Monday, July 30, 2012

Elizabeth I

I am still fascinated by Queen Elizabeth just as I am with her mother Anne Boleyn.  This book by Margaret George was so rich in detail and events that it took me quite awhile to finish reading it.  I found it interesting that the book starts out when she is 54 and ends with her death at almost age 70 instead of starting with her younger years.  I wonder if the reason is because a lot of books written about her cover her earlier years.  This book focuses on Elizabeth in her later decades on the throne and her cousin Lettice Knollys.  Lettice was said to have looked like Elizabeth- the Queen's rival because she marries her love Robert Dudley.  Lettice was also mother to the Earl of Essex, the nobleman that challenged her throne and was later beheaded for his treasonous actions.  These two women have been linked since childhood- one the monarch married to her country, the other trying to gain position or power for her family.

Shakespeare, Marlowe, Dudley, Raleigh and Drake fill the pages among many courtiers to make a rich novel.  The Queen's rival the Spanish king and the Armadas takes a big role in the book.  Throughout the book she often reflects back on her parents and the role they played in her life.  Her mother was beheaded at such an early age she doesn't really remember her.  By the later decades of her reign she seems to have made her peace with it and her father.  King Henry VIII seems to be her competition even in death, as if she keeps trying to prove herself to him.  It is always a wonder for me what he thinks after trying so long to beget a son, and all the wives- that the son he always wanted was in Queen Elizabeth, his daughter.  With such interesting parents she was of course to be a fascinating character.  The treasury is basically empty when she steps onto the throne, and not much better when she leaves it because of the wars she tried so hard to avoid.  She was known to have pawned off her own jewelry, so no wonder she was known as a penny pincher.  She wore very elaborate wigs and gowns and jewels despite being thrifty. Appearance was everything after all wasn't it? 

After her sister Bloody Mary's reign I am sure Elizabeth was no doubt a Golden Age.  Some quotes from the book I found interesting and seemed true to her character:  '"Elizabeth would be able to add the subjugation of Ireland to her victory over the Armada in the annals of her reign.  A worthy achievement for a woman warrior, no matter how reluctant a one she was....for all his blustering...her father achieve nothing militarily.  She, on the other hand, has saved her realm from invasion and has slammed the back door of Ireland shut to foreign meddling."  (page 611).  Elizabeth seemed to have that canny ability to pick those with the right skill sets and talents in the right positions to surround and serve her.  The only one she seems to have misjudged was the Earl of Essex.  Her love for him let him get away with too much before she finally reigned him in and punished him for his actions in Ireland.  Perhaps her weakness for him was linked to his stepfather Robert Dudley, the love of her life.  Essex was almost more of a key character in the book than Lettice his mother.

England was known for its naval prowess, trading companies and their explorations of the New World. Virginia was named for her.  At the end of Elizabeth's reign O'Neill finally surrendered to her after draining her treasury.  The High Chieftain of Ireland was finally captured.  Then the doge of Venice was requesting to open relations between the two countries- the first Catholic state to break from Rome.  It was a long time coming.  NOt everyone had taken the middle ground of her reign with the Church of England.  Catholics still survived.  The defeat of the Armada had given her people protection and assurance.  The Spanish war was basically over and the Netherlands a successful entity.  By my calculation her reign was far more glorious than her father's.  She had given her people more love than any other monarch- never having married for them.  Her country, her people.  As complex as she was she was indeed successful.  Yes she was known to change her mind many times before making a decision, but her love was constant.

I liked the part in the book where the three cousins- Queen Elizabeth, Lettice and Catherine meet at Hever Castle to remember their ancestors and to reunite.  I don't know if it ever actually happened but it was touching to see them remember Anne and Mary Boleyn.  As many of her favorite councillors and attendants around her die she becomes more aware of her mortality and the legacy she would leave behind.  After Queen Elizabeth passed James I of Scotland ruled and then his son.  People look back on her reign as a golden age and Elizabeth as a Protestant heroine.  This book was a good read but it was hard to get through with so much information.

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