Alison Weir is a master of historical narrative. This is a well written, comprehensive biography of Elizabeth I. The book begins with her Grandfather and quickly sets the stage through the reign of her father and siblings Edward and Mary. After the story of her childhood, the real story begins with the reign of her younger brother.
Elizabeth's story is familiar in broad strokes - Bloody Mary, Mary Queen of Scots, the Spanish Armada, Shakespeare and the English Renaissance. Never the less, the details read like a spy novel, a romance, a treatise on civil government, religion and culture. From Sir Francis Drake raiding Spanish ships to Lord Essex at war in Ireland, the book covers her life and 45 year reign in style.
I particularly like the way Weir quotes her sources in an authoritative manner without disrupting the flow of the narrative. In this way the book reads like historical fiction - which it is not. Weir is simply knowledgeable enough having done adequate research to re-create scenes dramatically with the words of her characters.
Ultimately, there is little revolutionary in her point of view on Elizabeth. As a scholar, I don't think her research brings her to any new or shocking revelations though she clarifies and adds details to many points. Elizabeth was with little doubt a pivotal figure in the history of Europe and defining leader in the development of what was to become Great Britain. I suspect Weir's "The Life of Elizabeth I" is well on it's way to becoming a modern classic on the subject of the life of Elizabeth I. Well worth a read if you have any interest at all. This book is long, but quite accessible.
Read from January 21 to February 01, 2013
Excellent read. I have read several books that cover the lives of the Tudors and more specifically Elizabeth, Mary and Henry. However, none had done much with the wives of Henry VIII beyond Jane Seymour having been the mother of Edward VI. So I picked this one up and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Weir has written several first class histories on this period so there is much overlap. The first third of the book was not only familiar, but in some cases a direct re-tracing of steps. However, the details were oriented toward the lives of the wives, not the politics or religion. In the middle of the book the story provides detail on not only the lives of the wives, but of Henry as a husband and private person. Weir creates a portrait of a powerful leader struggling with ruling a nation while growing older, heavier and having massive issues with fatherhood and fathering.
As the book gets to Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr, Weir does not disappoint. In many respects this is the same story I've read from the point of view of the Children of Henry, the Life of Elizabeth and other histories, but from the point of view and experience of these three women. Weir creates portraits of real people which allow the reader a meaningful experience beyond a simple understanding of the facts.
All six of these women had fascinating stories. Having been married to Catherine of Aragon the longest, the largest single portion involves her life. Having been married to Catherine Howard for the shortest interval, the book tells the tale and moves on. I enjoyed Weir's following through with the stories of Anne of Cleves and Catherine Parr who outlived Henry. Thus, this was truly the story of the wives from beginning to end.