The Life of Elizabeth I

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Perhaps the most influential sovereign England has ever known, Queen Elizabeth I remained an extremely private person throughout her reign, keeping her own counsel and sharing secrets with no one—not even her closest, most trusted advisers. Now, in this brilliantly researched, fascinating new book, acclaimed biographer Alison Weir shares provocative new interpretations and fresh insights on this enigmatic figure.


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The Life of Elizabeth I

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Perhaps the most influential sovereign England has ever known, Queen Elizabeth I remained an extremely private person throughout her reign, keeping her own counsel and sharing secrets with no one—not even her closest, most trusted advisers. Now, in this brilliantly researched, fascinating new book, acclaimed biographer Alison Weir shares provocative new interpretations and fresh insights on this enigmatic figure.

Against a lavish backdrop of pageantry and passion, intrigue and war, Weir dispels the myths surrounding Elizabeth I and examines the contradictions of her character. Elizabeth I loved the Earl of Leicester, but did she conspire to murder his wife? She called herself the Virgin Queen, but how chaste was she through dozens of liaisons? She never married—was her choice to remain single tied to the chilling fate of her mother, Anne Boleyn? An enthralling epic that is also an amazingly intimate portrait, The Life of Elizabeth I is a mesmerizing, stunning reading experience.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Perhaps the most influential monarch ever to rule England, Queen Elizabeth I is at once the best- and least-known of queens. She was a very private person, leaving even her advisers wondering at the motivations for many of her decisions and actions. In The Life of Elizabeth I, Tudor authority Alison Weir tackles many of the mysteries that have for centuries surrounded Elizabeth: Was she somehow involved in the murder of the Earl of Leicester's wife? Was she really a "Virgin" Queen? Was her decision not to marry tied to the fate of her mother, Anne Boleyn?
From the Publisher
"A riveting portrait of the queen and how the private woman won her public role."
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"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

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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.

Library Journal
Royal historian Weir (The Children of Henry VIII) continues with the story of Elizabeth Tudor, concentrating on the Virgin Queen's personal (one could hardly say private) life.

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

School Library Journal
YA-YAs introduced to Elizabeth I through recent motion pictures and seeking more information about her could hardly do better than to choose Weir's third book on the Tudor dynasty, following The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1993) and The Children of Henry VIII (1996, both Ballantine). Those interested in details of Elizabeth's early years could begin with Children, but this new volume stands alone. A short introductory chapter provides historical context while a one-page prologue sets the stage: the death of Mary I and Elizabeth's ascension to the throne at age 25. While Weir covers important events and issues, her purpose is biography, so she focuses steadfastly on the woman and her relationships with those who knew, served, and loved her. The question of why she never married is much discussed, and YAs may be surprised to learn how close she came to marriage-and with whom. The author shows an Elizabeth who is flirtatious and temperamental; capable, yet insecure; imperious, yet compassionate-in a word, complex. With talent, determination, able assistance, and the loyalty and love of her subjects, Elizabeth surmounted intrigues, jealousies, plots, disease, even the betrayal of a loved one to lead her kingdom in its transformation from a debt-ridden country of little influence into a major European power. It's a fascinating tale that is well told in this engrossing, articulate book.-Dori DeSpain, Herndon Fortnightly Library, Fairfax County, VA
Kirkus Reviews
Acclaimed Tudor biographer Weir paints a vast canvas but maintains a sharp focus on Elizabeth's charismatic character and her reactions to people and events around her. This volume represents the culmination of years of research by Weir (The Children of Henry VIII, 1996, etc.).

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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345425508
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/5/1999
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 560
  • Sales rank: 163,304
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.18 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Alison Weir

Alison Weir is the author of Britain's Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, The Princes in the Tower, The Wars of the Roses, and The Children of Henry VIII. She lives outside London with her husband and two children.

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Interviews & Essays

by Alison Weir

She was one of the most famous flirts in history–men were attracted to her like moths to a flame, not only because of who she was, but also because of her undoubted personal charisma. Yet Elizabeth I, who was Queen of England from 1558 to 1603, was celebrated in her own time, and is remembered today, as the Virgin Queen, an image she consciously promoted.

She was one of the greatest rulers that England has ever had, and certainly one of the best loved. She deliberately set out to court the goodwill and affection of her subjects, asserting that she was the careful mother of her people. Despite all the vicissitudes of fortune, she retained their good opinions, and at the end of her reign was able to say to Parliament, ‘Though God hath raised me high, this I account the glory of my crown, that I have reigned with your loves.'

I have studied the history of the British monarchy for over thirty years now, and at least ten of those years have been spent in researching Elizabeth I and trying to discover what she was really like as a person. Certainly, over time, she did come to life very vividly for me, and it was easy to forget that she had been in her grave for nearly four hundred years. She is easily the most fascinating and charismatic woman I have ever had the good fortune to write about.

