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The Life of Elizabeth I by Alison Weir
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The Life of Elizabeth I (1998)

by Alison Weir

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,361394,389 (4.04)64
Presents an exhaustively researched biography that reveals the personality, private life, and romantic intrigues of Elizabeth I.
Recently added byCanutus, Serrana, PhoebeTerry, leah152, private library, AbeF, scottyn73, lostinthebb, kileyspade
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    BookshelfMonstrosity: These two biographies of both of Great Britain's Queen Elizabeths are full of political and personal detail. This combination of historical insight and family drama renders both books engaging reads.
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    The First Elizabeth by Carolly Erickson (AnnaClaire)
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» See also 64 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
From the Tudor history reading program. It’s interesting to compare to Anne Somerset’s Elizabeth I. Somerset’s book is a history of Elizabeth’s time; Weir’s is a biography. Obviously there’s a lot of overlap in the approaches, but as an example of the differences Somerset considers Elizabeth’s greatest accomplishment to be the stabilization of English currency while Weir doesn’t even mention this (except in a general discussion of Elizabeth’s parsimony).

Weir’s approach is to cover Elizabeth’s reign chronologically (starting from her coronation; she’d already discussed Elizabeth’s childhood in The Children of Henry VIII), with middle chapters (“Gloriana” and “A Court At Once Gay, Decent, and Superb”) of more personal information – Elizabeth’s daily routine and the daily functioning of the court. In the remaining chapters, Weir covers Elizabeth’s chaste (presumably) but flirtatious relationships with varying suitors (first Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, then Francis, Duke of Anjou, then Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex) with miscellaneous others ranging from Eric of Sweden to Ivan the Terrible sandwiched in between. Simmering in the background is Mary Queen of Scots, whose incessant plotting eventually led to her execution, the Spanish Armada, and additional suppression of Catholics.

The chapters covering the end of Elizabeth’s long life and reign are the most affecting. Although courtiers still proclaimed she had the beauty of a girl of twenty – well, you can probably do a lot with heavy makeup and candlelight – Elizabeth knew the it was all downhill and didn’t like it very much. All of her old friends – Burghley, Leicester, Lady Nottingham – were dead, and her last favorite, Essex, had ended up beheaded. At the end she refused to go to bed, fearing that if she did she would never rise again – which turned out to be the case.

Weir does some speculating about various historical issues. Why did Elizabeth never marry? Theories range from psychological – having had a mother and stepmother beheaded, she might have associated marriage with danger – to physical. Various contemporaries suggested there was some “impairment” that prevented sexual activity, ranging from an unusually thick hymen to Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. Weir gives this last more credit than it deserves, noting that it’s also claimed for the Duchess of Windsor; in Elizabeth’s case it would require a conspiracy of immense scope for Elizabeth since both the Spanish ambassador and William Cecil bribed the royal laundresses to verify that Elizabeth menstruated normally. Scurrilous rumors circulated by her enemies claimed that Elizabeth was not only sexually active but had children – with the claims that her numerous “progresses” around England were to cover up childbirth. Weir dismisses these, noting that someone in the public eye as much as Elizabeth could never have concealed a pregnancy.

Another historical question Weir speculates on is the death of Amy Dudley, Robert Dudley’s wife. On 8 September 1560, Lady Dudley ordered all her servants to go to a local fair, but stayed home herself – there were a few other people in the house but they were all in their rooms at the critical time. When the servants returned home, Lady Dudley was dead on a short stairway, her neck broken. Speculation was rife – Lady Dudley had been murdered on the orders of her husband to clear the way for his marriage to the Queen; no, the murder was arranged by Elizabeth herself; no, Lady Dudley had killed herself distraught over her husband’s infidelity; no, it was just a tragic accident. There being no CSI Elizabethan England, we’ll never know (Lady Dudley’s body was exhumed in the 1930s, but there wasn’t anything left to examine). Weir notes that contemporaries reported Lady Dudley had “a malady in one of her breasts”, interpreted nowadays to be terminal breast cancer; metastatic breast cancer can weaken bones and cause even a short fall to be fatal. But Weir also notes that the person with the most to gain from Lady Dudley’s death was not Dudley, but William Cecil. If Lady Dudley really was seriously ill, all Robert Dudley had to do was wait; the suspicion of murder permanently clouded his relationship with Elizabeth. Cecil, on the other hand, stood to lose a position at court he’d worked for years to attain if Dudley married Elizabeth. (The Life of Elizabeth I was published in 1998; ten years later the original coroner’s report on Lady Dudley’s death was discovered in the National Archives; however its findings are consistent with all three possibilities: murder, suicide, and accidental death).

Weir indulges herself in an enjoyable postscript on portrayals of Elizabeth on film and television; her favorite is Glenda Jackson in Elizabeth R but she also praises Judi Dench’s brief appearance in Shakespeare in Love and Miranda Richardson’s comic turn in Blackadder II. She thinks Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth and The Golden Age is “a historical travesty”.

