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.  

Book Review: “The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor” by Elizabeth Norton

Queen Elizabeth I is often known as “the Virgin Queen” because she never married. 25673950There were some men who tried to court Elizabeth, including Robert Dudley, but none could ever get her to the altar. That was when she was queen, however, there was one man who was very close to marrying her when she was just  Elizabeth Tudor. The man was Thomas Seymour, the brother of Edward and Jane Seymour and the husband of Catherine Parr. In Elizabeth Norton’s book, “The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor: Elizabeth I, Thomas Seymour, and the Making of a Virgin Queen”, she explores the relationship between Thomas and Elizabeth and why he was her temptation.

Elizabeth Norton explains who Thomas Seymour was:

Thomas Seymour once said that the memory of brave men lived forever and that ‘a good name is the embalming of the virtuous to an eternity of love and gratitude among posterity.’ To future generations, his good name was lost; but those who had known him still remember him fondly. He was a turbulent, troublesome individual, but also a likable one, and – at the start of 1549- the man who would come closest to marrying the future Queen Elizabeth. As far as is recorded, no other man ever climbed into bed with England’s virgin queen, or trimmed her clothes and intimately appraised her body. As Elizabeth looked at Thomas’s portrait in the gallery at Somerset Place, she would have been able to reflect upon the man who had so nearly seduced her. He was the temptation of Elizabeth Tudor. (Norton, 280).

So how did Elizabeth meet Thomas Seymour and why did Elizabeth chose to become “the Virgin Queen”? These are the questions that Elizabeth Norton wants to answer in her book.

Norton begins her book with the birth of Edward VI, the death of Jane Seymour, and the relationship between Catherine Parr and Henry VIII. Catherine Parr had been married a few times before Henry and she tried to be the best step mother to Henry’s three children as she could be, but when Henry died, things changed. Since Edward VI was still a minor, he was granted a Lord Protector, his uncle Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset. His brother, Thomas Seymour, wanted to marry either princess Mary or princess Elizabeth, but after he was rejected by both, he would marry Catherine Parr shortly after the death of Henry VIII, sending shock waves throughout the court. Catherine would allow Elizabeth Tudor and Lady Jane Grey to be raised in her household, thinking that it would be beneficial for the young girls. While it was great for their education, Elizabeth was constantly under the wandering gaze of Thomas Seymour.

Thomas is reported to come into Elizabeth’s bedroom early in the morning when she was barely dressed to hug her and tickle her. Elizabeth’s governess Kate Ashley would often try to persuade Thomas to leave her alone, but he did not give up. There was one incident where Thomas took a knife to one of Elizabeth’s gowns while she was walking in a garden and tore it to shreds. It is even rumored that Elizabeth gave birth to Thomas’s child and that the child was thrown into a fire, but  Norton explains why this story is not related to Elizabeth. Catherine Parr was aware of what was happening, but because she promised to love and obey her husband, she never confronted Thomas about the relationship, although she did dismiss Elizabeth from her household. Catherine would eventually become pregnant and give birth to a baby girl. While she was on her deathbed, she did not want to see Thomas; Catherine would die on September 5, 1548, which meant that Thomas was a bachelor yet again.

With the death of Catherine, Thomas turned his eyes towards politics. He wanted what his brother Edward Seymour had, control of the king. He joined forces with William Sharington, a member of parliament and a known embezzler, to build an army to overthrow the government. During this time, he wrote a letter to Elizabeth to ask her to marry him. Kate Ashley thought it was a good idea and she told Elizabeth to send her reply through Thomas Parry that she desired to marry him. Unfortunately, Thomas Seymour would be caught by his brother Edward Seymour when it was reported that Thomas tried to either kidnap or kill the king. Thomas’s scheme with Sharington would be found out, as well as his relationship with Elizabeth; Thomas Parry and Kate Ashley were sent to the Tower for interrogations. Thomas Seymour would quickly be found guilty and was executed for treason. It was with Thomas’s death that Elizabeth’s desire to marry died as well.

Elizabeth Norton in her book “The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor” paints a picture of the young Elizabeth Tudor in which love was her desire and Thomas Seymour was indeed her temptation. Norton shows Thomas Seymour in such a way that makes him intriguing. I found myself wanting to learn more about Thomas Seymour and his relationship with Elizabeth. This book was so well written and fascinating. If you are interested in Elizabeth’s childhood, Thomas Seymour and his fall, and the reason why Elizabeth chose to be known as “the Virgin Queen”,  this is the book for you.