Book Review: “Gloriana: Elizabeth I and the Art of Queenship” by Linda Collins and Siobhan Clarke

glorianaA queen locked in a struggle of being a single woman and the sole ruler of her kingdom must create the image that would help lead her divided country to a golden age. This image must comfort her people while showing strength and perseverance to her enemies who would try to take the throne from her. Elizabeth I worked hard with artists, poets, playwrights, and musicians to create the almost mythological image of “Gloriana,” the virgin goddess. Linda Collins and Siobhan Clarke explore how this image was created throughout Elizabeth’s reign in their latest book, “Gloriana: Elizabeth I and the Art of Queenship.”

When you first see the title of this book, you would assume that it will be yet another biography with art sprinkled in. You would be wrong. This book focuses solely on the different forms of artwork that built the Gloriana persona over the decades of Elizabeth I’s reign and how we perceive the pieces of art centuries later. Each section of this book discusses a particular aspect of Elizabeth’s reign while examining how art changed with a different artist or courtier highlighted, alongside portraits and miniatures thoroughly inspected for the symbolism hidden in plain sight.

I love examining Tudor-era artwork on my own to try and crack the code behind the symbols they chose to use, especially Elizabethan portraits, particularly The Rainbow Portrait. Collins and Clarke’s examination of the symbolism in each portrait and miniature, including dendrochronology to determine when paintings might have been painted, was captivating and enlightening. It reminded me of a history class I took in college about art history, which I have fond memories of learning about how art changed up to the Renaissance. I found it equally fascinating that they chose to highlight the life of Nicholas Hilliard, who does not get enough attention as a Tudor artist compared to Hans Holbein the Younger.

However, Collins and Clarke examine more than just the typical portraits, paintings, and miniatures. The myth of Gloriana would not have survived without poets, musicians, and playwrights, like Edmund Spenser, Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, and William Shakespeare. It was a multi-faceted effort to promote the Elizabethan propaganda that allowed Elizabeth not only to survive but for England to thrive.

“Gloriana: Elizabeth I and the Art of Queenship” by Linda Collins and Siobhan Clarke is a delightful book for any Tudor or art nerd in your life; informative, educational, and easy to read. Each page will give you a better understanding of Elizabeth I’s reign, her propaganda, and the myth of Gloriana.

Book Review: “The Life of Elizabeth I” by Alison Weir

111222Elizabeth I was perhaps the most influential monarch in English history. There are episodes in her life that became legendary. From her tumultuous childhood to her reign where everyone either wanted her to marry or put someone else on the throne, Elizabeth’s life was hardly easy. Even though much is known about her public life as queen, we really do not know a lot about her private life. In Alison Weir’s book, “The Life of Elizabeth I”, the gap between the public Elizabeth and the private Elizabeth is bridged in order to give a more complete biography of this fascinating English queen.

Alison Weir explains what Elizabeth had gone through in her early life and how it shaped her as a queen:

When she came to the throne her subjects knew relatively little about her. Nurtured in a hard school, having suffered adversity and uncertainty from her infancy, and having gone in danger of her life on at least two occasions, she had learned to keep her own counsel, hide her feelings and live by her wits. Already, she was a mistress of the arts of deception, dissimulation, prevarication and circumvention, all admired attributes of a true Renaissance ruler. At twenty-five years old, she was at last in control of her destiny, and having lived in one kind of constraint or another for the whole of her existence so far, she was determined to preserve her independence and autonomy. She had learned from her sister’s mistakes and resolved never to repeat them. She would identify herself with her people and worked for their common interests. She would bring peace and stability to her troubled kingdom. She would nurture it, as a loving mother nurtures a child. For this, she believed, God had preserved her life. (Weir, 9-10)

Weir begins her book with the coronation of Elizabeth, touching briefly on Elizabeth’s childhood and how she got to the throne. She explains the England that Elizabeth knew and how right after she was crowned, her people desired for the queen to have a husband and to know what religion she would adopt for her own and for her country. Although Elizabeth liked to have quite a few favorites, including Robert Dudley and Francis Duke of Anjou, she never gave her heart solely to one man. Instead she chose to be the mother of her country and to be married to the job of protecting her people. Elizabeth not only had to keep her people happy but she had to deal with threats from other countries, including King Philip II of Spain and his Armada, the  St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of the Huguenots in France, and the religious feuds in the Netherlands. One of her biggest external threats was her cousin Mary Queen of Scots, who claimed that she should be Queen of England. Elizabeth eventually had to make the decision to execute another queen, very similar to the decision her father had to make when he had Elizabeth’s mother executed a few decades before.

Elizabeth also had to deal with internal threats such as favorites, especially  Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex, becoming jealous of others in court and throwing fits. There were those who would dare to marry without the Queen’s permission and had their own children. In these instances, Elizabeth’s anger would come out in full force. She didn’t trust many people and tended to keep her feelings to herself. To the outside world, she was “Gloriana” or “The Virgin Queen”, but to those who truly knew her, she was just Elizabeth, a woman who became queen and who was just trying to survive for herself and her country.

Elizabeth I has always been my favorite Tudor monarch. Her story was the one that really got me interested in the Tudors and this book made me fascinated with her all over again. Alison Weir was able to yet again combine her engaging writing style with amazing details to tell the full story of the reign of Elizabeth I, from her coronation at age of 25 to her death at the age of 69, and how she changed England for the better. I loved reading this book. There was so much information about Elizabeth that I didn’t know about in this book, it was like discovering a whole new side to a person I thought I knew very well. If you want to learn more about Elizabeth I, the woman behind the legend, and her impact on England and the 16th century world, I highly recommend you read this book, “The Life of Elizabeth I” by Alison Weir. An absolutely fascinating read on one of England’s most remarkable rulers.