Elizabeth the Great

Elizabeth the GreatElizabeth the Great by Elizabeth Jenkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Elizabeth Jenkins has written several both fiction and nonfiction books, among them a biography of Jane Austen. She lived to be 105. The Guardian calls Jenkins a ‘biographer of exceptional quality’ and a ‘biographer of strong female characters.’

This biography of Queen Elizabeth I of England was interesting, insightful and instructive! I found it easy to read and even though got a little bogged down halfway through, after a while I found my impetus again, and was able to finish it knowing a lot more about this regent than ever before.

“In December 1563 Ascham wrote … from Windsor, telling how he had gone upstairs after dinner to read Greek with the queen. He said that when she was reading Demosthenes or Aeschines, he was always struck by her grasp of the political scene… He still dwelt fondly on his pupil’s talent for languages. He had one day heard her speak to three ambassadors together, in Italian, French and Latin, without stopping for a word.”

So many intrigues, so many of Elizabeth’s contemporaries to keep straight (even though the names change as they are awarded various properties and titles), so much upheaval during this time! Jenkins does not write sympathetically of Mary Queen of Scots. She proves beyond doubt that Mary was plotting all the time to usurp the throne even when it meant invasion of England, collusion with Catholic Spain and the assassination of Elizabeth.

“As Mary maintained…silence for the rest of her life, the body of her sympathizers, particularly those who were children at the time of the event, forgot what had been proved against her; the stain wore out as Cecil foretold it would; there remained in men’s minds only the lovely, tragic figure shut up in a castle who, in Catholic eyes, was the Queen of England.”

Elizabeth was incredibly gifted and she watched carefully over her sovereignty, the finances of England, and acted quickly to threats (whether real or imagined); however, she often showed mercy. Queen Elizabeth’s character is so interesting (and her motives even today, continue to be examined), as her political moves promised marraige to several suitors (both royal and non), that never came about. The author speculates that Elizabeth’s determination to remain ‘the Virgin Queen” stemmed from her childhood memories of the losses of Henry VIII’s wives and marraiges (and among them, that of her own mother, Anne Boleyn.).

Her love of the people of England is legendary. Of course the harsh treatment of those suspected of treason is something that is not easy to read about, although the author comments that it was ‘typical of the times’. The struggle Elizabeth had signing the death warrant, and the regret and grief she exhibited when her cousin Mary was executed (even though Mary had colluded with plots for Elizabeth’s own death so as to replace her on the throne), is also eloquently related. However, the author does not gloss over Elizabeth’s faults or weaknesses and relays several incidents that help the reader put together a complete portrait of this remarkable and exceptional sovereign.

I am now so enamored of this time period that I am determined to read next, Antonia Fraser’s “Mary Queen of Scots”.


About Theresa

I live in an old farmhouse in upstate New York (no, *not* the big city!) in the country with my family, two dogs, two calves, and two horses. I love to cross stitch, quilt, read, and look at needlework blogs :) and I love coffee *and* tea!
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