Elizabeth I book review
For the better part, the book Elizabeth 1 is written in a very lively prose bringing out the life and times of Queen Elizabeth the first, in detail. Most will agree with me that the author went in to intricate details in her research as depicted by the book. The book is written by Anne Somerset an English historian who has written other works related to history, For instance, William the fourth and curtly ladies in waiting. The author constructs the political frame of the woman and manages to paint a personality that is fitting. The book follows the life of Elizabeth from child hood being the daughter of King Henry the fourth and his second wife Anne Boleyn. She was born in the chamber of virgins that was in the Greenwich palace the date was 7 September 1553.
Her name was derived from those of her paternal and maternal grandmothers, Elizabeth of York and Elizabeth Howard. Elizabeth’s birth was not great news to her father who was seeking desperately for a male heir having had the first child as a daughter with his first wife Katherine of Aragon. The early part of Elizabeth’s life is heavily dramatics given that at the age of two, the death of her mother through beheading occurs having being falsely accused of incest and harlotry by the king himself so as to out her to death. Her father manipulated circumstances leading to his marriage with Anne being declared null and void. The reason for these was Elizabeth’s mother failure to give bear a son and the father’s irrationality. Elizabeth like her half sister Mary was declared illegitimate and thus was not meant to ever rule. The book transcends over the marriage proposals, the uprisings especially Mary the queen of Scotland to the final days of Elizabeth that are surrounded by the effects of war in troop casualties and heavy taxation in the empire.
The author brings in the childhood bit of her especially her personality that will be of use in her later life as a prominent historical leader in England. The author, in her eleventh page quotes the words her woman mistress saying, “As toward a child and as gentle of conditions as I ever knew in my life” (Somerset 65). The life of Elizabeth as she passes through the hands of many stepmothers is pointed out and of notice are Jane Seymour, the mother of the much-anticipated Edward who dies while giving birth to him, and Katherine Parr. In her childhood, she is taken through good education at the Hatfield in the hands of great educators like William Grindal and Roger Aschaim. They were particularly sympathetic toward her encouraging her to enjoy herself while learning. At age 14, her father the king Henry 4 died living the throne to Edward who is age nine but then due to his age a protector is appointed. The protector was Edward Seymour the brother of Thomas Seymour who was later to try betrothing Elizabeth in an attempt to dethrone his brother.
While sitting under a tree in Hatfield at the age of twenty the news of her appointment to the throne was brought to her. This was the turning point for many and herself included, since for years she had been under ground in the sense of being an outcast. The fact that she longed for freedom is quite elaborate from the book in that on ascending to the throne and especially in her earlier years of rule, she encouraged and got involved in many sports, theaters and musical compositions. She ascended on the throne at a time when the country was torn from many religious and political squabbles.
While writing about Elizabeth 1 nature of ruler ship the author notes, “under Elizabeth the nation regained it self confidence and a sense of direction. At a time when the authority of the majority of her fellow monarchs was under threat or in decline, she upheld the interest for the crown while not encroaching on those of her subjects, restored the coin-age and created a church which, for all its failing, came close to being to being truly national.” (Somerset 91) I regard this as a paramount truth of the earlier influence good leadership resulted. Elizabeth was a schemer and subtle in her leadership, even using a female charm to acquire loyalty. This is in contrast to the over time reduction of the English throne to mere symbolism currently. In reading the book, I find great and insurmountable difference between the current Queen Elizabeth 2 and Queen Elizabeth 1. This is in regard to the nature of environment that surrounds the two and thus dictating responsibility.
From the book I would make a fair conclusion of Elizabeth, being a scholar and warrior in the sense of her achievements, brought forth by great prudence. However, I perceived the authors style regularly faltering as she digressed in out of context discussion concerning “viable alternatives” and “unacceptable options”. The balanced and astute analysis of Elizabeth’s personality and character compliments the other cadences created by other British history biographies. One of these instances is the appearance of Elizabeth, as foolish and indecisive but in actual sense as the author states she is was playing cool for that time. This can be supported by analyzing the reasons for her single hood.
