Most know Elizabeth I the way she is represented in her official paintings: flame-haired, regal, and powerful. But The Virgin Elizabeth: A Novel introduces listeners to an Elizabeth rarely depicted: a young, vulnerable teenager not yet on the throne, and inexperienced in matters of love. Engagingly performed by audiobook performer Angele Masters, who skillfully varies her tone and accent to depict different characters, The Virgin Elizabeth is a well-researched, engaging piece of historical fiction from Robin Maxwell, a respected novelist whose works chiefly cover the Tudor period.
A book of passion, of 16th century England, of greed and political ambition unto death. Historians and novelists have written extensively about the various aspects of Queen Elizabeth I’s long, rich, and tumultuous life. No one has ever given us a fully realized portrait of the greatest English monarch as a young girl. Concluding her brilliant Tudor trilogy, Robin Maxwell enters this new territory by introducing Elizabeth as a romantic and vulnerable teenager dangerously awakening to sexuality with the wrong man. Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, was banished from the court at the age of two when her father sent Anne Boleyn to her death. Seven years later, when the gracious and immensely wealthy Catherine Parr became Henry’s sixth wife, she softened the King’s heart and Elizabeth was readmitted to the court. For the next four years the young princess enjoyed a warm friendship with Catherine and a new sense of belonging. In 1547, Great Harry is dead, and Elizabeth’s nine-year-old brother Edward VI is king in name only. Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, has boldly named himself Lord Protector and effectively seized power. Meanwhile the duke’s equally ambitious brother Thomas, realizing he cannot wrest control directly, has deployed his greatest talent - his charm and sexual magnetism - to utmost effect by persuading Henry’s widow Catherine to marry him. His real goal, however, is the late king’s daughter: Elizabeth herself. And so the game begins, one with rules that only reckless, amoral Thomas Seymour understands. Into this intrigue are drawn both those who love Elizabeth and those who wish her ill. In order to escape certain doom and achieve independence, Elizabeth must stand alone.
©2001, 2012 Robin Maxwell (P)2012 Audible, Inc.
Let me first do my standard disclosure: I do not like Elizabeth Tudor. Whenever I write a review about Tudor fiction, I feel it is only fair to state that up front because my dislike of Elizabeth I may or may not color my opinions. I try to be fair, but I don't like her.
That said, I DO like what Robin Maxwell does with Elizabeth in this fictional portrayal of her teenage life. The story is set during the time period, following Henry VIII's death, when Elizabeth had been restored to the line of succession, but came in behind her brother Edward (now King of England but a child) and her sister, Mary Tudor. Elizabeth lives with her stepmother, the Queen Dowager, Katherine Parr, and with the Lord Admiral of England, Thomas Seymour. The story of Katherine's quick marriage to Thomas, her pregnancy and death from childbed fever is incorporated into this novel of the relationship between Elizabeth and Thomas Seymour -- which was always suspected, never confirmed and which is the source of all of the rumors that Elizabeth may have had a child after all. There are no spoilers here -- Alison Weir wrote a brilliant novel on this same subject and her research is always flawless.
I like Robin Maxwell's writing. I like it a lot. As I said in a previous review about The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn, I do not want to like Elizabeth Tudor, but I find my eyes opening just a little. Any author who can get me to feel sorry for Elizabeth is talented by definition. That said, I find the Princess terribly whiny in this novel; not the narration, the dialogue. However, we are talking about a teenage girl who has had a difficult life, always fearing for own life, never certain of her place. I continuously thought to myself as I listened to this novel that "if there was an older man hitting on a teenage girl NOW, his backside would be locked up." That alone, the pursuit of Elizabeth by Thomas and the lengths to which he manipulated her young emotions, is worth the listen.
You will not, after listening to this book, like Thomas Seymour. He was never the most likeable person to begin with, but Ms. Maxwell portrays him in such a way as to be beyond detestable. He borders on evil and that is my sole criticism of this novel -- my own research has not shown Seymour to be evil, just grasping and scandalous and greedy beyond measure. From the historical viewpoint, he probably deserved his execution for treason; I'm just not sure he deserves as much loathing as Ms. Maxwell creates for the reader/listener. I have no doubt he seduced Elizabeth Tudor. I have no doubt he attempted to steal the Protectorship of England from his older brother. I do have my doubts as to the lengths he may or may not have gone to in order to gain the power he sought.
Overall, this is a fantastic book. I listened to it avidly and enjoyed it thoroughly. It's well worth a credit (in fact, I purchased extras to get this book and Ms. Maxwell's other Elizabethian novel, The Queen's Bastard).
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