A Review: Elizabeth I By Margaret George

Product Details
Pub. Date: April 2011
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Format: Hardcover , 671pp
Sales Rank: 161
ISBN-13: 9780670022533
ISBN: 0670022535

New York Times bestselling author Margaret George captures history's most enthralling queen-as she confronts rivals to her throne and to her heart.
One of today's premier historical novelists, Margaret George dazzles here as she tackles her most difficult subject yet: the legendary Elizabeth Tudor, queen of enigma-the Virgin Queen who had many suitors, the victor of the Armada who hated war; the gorgeously attired, jewel- bedecked woman who pinched pennies. England's greatest monarch has baffled and intrigued the world for centuries. But what was she really like?
In this novel, her flame-haired, lookalike cousin, Lettice Knollys, thinks she knows all too well. Elizabeth's rival for the love of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and mother to the Earl of Essex, the mercurial nobleman who challenged Elizabeth's throne, Lettice had been intertwined with Elizabeth since childhood. This is a story of two women of fierce intellect and desire, one trying to protect her country, and throne, the other trying to regain power and position for her family and each vying to convince the reader of her own private vision of the truth about Elizabeth's character. Their gripping drama is acted out at the height of the flowering of the Elizabethan age. Shakespeare, Marlowe, Dudley, Raleigh, Drake-all of them swirl through these pages as they swirled through the court and on the high seas.
This is a magnificent, stay-up-all-night page-turner that is George's finest and most compelling novel and one that is sure to please readers of Alison Weir, Philippa Gregory, and Hilary Mantel.

A Review
Elizabeth Tudor lived to be seventy years old in 1603. We meet Elizabeth Tudor, Queen of England, in 1588 the year of the Spanish Armada, age 55 years old.
Novelist, Margaret George has attempted rather bravely to shed some light on an 'aging' woman and Queen of England who says that she has married England instead of a man. It is England who wooed her, whom she married, and reigned over for forty five years (1558-1603). However, Margaret George covers the last fifteen years of her reign as sovereign (1588-1603).

Margaret George's novel 'Elizabeth I' should have taken my breath away and made me fall in love with her. I am sorry to say that this novel has not enraptured me. Instead it has left me out of breath and exhausted just trying to keep my interest.
In reading this novel I met 'The Virgin Queen' in full regalia! I even met 'The Fairie Queen' when Edmund Spenser dropped by for a chat with Her Majesty. Also in attendance William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, and later on Guy Fawkes! Unfortunately, I wanted to meet an aged Elizabeth Tudor yes queen but daughter of one of the greatest Tudor Monarchs Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn. Where was she for she wasn't in this novel. Oh yes, there were myriad glimpses of her scattered in first person chapters throughout the novel. For instance, when Elizabeth visits Hever Castle with her ladies in waiting for a stay and she reflects back on what her mother must have been like as a child growing up there, walking the same halls, sleeping in her chambers, how her mother and father strolled the garden later on during his reign when they were 'briefly' happy together and once in love. Those chapters captured my heart for it is then that the reader and hopefully Tudor history lover get an albeit fictitious glimpse into what Elizabeth Tudor must have thought at times in her most private moments.

Sadly, most of this novel, all 688 pages of it, read more like one of Her Majesty's daily calendars instead of a proper novel that lets us in to who Elizabeth Tudor was. Margaret George overloads her novel with far too many historical characters:
In 1588 we meet: Pope Sixtus V otherwise known as Felice Peretti (I don't need to know that), King Philip of Spain, oh yes and a ghostly visit from Dan Bernadino de Mendoza a Spanish Ambassador who carries a whip!

Elizabeth's full privy council members are all assembled: Sir Francis Walsingham(private secretary & spymaster head of intelligence service),John Dee (Astrologer), William Cecil (Lord Burghley)(Chief Minister & Lord Treasurer), Sir Francis Knollys, Henry Carey, The Lord Hundson, John Whitgift, The Archbishop of Canterbury, Charles Howard, the new lord admiral. Trust me we hear from them, about them, throughout all 688 pages which is necessary but not always enjoyable!

