Book Review: “The First Elizabeth” by Carolly Erickson

78c6ce34a9b7447cedba2378b607f3d4The story of Elizabeth I is full of twists and turns. From the moment she was born, she had to fight to survive. Through all that she went through, Elizabeth found the strength and courage to become the legendary queen to help England to enter into a golden age of peace and prosperity. This, however, is just one side of Elizabeth. The other side of Elizabeth’s personality, her anger and her interactions with her councilors, is explored thoroughly in Carolly Erickson’s book “The First Elizabeth”.

Carolly Erickson explains this other side of Elizabeth a bit further:

But if Elizabeth’s political and intellectual skills served her well, though hardly infallibly, in dealing with her councilors she relied on her volatile, imperious temperament and on her inbred capacity for duplicity and deceit to keep them at bay. She was dangerously unpredictable in her moods. She blustered one minute and beguiled the next. Now coaxing and cajoling, now spitting out ringing oaths and insults, she kept her advisers off balance and perpetually astonished them by the range and mutability of her passions. Beyond this, they came to know that, with Elizabeth, nothing was ever what it seemed. Beneath her surface emotions were layer upon calculating layer of secondary reactions, ploys and schemes. She took pleasure in laying traps for her unwary ministers and ensnaring them later with their own words. Even the wittiest of them were sometimes left tongue-tied and flat footed in her presence, while all of them, however fleetingly, were on occasion dazzled by her youthful, radiant femininity and sexual magnetism.(Erickson, 173).

Erickson begins her book with the birth of Elizabeth and her relationship with her father Henry VIII. With the death of the king, Elizabeth had to adapt to the rules of her step brother and sister, Edward VI and Mary. It’s really Mary’s reign where Erickson focuses her attention for the first part of the book. To her, Elizabeth is more timid and scared whereas Mary comes off strong. It’s a different look at these two sisters and their relationship.

With Mary’s death, the twenty-five year old Elizabeth is declared Queen of England. The people of England were relatively hesitant about  this newcomer since they did not know much about her. Elizabeth worked hard to create an image of a good and benevolent queen for her people while hiding her temper that she was notorious for. Those who were closest to Elizabeth would often feel her anger first hand. Erickson also shows how even though there was a facade of peace in England during Elizabeth’s reign, there were those who wanted Elizabeth dead. Elizabeth fought both internal and external enemies in order to survive. It was her strength and her determination that made her a legend.

Erickson’s book may be a biography but it reads like a historical fiction novel. There were times when Erickson would mention famous passages or rumors and I was wishing that she had included the actual text in the book. Another thing that Erickson did that I bothered me a bit was that she made Elizabeth a bit darker than she is normally portrayed. When it came to the death of Mary Queen of Scots, Erickson really did not mention how much of a struggle it was for Elizabeth to sign the death warrant against Mary.

Overall, I think that “The First Elizabeth” by Carolly Erickson was an interesting read. There were some facts and rumors in this book that I was not aware of and her portrayal of Elizabeth was memorable. Elizabeth was prone to angry tirades but ultimately she had her people’s best interest in mind. I am glad that I read Carolly Erickson’s book because it did show a different side of this remarkable queen. I would recommend this book for anyone who is looking for a different perspective on Elizabeth I.

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.  

Top 5 “Tudor” Men to Study

Hello everyone! So a few weeks ago, I made a list of my top 5 Tudor women to study. This time around, I decided to focus on the men of this era. The reason that I have the word Tudor in quotations is that one of the men on this list is technically not a Tudor nor did he serve in the Tudor court. As always, this list is in no particular order and it might change after I do more research on the era. These men at the moment fascinate me and I look forward to learning more about them as I continue my exploration of the Tudor age.

1.) Jasper Tudor

The man in the sidelines who helped make the Tudor dynasty happen.80aa362b8647d5844194e415a130c3fd

Brother of Edmund Tudor, half- brother to Henry VI, and uncle to Henry Tudor. A man of many titles, but also a man who spent most of his adult life on the run. Jasper is one of those people who has an epic story, but he really doesn’t get a whole lot of attention and to me, that’s a little sad. I can’t even imagine what was going through his head when he found out that his brother died and that his widow Margaret Beaufort had a son. And that was just in a span of a few months. Now let’s throw in the fact that the time that Jasper was living in was the Wars of the Roses where they basically played musical chairs with the crown of England so one minute his half brother was king of England and the next he was a prisoner. Pretty stressful is putting it mildly. To add insult to injury, Jasper’s nephew Henry, was placed into York households to be raised and to watch over the young boy.

Jasper was always on the run, trying to keep himself and Henry safe. Whether in Wales or in France, where both Jasper and Henry were held as prisoners for very powerful people, Jasper worked hard to keep them alive. You would think that these two would lay low the rest of their lives. You would be wrong. Margaret Beaufort, Henry’s mother, had bigger plans for her son. With Henry VI dead and the Yorks on the throne with Edward IV and then Richard III, Margaret believed that her son was the next rightful king of England. So while Jasper and Henry were overseas in France, Margaret and Jasper orchestrated a coup d’etat. They were able to muster a force for Henry so that he could march against Richard III and on August 22, 1485, their plan worked. Henry was declared king and Jasper went back to his natural place, working for Henry’s good as his right hand man.