I am of the view if Tudors were accompanied by later guilt syndromes and complexes then Elizabeth could have been in line for great ones. Her past was filled with treachery and violence of an aggrieving level. This included her mother being beheaded under her father’s plan when she was only two to allow the father to marry again in hope of siring a male heir. Later on, she was to be in a home where her stepfather was sexually in decent toward her, in her young age. Even accused of treason while a teenager but in spite of all that she was able to move on without a trace of vengeance and resent being projected to others later in life. This is almost in direct contrast with her sister Mary who had gone through the same plight of having her mother cast off. Mary was murderous especially as she perpetuated the catholic religion. She also put her younger sister in imprisonment after barely being convinced not to put her to death. She grew unpopular.
As for Elizabeth while in her teenage years, she was living with her stepmother Katherine Parr Henry’s sixth wife in Chelsea. Katherine was caring enough and saw her get the best of education available at her time. The issue arose when Katherine married Lord Baron Thomas Seymour earlier intended to be Elizabeth’s husband. He engaged in un-paternal kissing and fondling on Elizabeth that was luckily stopped by Katherine by banishing Elizabeth out of the home. She found them locked in an embrace. After the death of Katherine, the betrothing between Elizabeth and Seymour was still valid. The better turn of events was the beheading of Seymour on crimes fraud and extortion. This saved her from a marriage that could have seen her marry a man old enough to be her father. It was a relief, though she was in a difficulty again as she was implicated in the charges that were brought against him i.e. Thomas Seymour. This was because he there was the rumor that they were having an affair during the time he was committing and planning the treason and kidnapping. However, she was successful in defending herself. King Edward IV died due to ill heath, this being another test to Elizabeth where her elder sister was not comfortable with her, and consequently she sought ventures of removing her threat of the succession. When a rebellion against Queen Mary was repressed, Elizabeth was put on trial again accused of collaborating though she insisted and proved innocence Mary was paranoid and still put her in prison. To impart fear into the rebels she had their proposed Queen put to death. With a tone of writing that is distinct in the authors writing, I was left sympathizing for Elizabeth.
The emotional turmoil that was evident of many marriages in which Elizabeth had witnessed and the victimization in the hands of her stepfather are possible explanations for her dire commitment to spinsterhood but I am of the view it was bigger than that. Elizabeth was just calculative and cautious. First, the possibility of her marrying a foreign prince emerges costly to England. Secondly from the book it is quite clear that Elizabeth thought of the implications of her getting married in bringing factionalism to the already dramatic home linage. Despite all this, Elizabeth is depicted as one who makes valuable lessons from her past in the essence of insisting to meet her suitors face to face. I perceived this to be wise in its own in that at the time the European noble were very mindful of their image and would not readily attempt an outright proposal because of the humiliation of being turned away. The most suited and alleged candidate for Elizabeth was Earl of Leicester whom Elizabeth had known for many years. In addition, they were imprisoned together in the tower of London. The hindrance to their union was the fact that he was a son of a hated traitor and he was rumored to have killed his wife to get an excuse to marry Elizabeth. Amidst all speculations and rumors it is quiet clear from the book that he was the most serious love of her life until her eventual death having his letters in her dying bed indicating her love for him.
The author does a commendable analysis of the possible reasons why Elizabeth perpetuated the virgin queen image. Birth was a common cause of death in her age and she is depicted ad fearing the possible worst. In addition, the pregnancy and the infancy age of marriage would make her vulnerable to coups and murder plots, risking her leadership and reign over England. From the writing tone the author uses while addressing the notion of virgin queen, I conceived that the notion of virgin queen was deliberate. This is evidence from the fact that the queen intentionally associated herself with symbols that were attributed to the Virgin Mary of the Christian faith. Elizabeth took on symbols such as the rose, moon and pearl associated with Virgin Mary. She in addition encouraged the poets of her time to make compositions that were in praise of the chaste goddess. The authors make sure that from the book that Elizabeth’s genius plotting emerges in that this accomplishes divine bridging role in her subjects. I was particularly amazed at this because the creation of an apotheosis of a virgin queen helped her to a play a quasi-religious role in that the subjects would relate her to the female deity that was removed from their religion in the conversion from catholic to Protestantism that she initiated.
