This is a well-researched historical novel written by an historian. It recounts the life Elizabeth I, beginning when she was 3 years old, just after her mother, Anne Boleyn, was beheaded. It ends as Elizabeth rides to court to become queen.
The story provides insight into Elizabeth's relationships with her family: Henry VIII; her sister, Mary; her brother, Edward; and her four step-mothers. I was particularly interested in Elizabeth and Mary's feelings toward each other: sometimes loving, sometimes strained.
Although I don't consider myself an expert in the field, I have read many non-fiction works about Elizabeth and the Tudors, including books by Alison Weir. In this novel, Weir was able to go beyond the evidence into speculation, while remaining true to the facts and spirit of the era. On the other hand, several periods of Elizabeth's life have been the subject of conjecture, and the novel takes a definite point of view when covering those areas. Here is one example:
After Henry VIII's death, Catherine Parr (his last wife) was made Elizabeth's guardian. Catherine, in a scandalous move, soon married Thomas, Lord Seymour of Sudeley. He had been an admiral in the British navy and had a reputation for having great ambition and being a rogue and self-serving. He first wanted to marry the young Elizabeth, but she rejected him. He then chose Catherine, which gave him access to and power over the future queen. One area of debate in Elizabeth's life is her relationship with the admiral. Here, Weir takes as true the contemporary rumors that Seymour had taken Elizabeth's virginity and had gotten her pregnant. Gossip at the time was that Elizabeth had miscarried after about 5 months. In fact, Elizabeth was unwell soon after her arrival in Seymour's household, and there was one report that a midwife had been brought blindfolded to the estate several months later. In an author's note at the end of the book, Weir discusses this issue.
Weir portrays Elizabeth in a realistic light. We see a young girl who is quite aware of her position in the world but only on maturity understands all the implications of that status. At some points in her life she is happy and secure; at other points, she fears for her life and despairs of ever being in control of her own affairs. Weir delves into the reasons Elizabeth may have been so strongly against marriage and bearing children, and the novel is convincing. Unfortunately, Elizabeth's relationship with Robert Dudley develops after she becomes queen, and so we learn almost nothing about him.
This novel was wonderfully written and held to factual evidence and/or legitimate possibilities. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in historical fiction, the Tudors, or Elizabeth I. I am hoping that Weir is planning to write about Elizabeth's life as queen; I wouldn't hesitate to read it. I also highly recommend Weir's non-fiction works about this era: The Wives of Henry VIII, The Children of Henry VIII, and The Life of Elizabeth I.
Rosalyn Landor did nice job with the narration of this audiobook. She made each voice different enough so it was easy to tell which characters were speaking, but she was not so dramatic as to be distracting. Her pronunciations and expression made for an enjoyable listen.
This book was part of my Fall into Reading challenge. Are you wondering why this book was not on my original list? Click here to learn why. To see other reviews in the Fall into Reading challenge, click here.
Published by Random House Audio Publishing (unabridged), 2008
Challenge: Fall into Reading