Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Lady Elizabeth

(Disclaimer: I really am obsessed with Tudor England, and I'm okay with that. This book, however, is historical fiction, and I'm going to review it as such. I'm not going to comment on the veracity of any of the dates or events of the book.)

Elizabeth I remains one of the most fascinating and enigmatic monarchs of all time. Her ascension to the monarchy was unlikely, being not only declared a bastard, but also as third in line to the throne. Although she inherited a country torn apart by religious differences and devastated by debt, she left it as one of the most powerful and culturally advanced in all of Europe.

The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir focuses on Elizabeth's life before she became queen. Elizabeth was born to Henry VIII and his second wife, the much-hated, Anne Boleyn. At the beginning of her life she was the heir-apparent, displacing her older sister Mary, who had been declared a bastard upon the dissolution of her mother's marriage to the King. Her charmed reign as the Lady Princess was cut short when her mother was beheaded on charges of treason and her father took his third wife when Elizabeth was just shy of her third birthday. These are the events that set the stage for Elizabeth's childhood.

Young Elizabeth, 1546, by an unknown artist
I think that I would have liked this book better as pure fiction than as historical fiction. The actual events provided a frame-work for the story, but the happenings in-between and some of the characterizations feel off to me. Some points of Elizabeth's characterization struck me as odd, such as her feelings towards her father. While I agree that she loved her father, as all daughters do, her feelings are too simple. This man is not just her father, he is the person that ordered her mother to be beheaded and her to be declared illegitimate. Henry VIII held her fate in his hands. I think that Elizabeth would have loved, hated, and feared her father in equal measure, but that is not how it is portrayed in the book.

Also, without going into too much detail about the plot, I think that the book would have been just fine without the climatic events of what happens between Elizabeth and the Lord Admiral. While it did make for good reading, it did not seem like something that Elizabeth would have let happen. She was, even as a teenager, extremely smart and excruciatingly aware of her position and reputation. I do not think she would forget that in a fit of teenage fancy.

Overall, this book is very good. However, if you're looking for a book to learn more about Elizabeth I, I would look elsewhere. If you have some prior knowledge of the historical Elizabeth (perhaps even from one of Mrs. Weir's historical biographies) then this is a kind of fanciful what-if of her young life. And, if you like historical fiction, then this would be a good read for you.

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