There is great courage portrayed by Elizabeth in the picture that Anne Somerset creates. In the creation of a new church, she gains a furious line of enemies in the catholic abroad. There is the place where the author quotes Pope Gregory XIII reiterating that the murder of Elizabeth would be justified, as it is a repression of heresy “whoever sends her out of this world…not only does not sin but does the gains merits.” (Somerset 43). There was intense and fierce opposition especially with the return of Mary queen of Scot from France who was making consultations with the pope on how to remove Elizabeth from the throne. The book captures this uprising in a remarkable way as the author quotes Mary queen of Scot ambition to become “queen of England in three months and mass be said all through the country” (Somerset 54). I am of the impression that the author in giving the catholic vs. protestant image is careful to clarify that queen Elizabeth was careful not to persecute any of her subjects due to their religious beliefs but was forced by the prevailing circumstances to take a harsher stance against the catholic. This was due to the vast difference between the catholic and the Protestants at that time that resulted in rivalry.
I got almost the real picture of Mary the queen of Scotland from the book in that in the many details the author put across it was easy to articulate Mary as a poor judge of character. She caused the primary issue in the Elizabeth reign over England. She was earlier married to Francis the II who died after several months as the rule in France. Having being left with no role in the French royalty, she returned to Scotland as queen of Scotland agreeing to be a protestant though she secretly worshipped under the catholic way. She got married to a rather alcoholic husband Lord Darnley. She later cheated on him and on eventually being caught led to her lover being killed. She later on arranged for the murder of Darnley. The Scots got rid of her and placed her son on the throne. While she was in detainment in England, she was public about her enmity to Elizabeth as the author points out “in all Christendom I shall find enough of heirs who will have talons strong enough to grasp what I may put in their hand” (Somerset 43). Due to that and the other reasons, Elizabeth avoided meeting with her no matter her quest for audience. I am of the view that this brings out her as evasive.
It is dealing with Mary that perhaps I can view Elizabeth as rather passive. Nevertheless, on the circumstances given whereby Mary was an anointed monarchy who was imperially above the law if Elizabeth was to kill her she was likely to fall out of her subjects. In addition, it could have made Mary seem like a martyr. On the same note, Elizabeth comes out very calculative in that weighing the options and making the right the connections it emerged that Mary could be a possible heir to the throne. As often seen in the book, circumstances are what seem to put Elizabeth into action. One of her faithful ministers Francis Walsingham is brought out as pivotal in dealing with Mary the queen of Scotland. He uncovered Mary corresponding with a group of catholic plotters who were scheming on the ousting of Elizabeth. By faking the handwriting of Mary, they were able to exhort information from the plotters that gave enough evidence to charge Mary with treason. However, the plan was to cut off Mary’s head leave it to be discovered because of the Foul smell, and six months after, she would be given a grand state funeral. In this way, Elizabeth would stay on the right and still Mary would be subject to public sympathy. This is another of the author’s portrayal of Elizabeth as evasive in that she did not want to address the situation directly.
I embrace the view that Elizabeth was conspicuously indecisive in the political situations and unlike the author put it, it was not always the case and she can be seen as being mindful of the consequences. For instance, she regretted ever putting Mary to death though Mary had earned it over time. The author makes that as the only positive assessment for the indecisiveness. Perhaps I can give credit to the positive side of Elizabeth in that a woman of such magnitude of scholarly knowledge was definitely aware and arguably in control of her judgments. She did not want to enact a decree that would allow a Queen to be executed since it could work against her some day. On the part of providing a critique, the author seems to be quite indifferent on the issue of gender notations in the age of Elizabeth I, and rarely allows the voice of Elizabeth tell her own story in that she interprets many of the excerpts that the reader could be allowed to assimilate personally.
I am of the judgment that one of the most commendable areas brought out by the author in relation to Elizabeth is her ability to charm the people she was leading and bring out their affection for her. She never got married but from the authors point of view the affection and acceptance that she got from her subjects was enough. Elizabeth was careful to reign with the approval of her subjects that she is quoted from the book “well might I live, but never think I breathed”. I am led to the conclusion that to Elizabeth her country was first in the sense she would make the best out of the marriage proposals in display of political genius that her indecisiveness robs her. Elizabeth could use the bait of marriage to subdue enmity and foster good relations by drawing her enemies close or blackmailing them by threatening to get married to their enemies
Somerset, Anne. Elizabeth I. London: Phoenix, 1991