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on 14 January 2002
I thoroughly enjoyed David Starkey's "Elizabeth" and found it to be a splendid read. The author brought Elizabeth to life in the pages of his book.
While not as long or detailed as Alison Weir's biography, Starkey approaches his book from a unique angle. He concentrates mainly on Elizabeth's early years from birth until she becomes Queen. He writes of her years of apprenticeship as one of England's greatest rulers and confesses, "The woman I have half fallen in love with is the young Elizabeth as she appears in the picture she gave to her father just before his death."
In between birth and her accession as Queen, the reader gets to see Elizabeth as a child, strong-willed and precocious like her father, Henry VIII, and dressed in finery provided by her mother, Anne Boleyn. As a child she displays a strong aptitude for learning and a quick wit as evidenced by Thomas Wriothesley, Royal Secretary to her father the King, who remarked, "If she be no more educated than she now appeareth to me, she will prove of no less honour and womanhood, than shall beseem her father's daughter."
Starkey conveys well the precarious position Elizabeth found herself in when her half-sister Mary took the throne after Edward VI's death. One can almost imagine how she must have felt when she was held prisoner at The Tower. Yet somehow in spite of the many dangers she faced, she was able to remain focused and resolute, choosing the right associates to advance her cause, such as Sir William Cecil. This habit of knowing what company to keep served her well through her long life as one of the greatest queens England has ever known.
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on 16 February 2001
ElizabethBy David StarkeyThis book is definitely not just for the history buff as demonstrated by the fact that when published in hardback last year it topped the best-seller charts. The author David Starkey is an expert in his field and the passion that he feels for the topic shines from every page, elevating it out of the realms of a dull historical account to a very engaging human story. The author¹s name may seem familiar because last year he presented the acclaimed Channel Four series based on this book and again, through knowledge and enthusiasm, he brought the historical period to life.This book tell the story of Elizabeth the first and her unique position as the most powerful women in the land caught in a male dominated world. Starkey gives a gripping account of her troubled and lonely upbringing and the abuse she suffered at the hands of the adults around her, each one driven by their own agenda. Despite the hardships she encountered at the royal court, she grew up an extremely confident young woman, certain of her destiny to reign. In this book, Elizabeth manifests herself as a bundle of contradictions; on the one hand she is passionate and sexual while remaining a virgin; while famed as England¹s most successful ruler, she actually did very little.The English court was a hotbed of deceit and suspicions and Elizabeth had to use her wits for her very survival as both a ruler and a woman. She became increasing protective of herself and, surrounded by betrayal at every turn, she felt as though she could trust no one. This book presents Elizabeth as a product of her harsh upbringing and yet it goes further to show the real personality behind the virgin queen.The book is a real page turner and the characters, although vaguely familiar from history lessons, suddenly spring to life from the pages and interact with one another in a very human way. Starkey shows us the factors such as jealously and ambition which shaped history and reveals the real motivations behind actions. It is really fascinating to get a glimpse behind the scenes and you get a sense of how the course of history is shaped by the personalities of those involved.The book covers Elizabeth¹s life from when she born, through all her personal triumphs and tragedies, to the strain she endured for refusing to be married and therefore her failure to produce an heir to the throne.The book contains some illuminating illustrations which help create a visual backdrop of the opulence of royal life and even from the portraits that have been reproduced Elizabeth¹s strength of character can be clearly seen.Surprisingly, this is an utterly compelling book and a real page turner which will take you on a white knuckle ride through history. It is studiously researched without ever once becoming dry and uninteresting making it is an old told tale vividly revived. The writing style is accessible but Starky¹s sharp eye for historical details pulls the whole story sharply into focus.On one level it is the history of a nation but on a more immediate level it is the story of a an extraordinary woman trying to make her way through desperately hard times and for the most part emerging victorious.end
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VINE VOICEon 1 November 2004
David Starkey is an excellent historical writer and this book on Elizabeth 1 does not disappoint. More than any other I have read (and as a history undergraduate I read a few!) it brought to life this most fascinating of historical figures, providing insights into her character and relationships, and the way these affected her actions in life. Starkey really brings alive the human face behind a monarch who at times can appear as a characture in our nations past. Elizabeth was clearly an admirable woman who many modern women would do well to have as a role model.
Starkey's narrative itself is far more gripping and readable than most historians, with the exception of Simon Schama. As a history student at University I read many historical texts. For me reading this was a pleasure rather than a necessity and brought life and atmosphere to our history. Also, and perhaps most importantly, Starkeys book is historically accurate and as you would expect the theories he puts forward very sound. Elizabeth's early life is much less explored than her later life as the more recognisable face of the Virgin Queen. There is much more life and vitality to this younger character and it is interesting to learn of the young Elizabeth and the way in which her character was moulded by events and people around her. Well worth a read, whether as a student or just for pleasure.
