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Elizabeth's Women: Friends, Rivals, and…

Elizabeth's Women: Friends, Rivals, and Foes Who Shaped the Virgin… (original 2009; edition 2010)

by Tracy Borman

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Title:Elizabeth's Women: Friends, Rivals, and Foes Who Shaped the Virgin Queen
Authors:Tracy Borman
Info:Bantam (2010), Hardcover, 496 pages
Collections:Your library

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Elizabeth's Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen by Tracy Borman (2009)


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I was excited to pick up a book which looks at Elizabeth I’s life from a different perspective. All the histories I have read (sorry Alison Weir – you too) seem to only treat her as a powerful monarch (which she was).

Borman explores what she might have felt as a precocious girl, a teen, a young woman – and how her life experiences shaped her psyche and her character - almost all the people in her life were women. Strong, smart women.

Unfortunately, the narrative bogged down in the second half (as does every other book about Gloriana I have read), when her life became consumed by the great high school lunchroom that was the British royal court.
( )
  memccauley6 | May 3, 2016 |

What an arduous read...there was so much information! There has been very little written about Elizabeth and her Privy Household...so if you want to really know about the other side of Elizabeth's life, I suggest that this is the book to read.

Although Elizabeth was a Great Ruler, she was no less fickle, egocentric, & vengeful than her father Henry VIII. She ruled by answering problems with "answers answerless".

The turmoil of her younger life made for a sociopath of a woman. She never knew whom she could trust and therefore played mind games with her court & everyone she came in contact with. She was extremely paranoid and saw plots against here, even where there were none.

The way she treated her "ladies" was abominable...she was mean, jealous, verbally abusive, petty & downright nasty.

She refused to allow any of her Ladies to marry without her permission (which she ALWAYS refused to give), so in desperation, most of them either became someone's mistress or married behind her back. When Elizabeth found out, usually because of a pregnancy, she would fly into a rage and severely punish the woman & her husband. If/when she deigned to forgive the "transgression", it was usually the man who fared better.

She was also Extremely vain and delusional about her beauty until she was in her late sixties.....that is when she finally realized that she had become a veritable old hag (my description). At that point she basically gave up living, sequestered herself in her rooms and stopped eating.

So after reading this exhausting account of Elizabeth I, she is no longer my Idol....I found her behavior to be inexcusable for one of her rank & privilege. ( )
  Auntie-Nanuuq | Jan 18, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
"Elizabeth's Women" is an interesting read about the women who had an influence on Queen Elizabeth I, from her mother and other childhood caregivers to the women who attended her as queen. I did not find very much new material in it, and was a little disappointed not to find more about Dorothy Stafford, one of the women who attended Her Grace longest, but that's a personal lack, that other readers would not miss. I would recommend it to anyone wanting a different slant on Elizabeth's court, as most books on the period tend to focus on the men who surrounded the Queen.
  staffordcastle | Nov 4, 2014 |
Queen Elizabeth I once proudly proclaimed to her English troops that “I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a King of England too!” She often reminded her people that she was the daughter of Henry VIII, and that his blood ran in her veins, giving her the strength and wit to rule England. But though the English court was largely a man’s world, Elizabeth was a woman, and it was by women that she was shaped. Tracy Borman follows Elizabeth through her life, showcasing the stepmothers, relatives, and rivals that helped turn Elizabeth into the formidable force she became.

When I initially picked up this book, I thought it would be a series of biographies about various Elizabethan women. In this, I was disappointed – first and foremost, this book is a biography of Elizabeth. Yes, many women are discussed, from the queens of Henry VIII to rival claimants to succeed Elizabeth, but nothing new was put forth about them. If you’ve never read a biography of Henry VIII’s queens or Mary, Queen of Scots, then you will learn something new; if you have read books about these women before, the information is repeated here. I understand that it would be hard to write lengthy biographies about a lot of women, like Elizabeth’s governess Kat, because the information simply isn’t there to research, but I still felt disappointed by the focus on Elizabeth instead of the “friends, rivals and foes” mentioned in the book’s title.