Happily, the publication of my book, The Life of Elizabeth I, coincided–by accident rather than design–with a revival of interest in Elizabeth and her age, which was largely due to the issue of two films, the splendid Shakespeare in Love and the highly controversialElizabeth. These prompted the reprinting of several older biographies and a major television series.

Many people have in their minds images of Elizabeth of which she would have heartily approved: the royal icon of the Armada years, or the Virgin Queen of the poets who presided over the England of Shakespeare and Raleigh. Yet there was far more to her than this, as I discovered to my delight, for as my researches progressed, a very different human being emerged. Elizabeth was a strong-minded, intelligent, flirtatious and sexy woman with a wickedly mischievous streak. She drove men mad, in every sense.

Elizabeth was the daughter of Henry VIII by his second wife, Anne Boleyn, who was executed in 1536 after having been accused, probably falsely, of plotting the death of the King and committing adultery with five men, one her own brother. Elizabeth was not quite three at the time, and we know nothing of when or how she found out what had happened to her mother. Post-Freudian historians have endlessly speculated as to the extent of the psychological damage this discovery must have caused, even going so far as to suggest that this was the reason why Elizabeth never married, but in fact there is hardly any contemporary evidence to support these theories and we should be careful not to rely on them too heavily.

Elizabeth never did take a husband. She played what became known as ‘the marriage game' with shrewdness and prevarication, keeping her many suitors, both political and personal, in a permanent state of high expectations. This was of supreme benefit to her realm, since foreign princes, who might have otherwise been aggressive, remained friendly in anticipation of a marriage alliance. Yet, almost always at the last minute, the Queen would find some good excuse for wriggling out of the arrangement. Some of these matrimonial negotiations dragged on for years: Elizabeth kept a French duke and the Archduke Charles of Austria on a string for over a decade in each case, blowing repeatedly hot and cold, to the great exasperation of her male advisers, who all understood the desperate need for a male heir to safeguard the continuation of the Tudor line.

On a personal level, the evidence strongly suggests that Elizabeth had an aversion to marriage for three reasons. Firstly, having witnessed the bitter and tangled breakdowns of several marriages within her own family, she did not see wedlock as a secure state; furthermore, she feared the factional controversy it might provoke

Secondly, as she told Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, the man who she probably loved more than any other, she had no intention of sharing sovereign power: ‘I will have but one mistress here and no master!' Many women today will sympathise with her determination to retain full control over her life and her desire to have relationships with men without subsuming herself to them in marriage. We may draw a parallel between the modern woman's pursuit of a career and Elizabeth's jealous guarding of the autonomy of her position: queenship was her ‘career'. She took it enormously seriously, and was not prepared to relinquish any vestige of her power for the sake of a man, however much she might love him. Nor did she wish to interrupt it to bear children. In many ways, hers was a very modern dilemma.

Thirdly, and most important of all, we must remember that in Tudor times, monarchs were regarded as holding supreme dominion over the state and their subjects. Yet at the same time, a husband was deemed to hold supreme dominion over his wife. A queen regnant was still a novelty in England, and her position was virtually irreconcilable with the married state. Elizabeth's own sister, Mary I, had made a disastrous and unpopular marriage with Philip II of Spain, who, expecting to play the traditional superior role as her husband, had chafed against his wife's attempts to assert her regal authority. Elizabeth had no intention of embroiling herself in such a difficult relationship.

‘I am already married to an husband, and that is the kingdom of England,' she was fond of declaring. She solved the dilemma over her marital future by taking a courageous decision, revolutionary for her time, not to marry or have heirs of her body. Nevertheless, as ‘the best match in her parish', she dissembled brilliantly over this issue and exploited to the full her marriageability, using it as a political weapon to the best advantage of her realm.

Elizabeth never married, but was she the Virgin Queen she claimed to be? This question was being asked soon after her accession, and scurrilous rumours were rife throughout her reign, fuelled by Elizabeth's own behaviour, which was often condemned by her own subjects as scandalous. She would allow Leicester to enter her bedchamber to hand her her shift while her maids were dressing her. She was espied at her window in a state of undress on at least one occasion, and in old age, wearing a low-cut gown that exposed her wrinkled body almost to the navel, she had a French ambassador squirming with embarrassment for two hours during a private audience. The poor man afterwards declared that he had not known where to look.

Yet many ambassadors, at the behest of prospective foreign husbands, made exhaustive inquiries as to whether or not the Queen was chaste, and in every case they concluded that she was. She herself could not understand why there should be so many racy tales about her or claims that she had borne bastard children, some of which are still, amazingly, believed today.

