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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 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.
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Of all of England's monarchs none has been subject to such prurient and physical scrutiny as Elizabeth I. History has been obsessed with her body and chastity, from her very earliest days as first a young princess and heir to an illegitimate bastard and back again, right up to today. The gossip and scandal surrounding her physicality and sexuality came in a very real way to define her entire reign and her relations with her nobles, subjects, foreign ambassadors and fellow princes.

Elizabeth very deliberately played upon and enhanced the traditional dual image of the monarch's person, the natural body, and the body politic being one and the same. If Elizabeth's body was pure, legitimate and uncorrupted, so too was her government and right to rule. In the service of this she cast herself in a very specific role - ever-youthful, ever-beautiful, uncorrupted and incorruptible, subject to no man, the Virgin Queen. It is no coincidence that in seeking to undermine and destabilise her country, her enemies took aim not just at her physical body via poisonings and assassination attempts, but also her 'moral body', her reputation, via scurrilous rumours and gossip about lovers, orgies and illegitimate children.

Whitelock takes that dual image as the central theme of this book, exploring Elizabeth's intimate personal life with those who would have known her best - her Gentlewomen of the Privy Chamber and her varied favourites: Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester; Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex; Sir Walter Raleign; Sir Christopher Hatton - and how those relationships impacted on her rule and government.

It's a lively read and an interesting approach, although with such short chapters it does take on a somewhat episodic feel at times. Whitelock never takes a position as to Elizabeth's sexuality and chastity, something I respect and admire from a woman and an historian. At this remove of history it would be dishonest to pretend that such certainty was remotely possibly, and it is surely no coincidence that most of those throughout history who have claimed such positions were almost all men. A King, after all, would never have had to take such a position to bolster his legitimacy and secure his throne in the first place.
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This is a popular biography of Elizabeth which eschews high politics for the personal. Focusing on Elizabeth's ladies of the bedchamber and re-telling the stories of her various entanglements and aborted marriage plans, this doesn't reveal anything new but may be an interesting read to anyone only familiar with the queen and her court through fiction.

All the expected episodes are here: the youthful yet disturbing flirtation with Thomas Seymour, then married to Elizabeth's step-mother Katherine Parr; Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester; Christopher Hatton; Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex; as well as the various negotiations for marriage with the royal houses of France and Spain.

The idea that Elizabeth's sexuality, body and fertility is especially under scrutiny because of her gender doesn't really stand up given the intense gossip and political concern over her father's, Henry VIII, own hectic love-life, though he didn't, of course, have to maintain an aura of chastity in the way that Elizabeth did.

So, ultimately, this doesn't do anything different with the expected sources or reveal anything new about Elizabeth. But if you only know her through popular fiction and the various TV and film treatments that abound, this is an easy and informative read that zips along breezily as it offers the historical picture behind the fiction.

(This review is from an ARC courtesy of the publisher)
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on 5 July 2013
Beware! If you are going to read this book, make sure you can put everything aside for a while because you will not want to put it down! An excellent piece of work, and by far my favourite academic book. Literally addictive. I disagree with the other review on here that the book does not demonstrate anything new in regards to Elizabeth's femininity- this book demonstrates exactly the opposite. It enables us as the reader to discover the true Elizabeth, her limitations as female in regards to her body politic and demonstrates how Elizabeth was able to network with other women at the court, particularly through the esteemed role as 'bedfellow' of the queen.
An incredible book, there is nothing academically similar to this and I would strongly advise anyone with a historical interest in Gloriana to read this- you will NOT be disappointed!
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on 4 August 2013
Elizabeth I's reign is well documented. This is an interesting take on her history. It's well written and I like the chronology of it. Writing is clear and, while you have all the historical facts and background research, it's not overburdened by dense information - making it an enjoyable read.
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on 8 September 2013
This was a beautifully written book which sought to illuminate the reign of Elizabeth I from the most private perspective of her Privy Chamber and Bedchamber. Whitelock focused on her 'bedfellows', who were her most privileged ladies-in-waiting and maids of honour.

The book's editing, however, was suspect, since the punctuation was not very well done. Words were also missing at times.

I would also question what makes this book any different to a standard popular biography of Queen Elizabeth. It was fascinating reading, but much of it focused on a narrative of the queen's reign with episodes, such as Mary Queen of Scots' captivity and downfall, which did not at all relate to Elizabeth's bedfellows or aimed to explore her reign from an intimate perspective. Furthermore, as an American professor has written in relation to books such as this, this book was very much in 'the realm of popular history, which privileges anecdotes over analysis and repeats unsubstantiated rumours, many of them sexual in connotation'.

However, it was still an enjoyable and interesting read. The reign of Elizabeth is intriguing, and I particularly enjoyed the epilogue, which focused on how Elizabeth's sexual life has been intensely scrutinised, debated and speculated over ever since her death.
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on 25 July 2013
In preview,this newly published book sounded interesting, in that the author had approached writing about Queen Elizabeth I from a completely different perspective. The book covers Elizabeth's early life and introduces "Ladies of the Bedchamber", explaining how their actions had an impact on their monarch's life. Other visitors to the bedchamber are introduced- such as Robert, Earl of Leicester, but also other royal suitors ( some not at all suitable).
This book would appeal to lovers of history, especially of the Elizabethan era, but also to readers interested in social interactions of the day.

Text is well documented and backed up by plentiful evidence, in the form of letters and political manuscripts of the day.
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on 15 May 2013
Elizabeth's Bedfellows: An Intimate History of the Queen's Court, Anna Whitelock.
This book tells the story of the two bodies of the Queen through the eyes of her court. The book focuses on the disparity of the Queens body politic and her physical body and how these roles alter over time. Whitelock interlaces the story of her bedfellows and the critical part they play in the sanctity of the Queens two bodies, both in life and death. The details make this book, with wonderful descriptions of makeup and dressing regimes and explanations of the artists and the templates of the Queens face used in portraits. I enjoyed this book, learning about the intimacies of the Tudor court and how these alter european politics in the 16th century.
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on 31 January 2015
This was quite an interesting biography of Eliazabeth although not the best I have read. The worst thing was the number of typographical errors. There were words missing, apostrophes in the wrong place, words such as 'by' misspelt, some poor grammar and a whole sentence repeated. It did spoil my enjoyment of the book.
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on 3 September 2014
A detailed history using interesting source material. This book enables the reader to grasp the personality of Elizabeth 1 almost at 'first hand'.
Difficult to keep track of who was who. Would have benefited from a chapter devoted to each lady in waiting/gentlewoman of the privy chamber.
Anna Whitelock has a pleasing written style and only occasionally did I feel the book needed a stronger narrative line. For those who are not historians, a time chart showing the major events in Elizabeth's reign would have enabled a firmer anchoring of events.
Restricting the title to 'Bedfellows' tends to restrict what one may assume to be the sphere and compass of the work as, quite naturally, the subject matter has to range widely into politics and social life etc 'Bedfellows' may be a catchy notion but it does not do justice to Anna Whitelock's wide-ranging and thoroughly enjoyable work.
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