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Elizabeth as she really was or as close as we will ever get!
on 27 June 2013
Excellent, excellent book. A detailed examination of the Virgin Queen's life, health, friendships, frailties and fears. Far from always being the Gloriana depicted in famous portraits, here was woman who inherited her throne after many trials and tribulations which clearly left their mark in her future years. Not least amongst the revelations is the fact that she began to lose her hair not long after becoming Queen, which was quite probably stress related. Biographically, we read Elizabeth's life with the benefit of hindsight, but her life was lived (as all our lives are) in real time and each new challenge that presented itself and each new pressure on her to marry and secure a Protestant succession had to be dealt with in hard circumstances, against a background of real and present dangers to her liberty and life. It is also clear that she was deeply uncomfortable with the idea of giving up personal control to a husband, nor did she wish to endure the physical dangers of childbirth.
She clearly loved male attention, but was probably also afraid of sex. I like to think that Robert Dudley, absolutely the love of her life, provided her with all the attention and support that she needed, without crossing that dangerous line and becoming a full blown lover.
At the heart of Elizabeth's story is the inescapable fact that she was two people in one: on the one hand the naturally aging woman, with thin hair, bad teeth and frequent illnesses, and on the other the crowned Queen, anointed in the name of God as the sacred embodiment of royal majesty.
The women who shared her life, who became in effect her family, knew her on a daily basis, and understood the constant pressures she was under, whilst still having to be England's beautiful and gracious Queen. A big ask! These ladies, many of whom juggled their own family pressures, had key roles in her life, were aware of everything there was to know about her body and some, such as Kat Ashley, shared the secrets of her heart. If she did lie about her virginity, it would have been known at least by some of them as Elizabeth was almost never alone - even at night, because as the title of the book makes clear, these were extremely intimate relationships.
This book gives vivid insight into the day to day life of the Elizabethan court and the woman whose life came to define an era - the Elizabethan age - and also shows us a flesh and blood person in all her human complexity.