Fraser's citations within the text. Weir does not do this.
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Posted October 28, 2006
Posted October 27, 2003
Posted August 24, 2003
Posted April 18, 2003
I have read much about Elizabeth I (and the rest of the Tudors), some of it by Weir, who is a master story-teller who does more than relate historical facts, she ties them in context with one another, pulling the reader into the 16th century. Wonderful book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 6, 2000
Alison Weir has done an excellent job in the coverage of Elizabeth I's life both before her coronation and througout her rule. This book is written in a very easily followed, mostly chronological style which proved to be very enjoyable reading. It does not appear to be a one-sided view of Elizabeth's personality, but is well rounded, showing both her extraordinary ability to put her personal feelings in check in order to rule very effectively and successfully as a woman in a man's world, as well as her at times rash and almost outrageously selfish behavior. The author includes many letters, speeches, and dialogue between Elizabeth and her consorts, as well as a family tree and a few portraits for reference. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a well rounded book on the life of Elizabeth I.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.