A new biographical portrait that casts the queen as she saw herself - not as an exceptional woman but as an exceptional ruler.
Queen Elizabeth I was all too happy to play on courtly conventions of gender when it suited her "weak and feeble woman's body" to do so for political gain. But in Elizabeth, historian Lisa Hilton offers ample evidence of why those famous words should not be taken at face value. With new research out of France, Italy, Russia, and Turkey, Hilton's fresh interpretation is of a queen who saw herself primarily as a Renaissance prince and used Machiavellian statecraft to secure that position.
A decade since the last major biography, this Elizabeth breaks new ground and depicts a queen who was much less constrained by her femininity than most treatments claim. Elizabeth: Renaissance Prince will provide a new, complex perspective on Elizabeth's emotional and sexual life. It's a fascinating journey that shows how a marginalized, newly crowned queen whose European contemporaries considered her to be the illegitimate ruler of a pariah nation ultimately adapted to become England's first recognizably modern head of state.
©2015 Lisa Hilton (P)2015 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
A fascinating political biography, ably narrated by Kelly Birch. Hilton argues that gender notwithstanding, Elizabeth was a Renaissance prince like any other, and includes a chapter of political theory to make her point. (She also, as might be expected from her academic background, includes a vivid description of Elizabethan visual art.) She provides more international context than other biographies of Elizabeth I've read: I didn't know, or didn't remember, that England had a thriving arms trade under Elizabeth, with clients as far flung as the Czar of Muscovy and the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. The Spanish armada was only one small part of an immense ongoing conflict between Catholic and Protestant Europe that included France, Germany, and the Netherlands.
All the personal crises are here as well: her tense relationship with her sister Mary, her conflicts over Leicester and Essex, her anguish over Mary Queen of Scots, her physical ailments, her sad and lonely end. But it's clear that Hilton is more interested in the big picture.
There are a couple of places where I think she goes off track. For example, she makes too much of Elizabeth's own comparison of herself to Richard II; it may have been only an offhand comment in response to a specific event, but to Hilton it represents the conjunction of two monarchs obsessed with chastity, and it becomes a major theme.
And although I find the details interesting, she spends an inordinate amount of time trying to reconstruct exactly what Elizabeth said at Tilbury. She also spends a lot of time ferreting out the exact words of Elizabeth's coronation oath - but at least that's in an appendix.
Still, it's a biography worthy of its subject, and it's told with clarity and confidence. I enjoyed it, and I recommend it. I would gladly undertake something else from either author or narrator.
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