As the step brother of a king, I have often wondered why Jasper didn’t seize the crown for himself. This man was full of such intense loyalty for his family and had such an interesting life and yet he chose a life on the sidelines. I want to read biographies on him. Such a dynamic figure in Tudor history.

2.) Henry Tudor (later on Henry VII)

download (1)The man who would become king of England and the patriarch of the Tudor dynasty.  

As stated above, Henry’s life started off rough. Always on the run, he never knew his father and he never really got a chance to know his mother that well until after he became king. That all changed  at Bosworth Field when Richard III was killed and Henry became king. From rags to riches real quick. But if Henry wanted to end the constant calamity that the Wars of the Roses was causing, he needed to marry the right woman. His mother and Elizabeth Woodville arranged a marriage between Henry and Elizabeth of York, joining the houses of York and Lancaster. It was a brilliant move and helped put an end to the fighting. Henry and Elizabeth would have a large family including two sons, Arthur and Henry, thus starting the Tudor dynasty.

Henry is often thought of as being a mizer and a usurper or being a hero, but who was the true Henry? The more I study him, the more I realize how complicated this man was. He was not just a man who took the throne or a hero who started a brand new dynasty, but a family man and someone who knew heartache and love. There is something about Henry that is intriguing. His descendants might get all the attention for all their drama, but Henry Tudor was a man who built a dynasty out of practically nothing. He had to fight for all that he had against numerous pretenders who believed that he was not the rightful king. Overall, he was a survivor who became king.

3.) Richard III

The “black legend”.

Now I know what you are thinking, Richard III is not a Tudor king or someone who King_Richard_III.jpgserved a Tudor king so why is he on this list? To me, Richard has just as much influence in creating the Tudor dynasty as the Tudors themselves. If you think about it, if he didn’t take the throne, then Henry wouldn’t have marched against him at the Battle of Bosworth Field. It was his death that helped start the Tudor dynasty.

I do tend to berate Richard quite a bit since I believe he did kill his nephews, but there is something about this man that keeps me wanting to learn more about him. I may think that he is a murderer but as a king, I am learning that he was pretty decent. Just like Henry Tudor was just a man who survived, so was Richard. The more I study these two, the more I am realizing how similar they were. Even though Richard only ruled for two years, there is still a lot that we do not know about him. Maybe he was a family man just like Henry. His childhood might have shaped the way he ruled England and how he handled his enemies.

Even though there has been quite a bit of research about Richard III in the last 500 years, he is still a mysterious legend and I look forward to learning more about him and his times.

4.) Henry VIII

henry-viii-of-england-1The man. The myth. The legend.

When you hear his name, instantly you think about his multiple marriages and his break from the Roman Catholic Church. But who was Henry VIII the man behind this legend? Henry was second in line to the throne behind his brother Arthur, but when Arthur died shortly after he was married to Katherine of Aragon, the throne passed on to Henry. To say Henry was not prepared for this, nor were his parents, would be the understatement of the year. But he had to carry on in his father’s place when he passed away. The boy who was once a scholar now had to become a king.  It was a tall order to fill and it looked like from the very beginning he was doing a pretty good job.

And then things changed rapidly when his attention moved from his first wife to his second, and so on and so forth. Henry’s major flaws were his wandering eyes and his anger. We think we know everything there is to know about Henry, but do we really? This legendary man seems almost too fanciful to be a real human being. But he was. He was flawed like everyone else. Though he was a king, he was still human.

That is what keeps me fascinated about Henry VIII and his life. How did the king figure compare and contrast to the man who was Henry VIII? Who was Henry VIII really? No matter how much I read about him and his reign, its his human aspects and how he dealt with his wives and children that keep me coming back for more. I believe that there is more to Henry VIII than most people realize.

5.) Robert Dudley

The man who almost married the “Virgin Queen”220px-Robert_Dudley

If you have studied Elizabeth I, you know Robert Dudley. He was the man who stayed by Elizabeth’s side through the good times and the bad, even when he was married not once but twice. His first wife Amy, died when she fell down a flight of stairs, but many believed that Robert had her poisoned so that he could marry the queen. Robert was always close to Elizabeth and some in the court believed that he was too close. But maybe Elizabeth knew this when she suggested that Robert should marry Mary Queen of Scots. This deal, however, fell through when Mary married Lord Darnley.

As Elizabeth grew older, Robert kept trying to propose marriage, but he was become restless. He had affairs with some of Elizabeth’s ladies and would later marry Lettice Knollys, a kinswoman of the Queen. Elizabeth was livid and banished both Robert and Lettice from court. Robert would come back into her good graces; Lettice would not.

Robert loved Elizabeth deeply and many suspect that she loved him back. It is said that after he died, she kept his last letter to her in a chest that she kept close to her. Robert was a man who loved the queen, but he could never have her as his wife.

