Elizabeth's Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen by Tracy Borman

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Elizabeth's Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen by Tracy Borman

Category: Biography
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: A biography of Elizabeth I written with particular reference to the women at court and her female relatives who exerted such an influence on her life.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 464 Date: September 2009
Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd
ISBN: 978-0224082266

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So many biographies have been written about the life and times of England's longest-lived and longest reigning sovereign that one might wonder whether there is anything new left to say about her. However Tracy Borman has found an interesting new angle – by telling the story of her life through the women closest to her.

The story begins with the courtship of her parents, Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn, who so longed to give him the son he ardently desired. Elizabeth's birth in 1533 was a major disappointment to them both, and not long after Anne miscarried of her saviour, a boy, she was executed. Her half-sister Mary, the elder by seventeen years, who had previously regarded her as a threat, softened considerably towards her as a result. Nevertheless, in the years to come, religious differences between the fiercely Catholic Mary and her Protestant sister would be uneasy to say the least, and at least once during Mary's five-year reign she feared she was in imminent danger of execution on a trumped-up charge of treason. With her stepmothers, Elizabeth enjoyed a better relationship, finding Anne of Cleves and Katherine Parr ever supportive.

One of the most interesting women with whom she was closely associated was 'Kat' Astley, initially her governess and later her First Lady of the Bedchamber. She too found herself imprisoned and at risk of losing her life during Mary's reign through being associated with treasonable activities (as was nearly everyone at court at some time or another, often unfairly), but good fortune saved her and she went on to serve her mistress until her death in 1565. Less harmonious were Elizabeth's dealings with the sisters of the tragic Lady Jane Grey, particularly Lady Mary, who proved a thorn in the Queen's side for much of her short life, as did the deluded Arbella Stuart some years later.

However, the most interesting connection is undoubtedly that with her troublesome cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, who spent almost half her life in captivity. It was an ambivalent relationship, and Elizabeth's careful handling of the woman who continually represented a major threat to her for many years is skillfully handled.

The same can be said of the author's handling of Elizabeth's character, the woman who remained a virgin partly as a reaction to the fate of her mother, and who had to face one conspiracy after another throughout her reign. She was undoubtedly a shrewd, intelligent woman, who managed to lead a long life during a particularly troubled age. At the same time she was certainly vain, capricious, with a fearsome temper, and the faults are painted just as vividly as the virtues. Add to that the author's vivid portrayal of the colourful Elizabethan court, its splendours and its intrigues, and the result is a fascinating read for anybody interested in not only the Tudor era, but history in general.

Our thanks to Jonathan Cape for sending Bookbag a copy for review.

If you enjoy this, for another Tudor biography why not also try Edward VI: The Lost King of England by Chris Skidmore.

Booklists.jpg Elizabeth's Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen by Tracy Borman is in the Bookbag's Christmas Gift Recommendations 2009.
Buy Elizabeth's Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen by Tracy Borman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Elizabeth's Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen by Tracy Borman at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Elizabeth's Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen by Tracy Borman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Elizabeth's Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen by Tracy Borman at Amazon.com.


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