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on 30 May 2001
I expected greater things from Starkey, but perhaps I have missed the point. My immediate appraisal of this best seller was that it was dumbed-down history, missing great details and at times being too familiar with the reader. However, it could be argued that these are its strengths. Starkey continues from his television series making history accessible to the non-historian. For this he must be praised. However, Starkey seems intent on leaving the door open for a sequel so much, that this book lacks any meaningful conclusion. Additionally, Starkey, in trying to uncover fresh evidence and ideas, sometimes goes off on a tangent using irrelevant or unreliable sources. This book, however, is important as it perhaps marks the coming of "sexy history", which can only be a good thing as long as it does not become too simplistic or inaccurate. Starkey, like AJP Taylor, is one of my favourite historians because he makes history interesting, telling a story rather than lecturing facts at the student. Starkey is the most important historian of his generation.
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VINE VOICEon 25 June 2004
David Starkey is an excellent historical writer and this book on Elizabeth 1 does not disappoint. More than any other I have read (and as a history undergraduate I read a few!) it brought to life this most fascinating of historical figures, providing insights into her character and relationships, and the way these affected her actions in life. Starkey really brings alive the human face behind a monarch who at times can appear as a characture in our nations past. Elizabeth was clearly an admirable woman who many modern women would do well to have as a role model.
Starkey's narrative itself is far more gripping and readable than most historians, with the exception of Simon Schama. As a history student at University I read many historical texts. For me reading this was a pleasure rather than a necessity and brought life and atmosphere to our history. Also, and perhaps most importantly, Starkeys book is historically accurate and as you would expect the theories he puts forward very sound. Elizabeth's early life is much less explored than her later life as the more recognisable face of the Virgin Queen. There is much more life and vitality to this younger character and it is interesting to learn of the young Elizabeth and the way in which her character was moulded by events and people around her. Well worth a read, whether as a student or just for pleasure.
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on 23 October 2003
In Elizabeth, David Starkey demonstrates that he deserves to be taken seriously as an academic, beyond his twin titles of “the rudest man in Britain” and “the highest paid man on television”. Starkey has built up a high profile himself for his work on television, which has usually focussed on the Tudors. Indeed, he brilliantly demonstrates the knowledge that he has built up of the era in this enjoyable piece of popular history.
The sub-title of the book is a clear signal of what the focus of this book will be: her training for the throne. Starkey has chosen to focus upon her early life, up until the religious settlement at the start of her reign. So instead of looking at her actions as Queen, the spotlight falls upon the way her personality was formed and her personal relations with members of her family. We therefore get a much more rounded of character than most biographies provide, and there is also a welcome focus upon the ritual governing the Tudor Court.
Starkey is a clear writer. Whilst much of it is presented as facts, he does make it clear when he is using conjecture and providing his own argument.. His writing is occasionally witty, and his character sketches are very well written.
He has also chronicled the “mid-Tudor crisis” in extraordinary detail, and it is fascinating to see how the reigns of Edward VI and Mary developed, albeit from the sidelines. The focus of much Tudor history is on either Henry VIII or Elizabeth’s reign – and it is a welcome change to find a high profile historian spending so much time on the intervening period.
The final chapter “Promise Fulfilled” is an interesting survey of how her formative influences dictated the direction her reign took. My only criticism would be that it provides in-depth analysis for events not referred to in the earlier section of the book.
However, it is a very entertaining book, and provides a fascinating study of the primary influences on her reign. I would strongly recommend this to anyone with either a passing influence in history, or who has enjoyed his television shows on the Tudors.
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on 10 March 2001
This book is a delight in numerous ways. It is a lively account, presenting the detail in a way which will strike a chord with many modern readers. As previous reviewers have noted, Starkey's style is highly distinctive; however, the historian's role is not just to present the material, it is also to provide an interpretation of it. I therefore disagree with the reviewer who claims Starkey has 'taken liberties' with the sources. It is a rare relief to find an eminent historian who is totally devoid of pomposity and undue reverence for his subject.
Content aside, 'Elizabeth' is a pleasure to read. This is partly due to Starkey's entertaining and lucid style, as well as the short chapters. The hardback edition is beautifully bound and presented, so the publishers and printers also merit a 5-star rating!
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on 19 September 2012
A instructive and important edition to the study of the life of England's greatest queen, the author has an eye for detail and clearly has a knowledge for his subject. The problem is in the writing style , which can make the fascinating subject matter dry-the book does not read like a novel like some reviewers claim. his sentences are choppy and less descriptive than they should be.