We meet all six of Elizabeth I's ladies of the bedchamber: Catherine Carey(cousin), Marjorie Morris (friend since youth), Blanche Parry (nurse), Elizabeth Southwell, Elizabeth Vernon, Bess Throckmorton, Frances Walsingham, and Helena Von Snakenborg from Sweden. I think that's all of them! They are not all needed trust me, only Blanch Parry, Catherine Carey are needed in this novel for obvious reasons!

Also, in keeping all 688 pages interesting the author throws in necessary historical factions: France and Ireland of course! Trust me dear reader including that Irish Pirate of sorts Grace O'Malley into several chapters as an 'acquaintance' to Elizabeth I doesn't help! This doesn't personalize Elizabeth Tudor the reflective chapters do a better job of that.
For the french we have the Henry IV connection to Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex, along with Catherine de Medici and mention of the french wars of religion, calvinism, St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre etc. I read Dumas I saw Queen Margot I get it, I know enough about it, please Margaret George stop I beg you!
Don't get me started on the siblings and offspring that the author includes!

Lettice Knollys is introduced early on and juxtaposed against her enemy the queen herself! I enjoyed reading 'some' of Lettice's chapters because she being part of the Boleyn side of the family it made for interesting fiction! However, I am still not a fan of Lettice Knollys and without giving anything away the ending was interesting and sweet!

I wish I could say more positive things about this novel. However, for myself, it did not hold enough of the human and personal side of Elizabeth Tudor.
I have read Margaret George's autobiography of Henry VIII which is very similar to this and my favorite Mary Queen of Scots is still well my favorite.
I enjoyed catching glimpses of the aged Elizabeth Tudor wondering about who her parents were, what they were like together, things we will never know but as a woman she must have thought from time to time.
If you want to meet the aged ruler Virgin Queen and all the cast of characters that are along for the ride please enjoy this novel.
For myself I think I will reread Alison Weir who blends historical characters with fiction succinctly and briefly enough to keep the reader interested.

Please feel free to leave any comments or questions!


Robert Parry said…
It is an enormous task for a novelist to tackle the subject of Queen Elizabeth and her times. There were so many facets of her personality and the age to which she gave her name, that probably no one single author will ever get to the bottom of it. Reading your review, one gets the feeling that the eternal question of just how much fact and how much fiction should go into the mix of a novel has surfaced again, as it always must, of course in any work of this magnitude. Great review.
Kimberly Eve said…
Thanks Robert. You raise several good points. However, some authors, yourself included, seem to know 'how much fact and fiction to mix in a novel' quite well!
Daphne said…
I'll be reading this later this month/early May for a blog tour. I've had mixed luck with her books - really enjoyed her book on Henry VIII; thought Cleopatra was a little too long (sounds similar to what you are describing here) and couldn't stand the one on Helen of Troy. Thanks for the review - great job of detailing what didn't work for you.
Kimberly Eve said…
I look forward to your review Daphne.
I purposefully didn't read Cleopatra and Helen of Troy and now I'm glad I didn't! Thanks for reading and commenting!
Marie said…
This being my first George novel, I was pulled in from the start. I loved the fact that we learn more about Elizabeth & her court during her later years; this approach is rarely taken. The supporting characters you mention all helped to increase my sense of the period & I was eager to hear yet another name. Even old Thomas Parry intrigued me! I reviewed this also on my site, & we are polar opposites on this one, which is fine; I wish you had enjoyed it more though!
Kimberly Eve said…
Thanks for stopping by and taking time to comment. Yes, it's true that we learn more about Elizabeth and her court during her later years. This approach, although true, is rarely done as you say, Alison Weir does this with her novel, 'The Lady in The Tower, The Fall of Anne Boleyn'- covering the year 1536.
I wish I could agree with you regarding the supporting characters but I am so happy for you that you enjoyed the novel so much. I read and enjoyed your review as well. I wish I enjoyed it more too!

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