Copious endnotes – for sources – and footnotes – for explanations of terms. An extensive bibliography but I find the index sparse. An illustration section showing the various personages, and genealogical charts of the Tudors, Boleyns, Howards, and Dudleys. As usual for Weir, comprehensive and scholarly yet easy to read. ( )
  setnahkt | Feb 10, 2020 |
Covering the reign of Elizabeth I, Weir brings the last of England’s most elaborate court to light. Elizabeth’s reign would see the end of the farce of courtly love and the medieval style. What could have been terribly dull and dry was not. I was saddened as I read to learn that many of the palaces of Elizabethan England are long victim’s of the Cromwell days. The pomp, the pagentry, the feasts – and the utter cruely and intrigue, are the stuff of legend. ( )
  Seafox | Jul 24, 2019 |
I really did not like this book. I tried so hard to like it, but I just got upset every single time I had to read the same thing over and over again. I understand that Elizabeth I did not want to get married. I didn't need it repeated to me 5-6 times in one chapter. It felt like there was allot of filler was used to make this book longer. ( )
  LVStrongPuff | Nov 29, 2018 |
I read this again? What was I thinking?

This was tedious..... I swear Weir is redundant, over & over & over & over the same event...

You can beat a dead horse all you want, but it's just not going to get up & pull your wagon ever again...

I'm thinking this was rather written as a time line, because I was reading all about the Deceits of Mary Stuart and then all of a sudden there are 3-4 other chapters about whatever-it-was.... I think it was marriage plans (again) to d'Anjou.... or some such French Royal son of deMedici, but then changed to his younger brother Alençon... and then back to Mary Stuart (who was a total whack-job)

All the details, minute, important, unimportant..... So where I had originally given this 4 stars, well too bad, so sad, it now has 2.

I realize that Elizabeth had a btch of a difficult childhood & an even more hellacious time when her sister was queen.... But her constant neediness, jealousy, selfishness, prevarication & how she treated those people close to her when they disagreed with her (especially when they were right & just)....

In my belief she was psychologically way past disturbed (narcissistic), but not in comparison to her father or sister.... I do not understand how many times she allowed certain people to betray her before she finally put an end to the betrayals. How she could blame & turn against, those proving just & fair dealings while protecting her...

I will say, as a ruler she did her best for England and her people....

The book was 400+ pages and it felt as if I was reading 365 days x 45 years of information....

I'm still a bit dazed & confused & need to clear my head after this one.... and again, I'm not sure how I could have possibly forgotten I'd already read this... but it had a nice cover picture & in the portrait of her coronation, she looks exactly like her father... ( )
  Auntie-Nanuuq | Jul 29, 2018 |
I really enjoyed reading this biography. Elizabeth was a fascinating woman, and the author does a good job with her very complex story. ( )
  3wheeledlibrarian | Jun 12, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Weir, Alisonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Porter, DavinaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dedication
This book is dedicated to my very supportive aunt and uncle, Pauline and John Marston.
And also to my equally supportive brothers and sisters-in-law, Roland and Alison Weir
and
Kenneth and Elizabeth Weir.
With grateful thanks to all.
First words
Author's Preface
The Life of Elizabeth I is the third volume in my series of books on the Tudor monarchs. Having chronicled Elizabeth Tudor's childhood in The Six Wives of Henry VIII, I found the prospect of writing about her life as Queen of England irresistible.
Prologue: 17 November 1558
Between eleven and twelve o'clock on the morning of 17 November 1558, large crowds gathered outside the Palace of Westminster and at other places in London. Presently, heralds appeared, announced the death, earlier that morning, of Mary I, and proclaimed her half-sister Elizabeth Queen of England. Even as they spoke, the Lord Chancellor Nicholas Heath, Archbishop of York, was announcing the new monarch's accession to the House of Lords.
Introduction
Elizabeth's England

Mary Tudor, the first female English monarch, had reigned for five unhappy years. The daughter of Henry VIII by his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, she had suffered a miserable youth as a result of her father's treatment of her mother, whose marriage had been annulled so that Henry could marry her lady in waiting, Anne Boleyn. A fervent Catholic, Mary had also been appalled by her father's break with Rome and later by the establishment of the Protestant faith in England by her brother, Edward VI, Henry's child by his third wife, Jane Seymour, whom he had married after Anne Boleyn was beheaded for treason.
I
'The Most English Woman in England"
The first act of Queen Elizabeth had been to give thanks to God for her peaceful accession to the throne and, as she later told the Spanish ambassador, to ask Him 'that He would give her grace to govern with clemency and without bloodshed'. With the calamitous example of her sister before her, she had already decided that there should be no foreign interference in the government of England, not from Spain or Rome or anywhere else, and was resolved to be herself a focus for English nationalism — 'the most English woman in England'.
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