Furthermore he focuses much more on the people and politics surrounding Elizabeth more than the girl/women herself. And sometimes he seems to lack sympathy for Elizabeth, claiming her treatment by Henry VIII was wonderful which it was not, by all other accounts. He glosses over the trauma of the execution of her mother Ann Boleyn, and the effects of the groping sexual abuse she must have suffered at the hands of Thomas Seymour.

He has an apt way of describing the tyrannical reign of the bloody Mary I, and does not exonerate her of the burning of heretics, which was a result of her own fanaticism, as some historians have done in recent years. clearly her henchmen like the ruthless Bishop Bonner were in fact following her will in trying to force Catholicism back on England, through a mini-inquisition

The most instructive parts of the book are how perilously close she came to being executed (which Mary I wanted to do) after the execution of Lady Jane Grey (the most horrible act committed in the cruel history of the Tower of London) and how Elizabeth achieved a goldilocks (neither hot nor cold) settlement to the question of the religion of England which enraged both Catholics on the one extreme and puritans on the other.
Alison Weir's book The Life of Elizabeth is however a more intriguing and engaging read.
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on 29 April 2012
I read numerous reviews on this book. I doubt this one will get to the top and will be overlooked but here goes. Starkey has shown Elizabeth in an interesting light. Though I felt since this was a book looking at her early years then a more in depth examination of her relationships with her siblings would help the reader gain more insight into their characters and reasons behind their actions.

Starkey leaves a bad taste in my mouth in his undertones towards Elizabeth as a sexual object. The psychology & politics of the character or a deeper look into her history in order to explain the circumstances that shaped her would have been more useful but I felt this was skimmed over.

Lastly, I wish someone had warned me that I needed to have swallowed a dictionary to understand this book. I am educated to degree level but the amount of time I have had to spend typing words into a dictionary app to understand some sentences is ridiculous. I don't remember Dr Starkey using so much academic pomp in his BBC documentaries.

Normal everyday people are interested in history too not just academics. This could seriously put people off reading the book. It is worth reading though despite my moans. I just wish someone had told me about the dictionary swallowing before I ordered 4 more of his books with Amazon lol
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on 19 May 2000
Unlike the previous reviewer, whose comments I actually agree with in many ways (i.e. Antonia Fraser is probably the more accurate and deeply written biography of Elizabeth I), Starkey nonetheless manages to produce a lucid account of Elizabeth I's troubled times, putting much into perspective, without delving too deeply into other contemporaneous affairs. This makes his book much more readable for the generally interested reader, and does flesh-out his TV series where in his normal, somewhat camp and waspish manner, Dr.Starkey rushes through events too quickly. There is no doubt about David Starkey's academic credentials, and it was a joy to read a book that had a linear chronology and adequate narrative style.
Well worth a read.
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