Monday, June 20, 2011

His Last Letter-Elizabeth I And The Earl Of Leicester

I finished this book by Jeane Westin and I loved it! His Last Letter: Elizabeth I And The Earl Of Leicester is a wonderful read, especially if you are interested in Queen Elizabeth and her reign. This book is based on just a short time, from 1585-88, but it covers many events in Queen Elizabeth's reign. I wrote about Jeane Westin in my previous post, and that covered a bit of Queen Elizabeth's character. What I liked about this book, is that it seemed more intimate and detailed, because it covered a short time, and mostly her love for Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Many have probably heard of Robert Dudley, as his name is closely linked to Queen Elizabeth's. She never married or had children, remaining the Virgin Queen, but that does not mean she never loved.

Robert Dudley and Queen Elizabeth met at age 8, in the classroom with her half sister Mary, half brother Edward, and the Grey sisters. They seemed to have formed an instant friendship, that was to last a lifetime. Although the book is based on historical people and facts, the conversations are of course made up by the author to be as close to what really happened. That is what I find so intriguing about historical fiction; the characters and events and places are real, but the author has to fill in the gaps and lines. These talented authors bring the characters to life, as if we really knew them. And that is what brings me back again and again to reading these types of books. I want to KNOW these people, what they went through and what they were like.

Jeane Westin did an excellent job in this book, because I really felt like I knew Queen Elizabeth and Robert Dudley personally. Despite Robert's love, pleadings and marriage proposals, Elizabeth never married him or anyone else. Her fear of marriage was implanted from a young age, as her father King Henry VIII was not a very loving father, and he killed her mother Anne Boleyn. From an early age, Elizabeth knew that marriage and love were dangerous. Since many also died in childbirth, she also feared death from having children. Also, if she married, she would no longer be the King and Queen, she would be destined to rule behind whomever she married. Her people and councillors constantly put different princes or kings up for her proposal, for an alliance, but she constantly refused them.

Robert Dudley was always her love, her one and only. Many people, especially at Court, knew of their love for one another. Whether it went further than that we will never know. Theirs was a passionate and volatile relationship, because Elizabeth was constantly dangling him at her whim, and she was always Queen first with him, then a woman. They had many fights, especially when Robert had bastard children and then married Lettice Knollys, the Queen's cousin. Robert was unique and special, in that he could get away with a lot that most people would be sent to The Tower, or worse, for. Elizabeth would be angry, but would always bring him back to be by her side. He was her lieutenant-general, among other titles and wealth. He was most often at Court, and not much with his wife and 2 boys, one who died at an early age.

Queen Elizabeth had to forgive Robert his follies, because he needed a male heir. Since she would not marry him, he had to marry elsewhere, although his heart was always with her. It may sound quite complicated, and I'm sure it was. They both denied themselves their true love, for the good of England. Some say this is why Elizabeth was often harsh with her ladies when they found themselves pregnant, because she wanted to have a clean court to surround her, the Virgin queen. The author does put in some love scenes, so you can skip over those. I'm sure despite the fact they never married, that they had some kind of physical relationship. To be close friends/lovers and never do anything in private would seem quite impossible, so I do agree with the author on that.

Robert Dudley had also been married before to Amy Robspart, and she met an untimely death from a fall. Many blamed it on Robert, and because of that, Elizabeth knew the people would never accept him as their King. His first wife was said to be ailing from a lump in her breast as well as depression, and probably committed suicide. He later had 2 sons with Lettice, one of whom later became the favorite of the Queen on Robert's death. He did die, in his 50's, from a fever and complications that he had suffered from for some time. Elizabeth was not by his side, and was said to have received a letter from him. She shut herself up for 3-4 days without food, water or light. They finally had to break down the door to rescue her. She saved the letter he wrote to her, and it still survives today. Although not very personable, it still showed his love for his Queen, to his dying day.

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