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"The Marriage Game" by Tudor historian Alison Weir is a clever and entertaining, if sometimes maddening, novel about the love life of Queen Elizabeth the first.

If you have read more than a few romances you will almost certainly have encountered some in which an infuriating heroine who cannot make up her mind leads the hero and often a host of other suitors a merry and highly frustrating dance. Both in real history and in this book, "Good Queen Bess" absolutely was that girl. Hence when I say that the book is sometimes maddening I mean that one identifies sufficiently with the characters to find Queen Elizabeth's behaviour maddening - as it was, although this book helps you get inside her thoughts enough to understand why she behaved the way she did.

When she came to the throne Queen Elizabeth already had good reason to be fearful and cautious about the dangers of love. She had been two years old when her father had her mother beheaded. A year after that the Queen for whom Henry VII disposed of her mother, Jane Seymour, died in childbed. When she was fourteen her last stepmother, Catherine Parr, also died in childbed. And shortly after that her stepfather Thomas Seymour who had married Henry VIII's widow Catherine Parr, was beheaded for High Treason on a number of grounds, one of which was that he behaved with improper familiarity towards Princess Elizabeth. This may have been part of a treasonous plot to marry her and gain the throne. Whether or not that was the case, the Regency council headed by Seymour's own brother were sufficiently convinced of it to have him executed.

Having seen so many of those who were close to her die in such circumstances, Elizabeth had every reason to know that love could be dangerous. So she was determined to let no man be her master and never lose control of her feelings. However, the possibliity of marrying her was one that she dangled in front of all the eligible batchelors and many of the widowers in her court, and almost every unmarried Prine in Europe. The prospect of her hand in marriage was deployed time and time again as a carrot for potential allies.

Had this been a work of pure fiction nobody could take seriously the elaborate game which Elizabeth played with all her suitors, domestic and on the international stage, as described in this book. However, much of "The marriage game" is novelised fact and very close to the truth, though it is forced to rely on speculation about what the true relationship had been between the teenage princess and Thomas Seymour, and about what really happened between Elizabeth and her favourite Robert Dudley, later Earl of Leicester.

A glittering and fascinating novel of a glittering and dangerous era.
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One of the biggest issues that always faced Queen Elizabeth I in her lifetime was the succession to the English throne. Before she became queen, her concern was whether she would live long enough or be able to succeed her father, her brother or her sister. And once she was queen, who would succeed her? Her councillors and indeed politicians all over Europe were quite sure she would soon marry and have children so as to ensure the Tudor succession. Who she would marry was considered just as much a matter for political consultation, not her personal gratification. Should she marry an Englishman or someone outside England? A Catholic or a Protestant? A King who would have his own loyalties to his country, or a Prince who could settle in England and be consort to England’s Queen Regnant? But given that Elizabeth’s sister Mary’s marriage had not been successful in this regard, there was understandable hesitation in committing the Queen to a marriage that would bind England also.

Elizabeth herself kept her people and her councillors guessing just about her whole reign as to the marriage question, or the “marriage game” as Alison Weir has rightly termed it in this novel. Elizabeth’s heart may have been given to Robert Dudley, but he was unacceptable to many for multiple reasons – he was married when Elizabeth became queen, and his wife’s fate only heightened Dudley’s unsuitability to be husband to Elizabeth. Politically Elizabeth could have chosen her sister’s widower, or a French prince, or any other suitably titled and acceptable candidate. But for many reasons, both political and personal Elizabeth ruled alone. All that is widely known, but Alison Weir has taken that and woven it into a magical novel of Elizabeth the woman, and Elizabeth the Queen. As Queen, politics could never be divorced from her private life, and it is in this terrible wasteland between head and heart that Elizabeth must move for her whole reign.

As always, Alison Weir has written an enthralling and engaging historical novel; definitely recommended for anyone wanting to read about Queen Elizabeth I, whether you are familiar with the story or not. A delightful read.
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on 8 August 2014
I've read all Weir's other fiction books and loved them all. Been completely unable to put them down. Through her I had fallen in love with a young Elizabeth, Eleanor of Aquataine, Katherine Plantagentant and the Grey Sisters. And yet this book seems to completely fall flat. I found myself skimming over large chunks of it just because it was completely repetitive and added zero to the story while major plots were glossed over. For example, the courtship of Robert and Lettice was completely neglected and since Robert is meant to be the other main character thought they could of given it a bit more depth, there doesn't seem to be any explination as to why Robert chose to marry Lettice despite knowing it would incur the wrath of Elizabeth. There must of been some depth to their feelings but that is totally unexplored.

The characters are dull and unlikable with Elizabeth just being demanding, spoilt and playing games all the time (ok I know she was a little like that but she must of had some redeeming qualities), Robert is seen as niave and nothing to offer but his good looks while Lettice is just a screeching brat.

