BLURB: “Their affair is the scandal of Europe. Elizabeth Tudor proclaims herself the Virgin Queen but cannot resist her dashing but married Master of Horse, Lord Robert Dudley. Many believe them to be lovers, and there are scurrilous rumours that Elizabeth is no virgin at all. The formidable young Queen is regarded by most of Christendom as a bastard, a heretic and a usurper, yet many princes covet Tudor England and seek her hand in marriage. Under mounting pressure to take a husband, Elizabeth encourages their advances while trying to avoid commitment in a delicate, politically-fraught balancing act which becomes known as ‘the marriage game’. But treading this dangerous line with Robert Dudley, the son and grandson of traitors, could cost her her throne…”
REVIEW: A few weeks ago I went to see Alison Weir give a talk at the National Archives on this book, and hearing her views on the Elizabethan marriage game and the relationship between Elizabeth and Robert Dudley made me enjoy this book even more. Weir’s book explores the complexities of Elizabeth’s reign and the dilemmas she faced in regards to the problem of whether or not to marry and secure the succession, and her fears of ending up instead in thrall to a husband who would likely wish to control both her and her throne. She also places particular focus on the exact nature of the relationship between Elizabeth and Robert Dudley, which is still hotly debated by historians. The love, friendship and passion that exists between the couple is brilliantly written and remains believable throughout the novel, as do the many arguments they go through over Elizabeth’s refusal to appease her councillors and marry Robert himself. Elizabeth’s character is so vividly written that the reader can picture her clearly; she seems so alive that she almost jumps off of the page. Yet, despite the power that Elizabeth projects, the reader is introduced to a vulnerable side of her that many works of historical fiction often choose to ignore in fear that it will make Elizabeth seem weak – instead, Weir has used Elizabeth’s vulnerabilities to make her seem stronger, as the reader respects all that Elizabeth has gone through and how she has overcome such events. Weir explores both Elizabeth’s relationship with her mother and her controversial flirtation with Thomas Seymour, and uses both of these events to give Elizabeth a level of complexity that many other works of historical fiction are clearly lacking in. Although as this is a work of historical fiction there is some level of artistic licence involved, Weir has managed to cleverly weave these imagined scenes with famous pieces of Elizabethan history that many of us know and admire – for example, Elizabeth’s visit to Robert Dudley’s home at Kenilworth is well-documented, and Weir uses it as a setting for Robert’s last desperate attempt to get Elizabeth to be his bride. The book covers the entirety of Elizabeth’s reign, a vast amount of time to deal with in a book of less than five hundred pages, yet the reader does not feel as though they are left uninformed of any important or famous events, nor do we feel as though the story is rushed. The various suitors that offer Elizabeth their hand in marriage are presented in many different ways – some are clearly designed to amuse the reader, but others we develop a genuine affection for, like the Duke of Anjou. The deaths of her closest friends and advisors increase as the book goes on, and each of these are written so sensitively that we mourn alongside Elizabeth. Overall, this book gives the reader a true sense of who the real Elizabeth was and allows them to feel as though they have forged a connection with her – Weir’s writing allows us to not only follow Elizabeth on the journey of her reign but also to suffer her losses, celebrate her triumphs, and dither over her dilemmas. I would highly recommend this books as one of the rare gems of historical fiction that focus on the woman, rather than the Queen.