Stacy Schiff, TheNew York Times Book Review
A groundbreaking reconsideration of our favorite Tudor queen, Elizabeth is an intimate and surprising biography that shows her at the height of her power. Read more...
Stacy Schiff, TheNew York Times Book Review
A groundbreaking reconsideration of our favorite Tudor queen, Elizabeth is an intimate and surprising biography that shows her at the height of her power.
Elizabeth was crowned at twenty-five after a tempestuous childhood as a bastard and an outcast, but it was only when she reached fifty and all hopes of a royal marriage were dashed that she began to wield real power in her own right. For twenty-five years she had struggled to assert her authority over advisers who pressed her to marry and settle the succession; now, she was determined not only to reign but also to rule. In this magisterial biography of England's most ambitious Tudor queen, John Guy introduces us to a woman who is refreshingly unfamiliar: at once powerful and vulnerable, willful and afraid. In these essential and misunderstood forgotten years, Elizabeth confronts challenges at home and abroad: war against the Catholic powers of France and Spain, revolt in Ireland, an economic crisis that triggered riots in the streets of London, and a conspiracy to place her cousin Mary Queen of Scots on her throne. For a while she was smitten by a much younger man, but could she allow herself to act on that passion and still keep her throne?
For the better part of a decade John Guy mined long-overlooked archives, scouring court documents and handwritten letters to sweep away myths and rumors. This prodigious historical detective work has made it possible to reveal for the first time the woman behind the polished veneer: wracked by insecurity, often too anxious to sleep alone, voicing her own distinctive and surprisingly resonant concerns. Guy writes like a dream, and this combination of groundbreaking research and propulsive narrative puts him in a class of his own.
"Significant, forensic and myth-busting, John Guy inspires total confidence in a narrative which is at once pacey and rich in detail."
--Anna Whitelock, TLS"
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-02-22
- Reviewer: Staff
The last Tudor monarch is often portrayed as a tempestuous warrior queen in her prime, but Guy (Queen of Scots), a fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, asks readers to reconsider the nuances behind such a description, especially in the second half of her 44-year reign. With the remarkable advantage of access to long-buried and misfiled primary sources, Guy argues that the mature Elizabeth I did not stridently seek war (after participating in a disastrous land war), but instead reacted to and prepared for Spain’s onslaught of armadas while seeking peace. Elizabeth’s dangerous childhood informed the later years portrayed here. Whether dealing with her councilors or with the temperamental Earl of Essex, Guy argues that she remained queen first, woman second. Still, the aging monarch receives a balanced treatment: her fear of getting old feels relatable, while her fearless interference in Scotland serves as a reminder of her intense belief in her divine right to rule. The invaluable, newly discovered documents allow for clarification and occasional rebuttals against misinterpretations or cases of “pure invention” by the queen’s near contemporaries and other historians. Guy, whose previous work biased him against Elizabeth, uses that initial inclination to give readers a fuller view of the confident, experienced, and adaptable queen whose long, eventful reign—one sprinkled with “Kafkaesque elements’’—continues to fascinate. Maps & illus. Agent: Grainne Fox, Fletcher & Company. (May)
A fresh look at Elizabeth's later years
We can’t get enough of the Tudors. Despite the centuries that have passed, the clan that began with Henry VII and ended with Elizabeth I continues to command legions of loyal subjects, from BBC watchers and biography buffs to fans of historical fiction.
Those whose fealty lies with Elizabeth I (1533–1603) should procure John Guy’s new book anon. The first substantial narrative to deeply explore the latter decades of her reign, Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years zooms in on a critical period in Tudor history, providing a fascinating close-up of an aging queen taking her final turn upon the world stage. During this crucial, conclusive epoch in Elizabeth’s 44-year rule, many of her most trusted advisors died, and she faced a protracted war with Spain. She also reckoned uneasily with her own mortality, as her physical charms and health both waned.
In researching the book, Guy had access to a trove of largely unexplored archival material, and his narrative corrects a number of inaccuracies circulated by the queen’s previous chroniclers. The conception of Elizabeth as accessible and merciful—as “Good Queen Bess”—is one such fiction Guy deflates, noting that she lived in splendor while plague and a poor economy crippled her country, a state of affairs that aroused in her subjects resentment rather than adoration. Toward the end, Guy writes, to her people, Elizabeth was “a distant image or just a name.”
In her majesty’s orbit during these years were dashing, impetuous adventurers Walter Raleigh and Robert Devereux, who sought their fortunes at sea and in war. Their romanctic exploits during a time of political instability, when the question of Elizabeth’s successor was unresolved, make the book a bit of a nail-biter.
Guy, winner of the Whitbread Award for Queen of Scots (2005), has produced a book in which Elizabeth’s royal presence is palpable. Tudorists, take heed: This fresh consideration of the queen—a woman by turns valiant and vulnerable, jealous and generous, unapproachable and compassionate—at the finis of her rule is a rousingly good read.