‘I do not live in a corner,' she told a Spanish envoy. ‘A thousand eyes see all I do, and calumny will not fasten on me for ever.' A French ambassador who knew her well claimed that the rumours were ‘sheer inventions of the malicious to put off those who would have found an alliance with her useful'. Perhaps most tellingly of all, in 1562, when Elizabeth believed she was dying of smallpox and was about to face Divine Judgement, she spoke of her notorious relationship with Robert Dudley, and swore before witnesses that nothing improper had ever passed between them. Given the religious convictions of the sixteenth century, which are hard for our modern secular society to comprehend, it is unlikely that anyone would have jeopardised their immortal soul by telling such a lie at such a time.

Rumour, however, accused Elizabeth of worse than fornication. In 1560, at a time when Dudley's affair with the Queen was becoming notorious, his wife, Amy Robsart, was found dead, her neck broken, at the foot of a flight of stairs in a remote country house. Dudley was away at court at the time, but the finger of suspicion pointed at both him and the Queen.

The modern theory is that Amy's death resulted, not from murder, but from a spontaneous fracture that can occur in someone in the advanced stages of breast cancer. The fact remains, however, that her death was all too convenient. Not for Dudley, who realised immediately that it had put paid to his hopes of ever marrying the Queen, for rumour had long accused him of plotting his wife's demise, and he knew very well that Elizabeth would not dare risk proclaiming herself guilty by association by marrying him, for to do so might well cost her her insecure throne.

Nor, certainly, was Amy's death convenient for Elizabeth, who seems to have been dismayed to realise that her lover was now a free man. In fact, the only person who benefited personally was someone else very close to the throne, who may well have felt that Amy's death was necessary for Elizabeth's security–and his own. This was William Cecil, later Lord Burghley, who served the Queen faithfully for over forty years, and of whom it was said, ‘No prince in Europe had such a counsellor.'
Cecil, who had begun the reign as Elizabeth's most trusted adviser, had recently been ousted from her confidence by the ascendant Dudley, a man whose influence Cecil regarded as pernicious. Cecil's behaviour in the days before Amy Dudley's death was suspiciously uncharacteristic. The Queen had confided, probably correctly, to the Spanish ambassador that Amy was dying, but Cecil made it his business to take the ambassador aside and deny this, asserting that Dudley was plotting to do away with his wife. Immediately after the murder, when Dudley, the object of widespread accusations and gossip, was banished from court pending the outcome of the inquest that would clear his name, Cecil was restored to high favour. Elizabeth had been saved from contemplating a disastrous marriage. The evidence for Cecil's involvement in Amy's death is purely circumstantial, but it is not inconceivable that he was behind a government attempt to frame the favourite.

For many years afterwards, people speculated that Elizabeth really would marry Dudley. She was closer to him than to any other man, and their relationship endured for over thirty years, when it was cruelly ended by his death, which plunged Elizabeth into grief during her hour of triumph after the vanquishing of the Spanish Armada. Undoubtedly, Dudley was the great love of Elizabeth's life, despite the fact that he made two secret marriages with other women during the course of their relationship.

Dudley aside, Elizabeth had many other suitors. She was courted not only by Imperial Princes but also by the Kings of France and Sweden; the King of Denmark's ambassador went about her court wearing a heart embroidered on his doublet, while English noblemen vied for her favour, lavishing ruinous sums on great houses in which to entertain her and magnificent suits of clothing in which to dazzle her. The sexy French Duke of Anjou came to England twice in the hope of winning the Queen's love; his presence at court was supposed to be a secret, and he was obliged to observe a ball from behind a curtain, but since Elizabeth danced with outrageous abandon and kept waving in his direction, few were deceived. Tongues would have wagged more furiously had it been known that she had visited the Duke's bedchamber and brought him breakfast in bed. Like her other courtships, it all ended, of course, in disappointment. Anjou was so ardent and determined that the Queen had to pay him to go away. She was in her late forties by then, and wept publicly in Council, knowing that she had given up her last chance of marriage and motherhood.

Towards the end of her life, she enjoyed a curious and volatile relationship with the dashing and headstrong Earl of Essex, who was thirty years her junior. She may, in part, have looked on him as the son she never had, although he, like Leicester and many others before him, played the adoring lover. But soon the adoration turned to contempt for his elderly inamorata, and when, in 1601, the jealous, power-hungry Essex led a revolt against the Queen's ministers, she did not hesitate to have him executed.

