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I'd had this big book on Elizabeth I sitting on the shelves looking at me for some time, but when I eventually picked it up at the end of last month I realised that it is actually four separate books inside a single cover - Young Elizabeth (1971), Danger to Elizabeth (1973), Marriage with My Kingdom: The Courtships of Queen Elizabeth I (1977) and Elizabeth Regina (1980), all slightly updated in 2004 (so references to the horrors of the twentieth century have been updated to the horrors of the twenty-first).

The standout book for me, with a lot of material I hadn't really considered before, was the second, Danger to Elizabeth, which looked mainly at the relationship between Elizabeth and English Catholics, and gives quite a substantial and detailed description of Catholic operations inside England - largely a matter of attempting to service the spiritual needs of the recusant community, though of course often tangled up with the high politics of attempted regime change and foreign sponsorship. Plowden makes what seems to me an honest effort to disentangle these strands and to tell it from the perspective of both Catholics and the government; it also of course is a very important element of the Elizabethan approach to Ireland, where religion became integral to the conflict during Elizabeth's reign in a way that had not been the case before.

The first and fourth books, Young Elizabeth and Elizabeth Regina, cover the start and end of Elizabeth's life; decent enough retellings, but I've read better elsewhere, and I was a bit shocked that Plowden assigns some blame to Elizabeth for the abuse she suffered from her stepfather as a teenager. I guess attitudes were different in 1970.

The third book, Marriage with My Kingdom, is an interesting example of writing about something that never happened, Elizabeth's marriage. Plowden takes a decently comprehensive approach to the various suitors proposed for her, starting from her childhood as a marriageable princess (or alternatively a bastard daughter of Henry VIII depending on the year) and going right through to the Duke of Alençon in her late 40s. As noted above, Plowden doesn't quite take on board the importance of Elizabeth's teenage experiences in shaping her attitude toward sexuality and relationships, preferring to concentrate on what had happened to her mother and sister (one executed, the other trapped into a loveless and unsuccessful dynastic match). Sexuality is a complex thing and one can hardly blame Elizabeth for rejecting the narrow options which were made available to her if they were not right for her.

I also found myself wondering was why no foreign Protestant suitors ever got a look-in - Eric XIV of Sweden seems to have been a serious contender at one point, but Plowden minimises this, and there were surely other eligible Scandinavian, German or Central European princes who were the right age and religion. Yet it seems to have been only Hapsburgs or French princes who were under consideration. (And Robert Dudley of course.)

Anyway, good background reading, particularly the second book.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 7th, 2012 03:34 pm (UTC)
It depends on who was looking and writing. The dramatic presentation of the time--Elizabeth R on PBS did address all of those elements--and there is a lovely scene where she admits to be horrified that she will die in childbirth.
Jul. 10th, 2012 02:21 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure 'stepfather' is the right word for Thomas Seymour, though he was married to Elizabeth's former stepmother, and brother of another of her former stepmothers of course. Foster father, perhaps, in modern terms?
Jul. 11th, 2012 07:00 am (UTC)
I refer to the husbands of my wife's sisters as my brothers-in-law; Seymour was linked to Elizabeth's birth parents by a marital relationship, so I think "step-father" captures what was going on!
Jul. 12th, 2012 03:39 pm (UTC)
Indeed, the earlier (and closer) link was when he was Henry's brother in law, so actually 'uncle' might be the more appropriate term - he was after all her half-brother's uncle by blood. Marrying Henry's widow introduces some ambiguity, admittedly.

I'm also not clear as to whether Elizabeth living with the Seymours would have been seen as akin to a parental relationship at the time - Lady Jane Grey was already living in the household, and her parents were still alive. They seem to have been operating as a sort of finishing school.
Jul. 15th, 2012 12:25 pm (UTC)
It seems to me that marrying her stepmother is a more direct relationship than your sister having been also briefly stepmother ten years earlier. In any case he was the male head of the household in which Elizabeth was living, so the relationship is at least that of foster-father rather than uncle, and as I said above stepfather is good enough shorthand for me.
Jul. 13th, 2012 01:15 pm (UTC)
I find the question about the absence of foreign Protestant suitors an interesting one - I think I have most of a plausible answer to it, but some points in the answer involve quite a bit of background comparison or explanation.

The short answer is that, according to Wikipedia, Frederick II of Denmark was also a suitor at one point - but that otherwise there were almost no unquestionably eligible foreign Protestants. I admit that this last statement needs a lot of unpacking (including looking at and arguing through some apparent possibilities), and would even then be open to disagreement - I may try it sometime on my own LJ, but will have to leave it for now. The one point I can add here is that Elizabeth's room for manoeuvre on this will have been limited by her dubious legitimacy - a more secure monarch could have risked a slightly questionable marriage, but Elizabeth probably could not.
Jul. 15th, 2012 12:27 pm (UTC)
Hmm, I appreciate that more unpacking may be necessary, but some of the proposed Habsburg or French suitors were a pretty far stretch - were there really so few Protestants in similar situations?

And, Habsburgs apart, are there ever any German princelings mentioned in this context at all?
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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