Title: Elizabeth I
Author: Margaret George
Release Date: April 5, 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.75 out of 5
Elizabeth I begins in the late 1580’s, with the threat of the Spanish Armada bearing down upon England. Queen Elizabeth I is in the throes of middle age, unhappy with her condition, and trying to do her best as she is watching things fall apart around her. What’s more, she is watching her closest advisors and confidantes perish around her, beginning with the unconsummated love of her life, Robert Dudley. As she tries to hold her country together, Elizabeth must face the prospect of her own mortality, and what England will be left with once she is gone.
The first thing you will likely notice about Elizabeth I by Margaret George is the length. “688 pages? I’ll pass,” you might be thinking to yourself. But if you don’t pick up this majestic, amazing work of historical fiction simply because of the length, you will be doing yourself a disservice. Elizabeth I is an engaging, well-written, and informative novel about the latter days of Queen Elizabeth’s reign.
George portrays Elizabeth I as a woman devoted to her country. Above all, England is her concern. Yes, she loves Robert Dudley and later Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, but these personal passions are secondary to her constant fidelity to her country and her people. She is wiser and more contained than her father in his later years, yet Elizabeth is also sensitive to the accusation that she is a lesser monarch because she is a woman. She also is devastated by the fact she is losing her closest friends and advisors and doesn’t know how she will move on once they have passed. George has crafted a complex, shrewd, and dedicated woman in her Elizabeth.
One aspect of the character of Elizabeth I really loved was how much I genuinely liked her. I understood her motivations. Elizabeth I was known for being mercurial, for delaying important decisions, for not being able to make up her mind. George brings these qualities to light and gives the reader some explanation of them. I really appreciated this portrayal of Elizabeth as a graceful, dignified monarch, rather than someone who can’t control her temper and is ruled by her current emotional state, as has been the case in many recent novels.
However, I also enjoyed how human George made Elizabeth. She loves, she laughs, she hurts – she’s no different than any other woman, except for the fact that she has the fate of an entire country resting on her shoulders. Her passion for Robert Dudley is inspiring and tragic, as the reader knows Elizabeth will never put aside her duty for him. Her dealings with Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, make Elizabeth reflect on how she treats her courtiers, and what her mercurial moods might do to them. I loved how unsure of herself she could be at times, and the dichotomy between her personal life and her queenly persona.
Elizabeth I actually has two narrators – the queen, and her look alike cousin, Lettice Knollys. While they were close as children, Lettice and the queen grew apart in their later years. This divide was cemented when Lettice secretly married Robert Dudley; while Elizabeth was willing to forgive Robert (to a point), she banished Lettice from court. Lettice is the mother to Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, and is forced to watch as everything around her slowly unravels. While I didn’t love Lettice at the beginning of the book, one of my favorite aspects at the end was how much she’d changed. While Elizabeth remains relatively constant over the course of the novel in terms of personality (though she does soften), Lettice undergoes a transformation. I loved seeing the change in her character, and watching her endear herself to me as the novel progressed.
I have said so much about this novel already, and have not even touched on the history yet. As expected in a Margaret George novel, the history in Elizabeth I is impeccably researched. The historical details are amazing; George immerses the reader into her setting, making them feel like they are a part of the scene. While I was initially disappointed that this novel focuses only on the later part of Elizabeth’s reign, I soon realized that writing an entire book about her life would take thousands of pages. Since I didn’t know a lot about these latter days, I feel like I learned a lot.
I can’t say enough amazing things about Elizabeth I. I absolutely loved the portrayal of Elizabeth, how there was so much going on under that white painted face she showed the world. George has really done justice to this great queen; I loved how personal it was, how Elizabeth was able to share her aches and pains and fears with the reader that she couldn’t show to the world around her. This was an incredible novel, and I look forward to seeing what subject George tackles next.