Some of the information seems suspect, too. At one point Borman states definitively that George Boleyn, brother of Anne Boleyn, had a son. I’ve never seen the son referred to before, which seems odd – if he was legitimate he’d certainly be mentioned in official documents. If he was a bastard, it’d be harder to trace him, so at best one could speculate that he was George’s offspring, just as one can speculate that George was a homosexual or that he hated his wife, Jane. But there’s no evidence to back it up, so it shouldn’t be presented as a fact.

There was some good stuff in this book, too. Borman drew some interesting parallels between Elizabeth’s behavior and that of her mother. The Queen herself rarely mentioned her mother, and most biographers tend to focus on the similarities between Elizabeth and her father. There was also a great exploration of the influence of Mary I’s reign on how Elizabeth ruled the country. Their approaches were so different! Mary established that a queen regnant was to have the same power and authority of a king, but she immediately set about finding a husband to whom she could shift the burden of rule. Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen, avoided marriage at least in part to avoid ceding power to another. Finally, I had never realized how many rival claimants there were for Elizabeth’s throne and the succession to it…or more importantly, that nearly all of these rivals were women. I wonder how many of these contenders would have been given serious consideration if Mary I and Elizabeth I hadn’t proven that women could rule in their own right?

Overall, Elizabeth’s Women is a good introduction to Elizabethan England; the wealth of details paints a great picture of court life from a woman’s perspective. If you’ve never read much about Tudor England, many of the key players are introduced here. But for all the research done by the author – and there’s a very extensive bibliography at the back of the book – there didn’t seem to be quite enough information here to justify buying another biography of Elizabeth I, if you’ve already read one. ( )
  makaiju | Aug 20, 2011 |
this book dragged on a bit for me, but there was enough interesting stuff to keep me reading. ( )
  mariabiblioteca | Jun 23, 2011 |
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To my parents, John and Joan Borman, with love and thanks for all their support
First words
Giovanni Michiel, the Venetian ambassador to England during "Bloody" Mary Tudor's reign, noted with barely concealed distaste that the Queen's younger sister, Elizabeth, "is proud and haughty ... although she knows that she was born of such a mother."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
A source of endless fascination and speculation, the subject of countless biographies, novels, and films, Elizabeth I is now considered from a thrilling new angle by the brilliant young historian Tracy Borman.  So often viewed in her relationships with men, the Virgin Queen is portrayed here as the product of women--the mother she lost so tragically, the female subjects who worshipped her, and the peers and intimates who loved, raised, challenged, and sometimes opposed her.

In vivid detail, Borman presents Elizabeth's bewitching mother, Anne Boleyn, eager to nurture her new child, only to see her taken away and her own life destroyed by damning allegations--which taught Elizabeth never to mix politics and love.  Kat Astley, the governess who attended and taught Elizabeth for almost thirty years, invited disaster by encouraging her charge into a dangerous liaison after Henry VIII"s death.  Mary Tudor--"Bloody Mary"--envied her younger sister's popularity and threatened to destroy her altogether.  And animosity drove Elizabeth and her cousin Mary Queen of Scots into an intense thirty-year rivalry that could end only in death.

Elizabeth's Women contains more that an indelible cast of characters.  It is an unprecedented account of how the public posture of femininity figured into the English court, the meaning of costume and display, the power of fecundity and flirtation, and how Elizabeth herself--long viewed as the embodiment of feminism--shared popular vies of female inferiority and scorned and schemed against her underlings' marriages and pregnancies.

Brilliantly researched and elegantly written, Elizabeth's Women is a unique take on history's most captivating queen and the dazzling court that surrounded her.

Mother -- "The little whore" -- The royal nursery -- Stepmothers -- Governess -- Sister -- The queen's hive -- The Virgin Queen -- Cousins -- Faithful servants -- "That she-wolf" -- "The bosom serpent" -- Gloriana -- "Witches" -- "Flouting wenches" -- "The sun now ready to set".
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Elizabeth I was born into a world of women. Beginning with her mother & the governesses & stepmothers who cared for the young princess, including her beloved Kat Astley & Katherine Parr, 'Elizabeth's Women' sheds new light on her formative years. Elizabeth's turbulent relationships with her rivals are examined in detail. Originally published: Londo.… (more)

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