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How much did Elizabeth's 'eyes' see?,
This review is from: Elizabeth and Leicester (Hardcover)
There are certain themes in history that have captured the imagination, whose heroes and heroines escape from dusty pages and occupy a place in our own times. At every point in between the same stories and people have their tales told, with an interpretation that fits the relevant age. Of all the kings and queens of England, one has held the hearts of her subjects for longer than any other - Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen.
Either by her own deft knack of public relations, or by the expert spinning of her advisers, the Queen of England was a legend in her own time. Her portrait was standardised, and is as recognisable today as it was four centuries ago. The idea of her being married to the kingdom, both her virginity and devotion intact, has endured through the ages.
Despite her successes on the throne, ruling over the emerging English empire, her relative religious tolerance and stable reign, it is her relationships that have taken the starring role of popular history. Of all her relationships, that with Robert Dudley, later Earl of Leicester, has been the most examined, gossiped and intrigued.
Sarah Gristwood has managed to write a book that balances the extensive source material, the voluminous secondary writings and her own views to present something approximating a balanced view. She admits that anything approaching the truth is impossible to know, but that by setting forward the arguments on both sides one can at least form an informed opinion. Gristwood's writing is engaging, silkenly weaving a rich narrative that evokes the complex characters at its heart. A supporting case of ambassadors, advisers and ladies in waiting add colour to the story, especially with her extensive quoting of ambassadorial despatches.
Gristwood quotes Henry IV of France as saying that the subject of Elizabeth's virginity was one of the three questions all Europe wanted the answer to. It still remains one of the more intriguing questions left forever unanswerable. But there is also more than just the titillation of the queen sexual relations or lack thereof. Gristwood works to rehabilitate the reputation of a man who was a key advisor and power broker in her reign. More than just the plaything of the Queen, Leicester emerges as a historical personality with quite independent ambitions and ideas.
One of the reviewers on this site has suggested this is "one for the fans of Philippa Gregory, rather than the serious history scholar." Whilst I would agree that this is not a heavyweight academic tome (and on such a subject, it probably never would be), I disagree in it lacking merit for those interested in history. Whilst it is true that the author's opinions are stated, she is more upfront in clarifying that they are her opinions. This is more honest than many `popular' histories that simply lay down narrative as fact, despite all history being subjective.