Elizabeth I: A Novel

Elizabeth I: A Novel, by Margaret George ($15.95)

Amazon: Personal and political conflicts among such larger-than-life historical figures as Francis Bacon, Walter Raleigh, Francis Drake, and Will Shakespeare intertwine in George’s meticulously envisioned portrait of Elizabeth I during the last 25 years of her reign. Unlike most contemporary depictions of the Virgin Queen, this one is actually a virgin; she’s married to England, whose interests she pursues with shrewdness, courage, and wisdom borne of surviving the deaths of her family. Readers see the queen through her own eyes and those of her cousin, Lettice Knollys, wife of Elizabethan heartthrob Robert Dudley, aka the earl of Leicester. Elizabeth’s antithesis, thrice-married and much-bedded Lettice, is driven by passion and self-interest, easily evidenced by the story’s beginnings: it’s 1588, and Elizabeth meets the threat of the Spanish Armada head-on while Lettice calculates how her son might benefit. Like her heroine, George (The Autobiography of Henry VIII) possesses an eye for beauty and a knack for detail, creating a vibrant story that, for nearly 700 pages, enables readers to experience firsthand Elizabeth’s decisions, triumphs, and losses. Rather than turn Elizabeth I into a romantic heroine, George painstakingly reveals a monarch who defined an era. (Apr.)
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Having already tackled Henry VIII (The Autobiography of Henry VIII, 1986) and Mary, Queen of Scots (Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles, 1992), George now turns to Elizabeth I. Narrating her own story, Elizabeth is in late middle age, still formidable, but having hot flashes and keeping notes as a memory aid. Robert Dudley, the love of her life, dies early on, and one by one she loses most of her other trusted councillors as well. Dudley’s ambitious and wayward stepson Robert Devereaux, the Earl of Essex, arrives at court and becomes her last great favorite. As she did in The Autobiography of Henry VIII, George adds an extra dimension by providing a second narrator; here it is Devereaux’s mother (and Dudley’s widow), Lettice Knollys. Banished from court because of an irregular marriage, Knollys conducts an adventurous sex life (one of her lovers is Will Shakespeare) and schemes to push Devereaux into power and restore the family fortunes. George’s mastery of period detail and her sure navigation through the rocky shoals of Elizabethan politics mean this lengthy novel never flags. –Mary Ellen Quinn

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