It is a known fact that I am a bit odd, but one thing has always puzzled my husband. I buy a lot of books throughout the year, but I do not read them automatically. I like saving those big books for what I call “winter reading.” These books are generally historical fiction novels that surpass 500 pages. Yup, I long for this time of year when I can snuggle in bed with a gigantic book and maybe a hot chocolate. So yes, it is that time of year for winter reading, and I got right to it with Elizabeth I, which I have saved since April. First of all, I absolutely love Margaret George. She is my favorite author by far. All of her books are so well researched that I feel that I know these popular visages of history. Elizabeth I was a great read, but it is not for the faint of heart. I have read George’s previous novel about Henry VIII and had tried reading the novel about Mary, Queen of Scots (tried but never finished since I just couldn’t get into it). In a way, Elizabeth I is the end book in a trilogy of this time period. Since I skipped Mary Queen of Scots, I was unsure if I would know most of the characters in the last installment. The novel begins during Elizabeth’s most challenging time, which takes place at age 55 versus the Spanish Armada. Also, the book changes narrators by following Queen Elizabeth and her estranged cousin, Lettice Knollys. Even though Elizabeth was the virgin queen, she had many loves with her main love being Robert Dudley. Unfortunately, Robert Dudley married Lettice, so Elizabeth banished Lettice from court for stealing her one true love. I thought it was a great juxtaposition to imagine life through Elizabeth’s eyes versus the eyes of her social-climbing cousin, who was also the mother of the Earl of Essex, Robert Devereux. Most of the book focuses on the events leading to the Essex Rebellion of 1601. I will say that if you have very little background in Tudor England, then this book will most likely overwhelm you. My husband tried reading this book on tape, but he was overwhelmed with all the characters and their titles, pet names, spouse names and so forth.
Every major player during this time makes it into the book like Robert Marlowe, William Shakespeare, Sir Francis Bacon, Sir Francis Drake, Walter Raleigh, and many others. In fact, George implies that Lettice and Shakespeare had a relationship. In fact, it is possible Lettice is immortalized as the possible “dark lady” in his sonnets. It seems that Richard II is a direct allusion to the Earl of Essex’s popularity during the time. I wish I knew more about Shakespeare to see if this is true, but it was an interesting twist.
I have never understood Elizabeth’s fondness for the Earl of Essex, so I was intrigued to read George’s take on the Earl who tried to usurp her. George portrays the Earl as a handsome boy with high expectations and major entitlement issues.
Yes, the book is about fifty pages too long since it seems there is a lot of repetitive issues, but it is a really great read for those interested in one of the most powerful women of all time. Personally, I enjoyed the ending chapters very much where Elizabeth goes to Hever Castle to see where her mother, Anne Boleyn, had grown up as a small girl. That passage is most likely fictional, but it made me smile while reading it.
Jen’s Rating: ****