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Review: Elizabeth I, by Margaret George

Pages: 671
Original date of publication: 2011
My edition: 2012 (Penguin)
Why I decided to read: bought on a whim
How I acquired my copy: bookshop in the Phoenix airport, April 2012

Elizabeth I continues to fascinate people 400 years after her death. Arguably England’s greatest queen, she left a legacy that included, among other things, the defeat of the Spanish Armada (leading to the waning of Spain’s influence as a world power), exploration of the New World (leading to the rise of English power abroad), and the rise of the Golden Age of English drama, personified in the works of Marlowe, Kyd, and Shakespeare. Although Elizabeth herself was such a public figure, she kept her thoughts private. So it’s intriguing to wonder what was going on in her head. Elizabeth I is one of many novels that seeks to find out.

The story is told from the point of view of both Elizabeth and her cousin and nemesis Lettice Knollys, whose marriage to Elizabeth’s favorite, Robert Dudley, led to Lettice’s banishment from court and fall from royal favorite. Stuck as the go-between is Lettice’s son the Earl of Essex, an ambitious yet bumbling nabob. The story begins with the defeat of the Armada in 1588 and ends with Lettice, who survived her cousin by nearly 30 years and died at the age of 91. I enjoyed Margaret George’s interpretation of Elizabeth’s character—I especially like the theory she has of why Elizabeth vacillated so long over announcing her heir.

The book tends to drag in several places, but picks up again during Essex’s 1601 rebellion. However, the book clearly shows how much research was put into the writing of the book; the reader gets two very clear, very plausible narrators in the form of Elizabeth and Lettice, who also give their own conflicting opinions of each other. However, there were some conjectures I didn’t quite buy—Lettice’s relationship with Shakespeare, for example, seemed to come from nowhere seemed to be filler for Lettice’s story. Despite my criticisms, I enjoyed this novel. For another fictional view of Elizabeth, I also recommend Legacy (Susan Kay).


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