I have often wondered what Robert felt towards his two wives Amy and Lettice. Did he actually love them or did he use them to get closer to Elizabeth? If he did marry the queen, what would England look like? These are only a few questions that come to my mind when I think of Robert Dudley.

 

These are my top 5 “Tudor” men to study. Who are your top 5?

Book Review: “The Elizabethans” by A.N. Wilson

When we think of Elizabethan England, we often think of it as the “Golden Age” of 51BiwhXsK0L._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_learning and discoveries. While that is true, like any age, there were good elements and bad elements. We tend to overlook the bad elements with Elizabeth’s “Golden Age” and move on to the good elements. However, we cannot get a full image of the age if we only look at the good elements. That is why A.N. Wilson wrote the book “The Elizabethans”:

 

In this book I hope we shall be basking together in wholehearted appreciation of all of  this[the good elements]; but it is no longer possible to do so without a recognition of the Difficulty- hence my title for the opening chapter. The Difficulty is really a moral one: things which they, the Elizabethans, regarded as a cause for pride, we- the great majority of educated, liberal Western opinion- consider shameful. Things of which they boasted, we deplore.( Wilson, 2).

 

So what was the Difficulty that Wilson was mentioning? To Wilson, that is the issue of Ireland and the “New World” and how the English dealt with the native peoples of these new colonies. These were constant problems in this age that would affect how future generations would view the men and women who made Elizabethan England great. Of course there were the deaths of Mary Queen of Scots and Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex, that would affect Elizabeth greatly.

 

Now that we got the bad elements out of the way, let’s dive into what made it good, the “Golden Age”. Wilson decided to break down his book into sections which corresponds with the different decades of the reign of Elizabeth I. Each different decade had elements that made it difficult like the Northern Rebellion, St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, Mary Queen of Scots, and of course the Spanish Armada. What made this era known as the “Golden Age” were the people who took those difficult moments and made the best of the situation. Men like Sir Francis Drake, Sir Francis Walsingham, Sir Philip Sidney, Shakespeare and Spenser. Of course there were also men like  Richard Hakluyt, Robert Dudley, Robert Devereux and John Hawkins, who made the Elizabethan age a bit more interesting.

 

“The Elizabethans” by A.N. Wilson is the story of the age, both the good and the bad. And of course it is the story of Elizabeth and how she herself handled all the changes that were happening in her lifetime. Wilson wrote this book in such a way that it grabs your attention for the age and gives you a better understanding on what it meant to be someone who lived in Elizabethan England. I would highly suggest this book for anyone who wants a great resource into this “Golden Age” of Elizabethan England and the men and women who made this arguably one of  the most complex and interesting times in English history. This is a must read for anyone who has any interests in Elizabeth, the England she ruled, and the effects that it had on the rest of the world not only in her generation, but for generations to follow.

Book Review; “The Queen’s Agent: Sir Francis Walsingham and the Rise of Espionage in Elizabethan England” by John Cooper

51FnxQ9BN5L._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_When we think about spies, we often think of modern examples like the ones we see in movies. However, spies and their spymasters have been working hard to protect their countries and their rulers for centuries. For Queen Elizabeth I, the only man she could trust to be her spymaster was Sir Francis Walsingham. But is it fair to call Walsingham as only Elizabeth’s “spymaster”? That is the question that John Cooper tries to answer in his book “The Queen’s Agent: Sir Francis Walsingham and the Rise of Espionage in Elizabethan England”. Who was Sir Francis Walsingham and what did he do to help his queen and his country?

First and foremost, Walsingham was a Protestant. This is very important to understand because, in this time, your religion determined where you stood on certain political and international issues. Walsingham would flee to universities in other countries while Mary I was queen, he would help Huguenots in France during the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre, and helped Elizabeth navigate through her marriage prospects.  In the religious quagmire that was Europe at this time, it was Walsingham and Elizabeth who stood by their Protestant faith and would help the Reformation on.

As Secretary of State, it was Walsingham who helped set up the national defenses against the invading Spanish Armada and helped crack the code of the Babington plot that tried to put Mary Queen of Scots on the throne of England. Walsingham would also help solve the “Irish issue” and help make colonization in America possible. Walsingham and Queen Elizabeth I would often butt heads on issues, but in the end, they would come to a compromise that would benefit the entire country. Through all of this were men that Walsingham could trust, and some he thought he could but they turned out to be double agents for other countries. Walsingham had to navigate it all to protect his beloved queen and country.

John Cooper navigates the complex web of Walsingham’s life and his spy system to seek the truth about the man who became a legendary spymaster. There was a lot of information, but Cooper was able to organize the book in such a way that it was not overwhelming. This book had many twists and turns, as any good book about espionage would, however, the one thing that I wish Cooper would have included was a list of names and what they were known for. For me, it would have made the web a little less complex.

Overall, I found this book very enjoyable. Before this book, I did not know a lot about Walsingham or what he did for Elizabethan England. Walsingham was not just a spymaster, he was so much more and Protestant Elizabethan England would have been lost without him and his actions. If you want to learn more about Sir Francis Walsingham, the complex Europe world with Protestants versus Catholics, or espionage in Elizabethan England, this is the book for you.