She was not so decisive when it came to her cousin and life-long rival, Mary, Queen of Scots. The beautiful Mary, who had been deposed by her own subjects and unwisely sought aid in England, was instead kept a prisoner by Elizabeth for nineteen years. Acknowledged by Catholic Europe to be the true Queen of England, while Elizabeth, who had re-established the Protestant Anglican Church, was seen as an illegitimate and heretical observer, Mary spent her time in captivity plotting against her cousin's life and throne. Yet Elizabeth consistently refused to heed the pleas of her advisers to put Mary to death. Mary, she was aware, was an anointed sovereign, like herself: to execute her would set a dangerous precedent. Yet when, finally, Mary's undeniably sinister intentions towards her were exposed with the uncovering of the Babington Plot in 1586, Elizabeth's hand was forced, although she agonised for weeks before signing the death warrant, and after Mary's execution claimed that she had not authorised its issue. Her distress was terrible to witness, and in her desperate need to exonerate herself from blame, she punished her councillors. Her secretary was sent to the Tower of London.

We know a great deal about Elizabeth as a person. She was formidably intelligent and well-educated, and left behind a vast amount of letters, poems and speeches, all composed by herself. She was a fine orator. There are hundreds of surviving portraits of her, although most conform to the official image painted when the Queen was in her early thirties, which flatteringly depicts her as an eternally young woman. It is therefore hard to assess what she looked like as she grew older.

She was passionate about hunting, dancing, music and walks in the fresh air. She was also excessively vain, and owned three thousand dresses, many richly embroidered and bejewelled. She had, unusually for her time, bathrooms with piped water and mirrored walls in most of her palaces, as well as portable travelling baths, which all suggests that she had far more than the three or four baths a year with which historians usually credit her. She also had one of the first modern water closets installed at Richmond Palace towards the end of her reign.

The Queen had a wicked sense of humor. At Robert Dudley's solemn creation as Earl of Leicester, she mischievously tickled his neck as she fastened on his mantle of nobility. On the other hand, her rages were terrible: one councillor declared he would have preferred to fight the King of Spain than face the Queen in a temper. This temper was famously evident when Puritan preachers dared to rebuke her for swearing or sartorial extravagance, or when the text of a sermon was not to her liking. It was not beyond her to stamp out of the chapel in a rage.

Her indomitable spirit carried her into old age. At sixty-seven, ‘the Head of the Church of England was to be seen dancing three or four galliards' each morning. When, at the same age, she suggested another royal progress, following on from earlier long journeys travelling through her kingdom to be seen and entertained by her subjects, there were groans of protest from her courtiers, so she blithely declared that the old could stay behind whilst the younger courtiers came with her. She had a terror of being regarded as aged and infirm, fearing that her authority and position as queen might thereby be undermined.

Elizabeth's physicians and others were of the opinion that her death at the age of sixty-nine was avoidable. Her final illness began with what were probably ulcers in her throat and deteriorated into perhaps either tonsillitis or influenza, but she steadfastly refused to take any medicines or even, for days on end, to go to bed, obstinately remaining on cushions on the floor, sunk in a deep depression. She had told her people, ‘It is not my desire to live nor reign longer than my life and reign shall be for your good.' It seems she had made a conscious decision that it was time for her to depart. Even to the end, she put the needs of her people first.

The most fitting epitaph to this extraordinary woman is to be found in the pages of William Camden's biography, written soon after her death: ‘No oblivion shall ever bury the glory of her name: for her happy and renowned memory still liveth and shall for ever live in the minds of men.'

And it is still living today.
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Reading Group Guide

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’s traits 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?

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Customer Reviews

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( 53 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 53 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 20, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Easy to Read Author

    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.

    12 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 23, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    The best bio on Elizabeth I

    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."

    11 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2000

    The Virgin Queen

    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!

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 11, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    An extraordinary person

    I actually love the book 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.

    6 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 24, 2007

    It Hath Great Detail

    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.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2007

    Even Elizabeth Would Have Been Confused

    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.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2005

    Reads like a novel

    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.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2014

    Wa not a very good account of Queen Elizabets statesmanship.

    For 500 page you see Elizabeth has chacing men and getting hysterical. Weir believed the sources that saw her as nothing but a female.

    4 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 5, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Love Alison Weir

    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!

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2014


    I have been a student of Elizabethan History much of my life. This author ignores everything that Elizzabeth did and was concentrating only on the marriage issue. Even fictional accounts that I have read have been more comprehensive

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2014

    Must have

    Like all of her historical books, Allison Weir excels in the historical biographies. This should be on every historians shelf.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 23, 2013

    I learned a lot

    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.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2014


    If you want every detail and no story then you might enjoy. I couldnt finish it

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2014


    I like how it is listed in the "2.99" and under but its 9.99. Makes sense...>.<

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2013

    Weir: England's Biographer

    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! :)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 5, 2008

    Geez...Get Married Already!

    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....

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2000

    Very Well Written!

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 24, 2014


    .......................................................................THANK YOU N I  THINK U UNDERSTAND MY POINT..................................................................................

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 10, 2014


    I could read this book over and over! I am a huge Alison Weir fan and she definitely doesn't disappoint!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 18, 2014

    Decent read

    This book was interesting, but a little hard to follow.

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