Newest Review: ... Governor, why is it that yesterday you called me Lady Princess and today Lady Elizabeth?" She is raised by a loyal household inc... more
The Lady Elizabeth - the virgin queen?
The Lady Elizabeth - Alison Weir
Member Name: Wickedinrock
The Lady Elizabeth - Alison Weir
Advantages: Brings the character to life
Disadvantages: Weaves a 'story' into history so anyone looking for a reference book will be disappointed!
Despite reading at least two books a week on my commute to and from work, I don't often write book reviews as I don't feel I can do these beautiful books any justice. However I decided to give myself a challenge and write a book review about one of my favourite topics, by one of my favourite authors. Alison Weir is a historian who mainly writes biographical accounts of British royalty. After reading a number of her non-fiction books, I decided to read her novels, one of which was The Lady Elizabeth, based on the life of Elizabeth I before her ascension to the throne.
=== Elizabeth I ===
Elizabeth I is one of the most well known and interesting figures in British history. From Cate Blanchett in the Oscar winning film Elizabeth to Miranda Richardson in Blackadder, Elizabeth has been widely portrayed in film and television and her life is well documented to the point that I felt I knew much about her rule as Queen of England. Through reading about the Tudors over the years I knew various scraps of information about Elizabeth's younger years but _The Lady Elizabeth_ gave me an opportunity to find out more about her childhood and upbringing which shaped her to become such a popular Queen.
Elizabeth I ruled England from 1558 until her death in 1603 and was the last of the Tudor monarchs. She ascended the throne and led the country to the 'reformed faith' after the death of her Catholic sister Queen Mary who burned thousands of heretics at the stake.
=== The Lady Elizabeth - the book ===
"England, 1536. Home to the greatest, most glittering court in English history. But beneath the dazzling façade lies treachery".
The Lady Elizabeth is split into three parts: 'The King's Daughter', 'The King's Sister' and 'The Queen's sister' which represent the different stages of Elizabeth's life under the rule of her father, brother and sister before she took the throne herself aged 25.
The book begins in 1536 with three year old Elizabeth declared a bastard after the execution of mother and facing her young life away from her father's court. Her sister Mary, also illegitimate, visits Elizabeth at Hatfield House to break the terrible news of her mother's death. Devastated at her loss, Elizabeth can't understand why she is suddenly treated so differently. "Why Governor, why is it that yesterday you called me Lady Princess and today Lady Elizabeth?" She is raised by a loyal household including her governess Lady Bryan who later leaves her to become the new governess to Elizabeth's younger brother, Prince Edward, the son of Henry and his new wife Jane Seymour. Kat Champernowne (later Astley) becomes her new governess and the two quickly form a relationship that will become the most important of Elizabeth's young life.
I enjoyed the way that Weir developed Elizabeth's relationship with Kat and how they bonded almost becoming like a mother and daughter. Weir keeps the early book historically accurate but does apply a bit of artistic licence to develop Elizabeth's character, including scenes between her and her household and the moment that Elizabeth decides she will not take a husband and that she will make her own decisions. Although the book is written as a third person account, we do get glimpses into Elizabeth's mind and way of seeing things. She appears childish but has a huge of understanding of what is going on in her world and the people around her.
Elizabeth spends little time with her father and his series of wives, however, aged 10 she is invited to court by her father and his new wife where she is made a chief lady in waiting to her stepmother Kathryn Parr with whom she bonds and becomes close to. As King Henry's health deteriorates Elizabeth and Edward are sent to Enfield where that same day they are told their father has died and that Edward is now King of England.
"It was a harsh lesson for one who was just fifteen years old".
This is where book two begins and for me the book begins to take an interesting turn. After her father's death Elizabeth is delighted to be invited to live with Kathryn Parr at Chelsea. Elizabeth enjoys living with Queen Kathryn, who has recently remarried, but finds her attraction towards her new husband Tom Seymour difficult to ignore. Their inappropriate behaviour around the house does not go unnoticed, especially by Kat who tries her best to put an end to it and also by Queen Katherine who does not want to acknowledge that it might be going too far. This is one of the most well documented parts of Elizabeth's younger years and there has always been speculation as to the extent of her relationship with Seymour. Weir, who up until this point has stuck to historical fact creates a story around this speculation which adds some drama to the novel. This part of the book reveals a lot of Elizabeth's character as she experiences desire, guilt and humility and is asked to leave the house.
