Cassy's Reviews > The Life of Elizabeth I

The Life of Elizabeth I by Alison Weir
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's review
Jan 28, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: non-fiction, books-in-2010

** spoiler alert ** I've always been interested in Tudor England. The time of Henry VIII and his children has really fascinated me and Elizabeth has always been the one I was most interested in (after her father, of course.) I wanted to read this book because I heard that Weir was very good. I wasn't disappointed.

Weir presents us with a very young Queen. Elizabeth wasn't older than myself and she was asked to rule an entire country. What's more, she was a female in a world ruled by men. Her sister's reign had been a disaster and the entire country was wary of another female queen and what that was going to mean. Her people, not to mention her councilors, didn't want another woman ruining their home, as they felt that Mary did. Elizabeth had to prove herself every step of the way, and she did. Even in her old age she showed that she was not feint of heart and could do her duty when it needed to be done. She executed Essex, a young man she dearly loved but had tried to usurp her, because she knew that it had to be done. The good of her country would be in jeopardy if he were allowed to live.

I liked that Weir also didn't portray Elizabeth as perfect. Often, Elizabeth is viewed as the savior of England, doing more for the country than any other monarch. While Elizabeth did do many wonderful things for England, such as serve large defeats to the Spanish and, for a little while, managed to pull the country out of a crippling debt, she had her flaws. She was very temperamental. One moment she would be happy and the next she would be insanely angry at you. For almost her entire reign, she stalled when presented with any sort of decision, hoping to get what she wanted or not have to make a choice. She didn't marry because she gave every suitor she had the run around. She was easily angered and everyone tip-toed around the woman so as not to incur her wrath. There were few that managed to speak openly to her. Cecil was one, Norfolk another but both received consequences when they did. It was almost a weekly occurrence for Norfolk to be banned from court. Sometimes, when you read biographies, the person is painted as either the hero or the villain; Weir managed to show Elizabeth as both.

Elizabeth did some rather revolutionary things for her time period. She was essentially the first female to rule England without a male at her side and do it successfully. She was intelligent and knew when to look to her advisers, something else she had a knack for choosing. She also enacted the first real show religious tolerance in her country. While she did come out and declare that Protestantism was her religion and no other was to be practiced, it wasn't until very late in her reign that measures were taken against those who did not attend the Protestant church. In private, people were allowed to worship how they would. After the burnings of Mary's reign, that was an important factor for keeping the peace in her country. Her religion was also a constant excuse not to marry. While a big part of her refusal to marry a Catholic monarch was her aversion to marriage, part of it was also she did not want to return her country to the instability caused by religious differences.

Elizabeth also managed to handle all threats to her throne calmly and rationally. Mary, Queen of Scots, continually tried to bring about Elizabeth's reign and her own ascension to the English throne, since she had lost her Scottish one. Despite the support for Mary, Elizabeth never lost her composure and, eventually, she executed The Queen of Scots. Elizabeth even managed to keep the peace between her and all Catholic countries that threatened her after Mary's death.

The only real criticism that I had of Weir's book was that it was very heavy reading. I enjoy reading non-fiction as long as it's a subject that I'm interested in. If I wasn't interested in Elizabeth, I would have never finished this book. It's not user friendly and really only made for people who are interested in the subject. It was well written and fascinating but it took me about a month to push through and I'm a fairly quick reader. Also, the beginning read more quickly than the ending. I ate up the first half of the book and then really had to push myself through the remainder of it. There was just so much information to ingest and it started to become almost uninteresting at points. It was all pertinent but it was just cumbersome after a certain point.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. However, I would only suggest this book to someone who is very interested in Elizabeth. It really isn't an enjoyable book if you're not. However, if you like biographies and are looking for a good one about Elizabeth's reign, I recommend it. Even though it was a little slow going, it was worth it.
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Reading Progress

January 28, 2010 – Shelved
January 30, 2010 – Started Reading
February 1, 2010 –
page 18
February 2, 2010 –
page 70
13.16% "Elizabeth went on to assure her commons that she would do as God directed her."
February 4, 2010 –
page 134
February 4, 2010 –
page 134
25.19% "Before she could give the order for her soldiers to leave for France, the Queen fell so dangerously ill that her life was despaired of."
February 8, 2010 –
page 219
February 8, 2010 –
page 219
41.17% "Before she could give the order for her soldiers to leave for France, the Queen fell so dangerously ill that her life was despaired of."
February 17, 2010 – Shelved as: non-fiction
February 18, 2010 –
page 327
March 2, 2010 – Shelved as: books-in-2010
March 2, 2010 – Finished Reading

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