Please Alison go back to your traditional writing styles.
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Alison Weir is uniquely placed to create fiction around the life of Elizabeth the First, given her extensive research and factual work on the Tudor period. In this novel she deals with Bess's infuriating (for her advisers) and frustrating (for herself and Robert Dudley equally) method of dealing with the pressure to marry and produce heirs for England. Her answer answerless continues for decades in a dance of courtships across the royal houses of Europe, all of which come to nothing, although the Queen herself clearly enjoys the 'game' and the gifts and flattery which accompany it. Weir brilliantly describes the utter panic that ensues when Elizabeth contracts smallpox: her life hanging in the balance and no acceptable heir in the frame makes the whole marriage game considerably more serious.

Weir's highly readable and very well written tale presents Elizabeth as part minx and part Gloriana. The vexed questions are all dealt with imaginatively: do she and Dudley have a full sexual relationship, is she so psychologically damaged by her mother's fate that marriage and motherhood are genuinely terrifying to her, or does she simply not want to share her power or be governed by a man? The other mystery of course is that surrounding the death of Dudley's wife, Amy, conveniently parked in the country and clearly unwell. If it were to look as if she has been murdered by Dudley, and not simply taken a fatal fall, one wonders who has most to gain and that is possibly actually not Dudley himself, as a man with such a tarnished reputation will not make good marriage material in the eyes of the world, and Mr Secretary Cecil no longer has the handsome Robert as a significant problem.

These conundrums are all addressed in a cracking work of fiction, which I highly recommend as a page turner that any fan of Tudor fiction will thoroughly enjoy.
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on 10 May 2015
If you like this sort of historical fiction (and I usually do) it's hard to avoid Alison Weir, and I thought I'd give her one more try with this.
It's a well-worn story, but how can you go wrong with the Virgin Queen? Fascinating characters, huge historical events, unsolved mysteries, murky plots, fabulous outfits - this period has it all.
But good grief, what a tedious job this author has made of it. Round and round goes the single plotline - will the queen marry or not? - with no original slant or analysis. Instead, we get endlessly repetitive versions of an annoying woman flouncing in and out of council meetings, titillating various suitors then changing her mind, and keeping poor old Leicester in a state of permanent frustration during some very prissy and unlikely love scenes. Surely there was more to Elizabeth I than this?
There's no attempt to do anything with the narrative apart from plod through what happens next, and she's got an awful habit of summing up after every scene, like this:
"... all her extravagant flirting with Simier was an elaborate ploy to preserve the illusion that she was an eternally young and eminently marriageable woman ..."
Do you know, despite the terrible dialogue, I'd actually worked that out for myself?
Thankfully, after the Armada in 1588 it all fizzles out rather abruptly, as if even the author had grown tired of it.
It's competent, she's obviously done a lot of research, and I suppose I've read worse. But how this book managed to get all those glowing reviews ( ...endlessly fascinating...captivating...brilliant...deeply poignant...breathtaking... ) remains a mystery.
And that really is the end of Alison Weir for me.
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on 3 August 2014
I have to be really honest and say I am really disappointed with this book. On the one hand Alison Weir is a good historian, although I don't agree with all her theories and conclusions, but when it comes to fiction she doesn't have what it takes. There is nothing new in this book at all, its all been done before. It is also lacking in enough detail, important things are skirted over and treated with little importance.
To be honest no-one, for me, will ever beat Susan Kay's 'Legacy' when it comes to a FICTION book about Elizabeth 1 and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and this book doesn't even come remotely close to trying. Alison Weir is a better historian than novelist.
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on 29 July 2014
This is basically a Mills and Boon for the Tudor Era. Nothing truly happens, the plot weaves back and forth and amounts to the same thing, and there are a couple of poorly written sentences that could be construed as historically inaccurate but I think just isn't very clear writing. I usually love Alison Weir's books - not sure what happened with this one.
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on 7 February 2015
"On another occasion she was having her period.
'I feel lousy,' she complained, needing reassurance, 'and I look terrible.'
'You look beautiful to me, Bess,' Robert said, kissing her hand.
It was all she needed to hear. When St George's Day came, she made him a Knight of the Garter…"

I seriously cannot believe either that anyone published this, or that this writer is apparently a respected historian. This is a particularly horrendous example of her writing 'style' but the rest is scarcely any better. Utterly embarrassing.
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on 26 December 2014
I have immense respect for Alison Weir as a historian as her non fiction books are very well researched, however im not sure that her venture into fiction works.
Elizabeth Tudor was a brillantly fasinating, highly intelligent woman. Alison Weir's Elizabeth is dull,and boring and she fails to bring any of the characters in the book alive.
There is a tendancy to compare any author of historical fiction to the Queen of Historical Fiction, Philippa Gregory. Although Gregory sometimes takes liberties with events and you dont always agree with the interpretation, she brings historical figures to life. And there is the problem - Alison Weir should stick to non fiction, its what she does best.
I really wanted to love this book, sadly i didnt and won't be re-reading it. Should you still be searching for a book about Elizabeth, please read Legacy by Susan Kay, who does do Gloriana justice
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on 11 August 2014
Sooo badly written I couldn't get through it. Great historian but being a 'name' isn't enough to make someone a novelist.
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