Sunday, March 2, 2014

Elizabeth the QueenElizabeth the Queen by Alison Weir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not being qualified to provide a competent review of this history book I can only express my admiration for the amount of meticulous research that went into writing "Elizabeth the Queen" and congratulate Alison Weir on her dedication and literary talent. This is another monumental work, on par with "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" and "Children of England". The author used so many sources (the list spans 20 pages) that there are some periods in the Queen's reign that almost each day is documented, and we can try to reproduce the daily activities of Queen Elizabeth 450 or so years ago.

Ms. Weir brilliantly captures Queen Elizabeth's fascinating character: her vanity, indecisiveness, and other weaknesses are perfectly balanced by her outstanding intellect, political astuteness, and her dedication to the kingdom and her subjects. The author shows how Elizabeth used procrastination, dissembling, and prevarication to further the cause of the country. The famous "marriage game" is a fascinating political tool yet, at the same time, it is almost painful to read about in the personal dimension.

I am totally unqualified to pass judgment on Queen Elizabeth's accomplishments as a ruler (historians cannot agree whether she was a supremely gifted ruler or just a lucky one whose strings were pulled by people like Cecil or Walsingham). However, I absolutely admire her for some of the basic aspects of her governance - moderation, avoidance of the use of force, whenever possible, and, most importantly, tolerance. Religious (and otherwise) tolerance became a cornerstone of a nation that had been deeply divided before her reign. "I see, and say nothing" was a motto of hers, and I could subscribe to such a motto with both hands. I wish more politicians in our times were so remarkably moderate and so averse to extremism in any form.

As a writer, Ms. Weir does a great job portraying the Queen. Elizabeth comes through deeply human, and the motives of her actions are convincing and believable. The author also shows the dynamics of the court and the interplay of various societal forces. I would like to see more on what the so-called regular people thought about the Queen, but obviously sources of this type must be scarce.

It is fascinating to read how weak Elizabeth was in dealing with the three main men of her life, Thomas Seymour, Leicester, and Essex. The weakness makes her so human and so real. A history book is usually no place for humor, but one sentence made me laugh out loud "The Queen decided to strip all those knighted by Essex of their knighthoods, sparking a terrible fuss, as many of the men quailed at the prospect of telling their wives they were 'Lady' no longer, just plain 'Mistress' again."

Four and a half stars.

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