In part three of the book, Elizabeth's sister Mary becomes Queen after Edward's premature death. It is one of the most trying times of her young life as she and her household are questioned for months over a plot which has been uncovered to overthrow Queen Mary and to instate Elizabeth as Queen of England. Elizabeth and her household were kept as prisoners in the Tower of London for eight weeks before her confinement at Woodstock Manor for a year. Mary is satisfied that Elizabeth is innocent although most of the Lords of the Court are convinced that she is part of the plot and make her life very difficult.
I loved the way that Weir tackled the relationship between the sisters and their rivalry, yet always maintaining that they loved and trusted each other. Their religious differences are central to the book and the death of Lady Jane Grey reveals how strongly Mary feels about her Catholic faith. Mary's character is explored in detail and contrary to the 'Bloody Mary' image in other books I've read, Weir portrays her as someone of deep faith, with a love for her sister and as a woman who desperately wants a husband and children. Despite the fact that I knew Lady Jane's fate, I was willing Mary not to sign the death warrant and right until her death was convinced she would change her mind!
=== The truth in the book? ===
Alison Weir is first and foremost a historian and most of her books are historical biographies of British royalty. Her books are more accurate historically compared with other authors who write in the same genre such as Philippa Gregory. However, Weir writes her author's notes that although most of the novel is based in fact, she has added extra bits of information where there are gaps in historical information. Elizabeth's 'affair' with Tom Seymour is widely speculated over but it is acknowledged amongst historians that there is some truth in the story and that there is evidence of some sort of relationship. Weir weaves a story into the book around this story from some gossip from the time that was never proved. I will not elaborate here as it could be seen as a spoiler for potential readers, however, Weir wanted to use the story to ask the reader 'what if' which as a historian she is normally unable to do. She even goes as far as to say that she herself believes the gossip to be untrue.
=== Where to buy and how much? ===
Alison Weir's books are all widely available in good book stores and online. I spent last weekend in the Lake District and the tiny bookshop I visited had a whole section dedicated to Tudor history with Alison Weir's books taking up most of the space! My copy of The Lady Elizabeth was bought from Amazon at £5.25 which seems to be the standard price. Second hand copies can be picked up cheaper on Ebay.
=== My thoughts ===
I have now read a lot of Alison Weir history books and enjoyed all of them. I thought her first novel Innocent Traitor was fantastic and couldn't wait to read The Lady Elizabeth. I loved that even though I knew that Elizabeth would become the Queen of England by the end of the book, I was kept in suspense and worried for her the whole way through! Weir states in the book that "for dramatic purposes, I have woven into my story a tale that goes against all my instincts as a historian!" She does this with great skill and where other authors could end up ruining the story by straying from the truth and creating a story, it adds a new dimension to the book and the character. There are many text books and biographies where you can read a more factual account about Elizabeth's early life, but this book really brings out her character and speculates 'what if?'. A lot of people compare Weir to Philippa Gregory who writes in a similar genre. I have read a lot of Gregory's books and have enjoyed them all but feel that Weir's books have more depth and more historically accurate which for me gives them more credibility. I love the way Weir has brought Elizabeth to life and given her a personality and opinions and the book has added to my knowledge of the period. As I mentioned earlier, Innocent Traitor, about the life of Lady Jane Grey was a great book and for me it was better than this one. However this doesn't stop me giving The Lady Elizabeth 4 stars out of 5. It comes recommended but with a warning; don't read it if you don't like historical fiction!
Summary: Elizabeth I before her rise to the throne
More reviews in the field of Non-Fiction Book
- How to Sound Clever - Hubert Van Der Bergh
- How to Plan the Perfect Stag or Hen Party - Fiona Thompson
- The War Against Boys - Christina Sommers
- Killing Monsters - Gerard Jones
- Beyond Toddlerdom: Every Parents guide to the 5 - 12 s - Christopher Green
- Memoir of a Fascist Childhood: A Boy in Mosley's Britain - Trevor Grundy
- The Great American Aran Afghan
- Morrissey: Landscapes of the Mind - David Bret