Monday, April 1, 2013

Elizabeth & Leicester: Power, Passion, Politics review

Sarah Gristwood seems to really have found her "voice" in Elizabeth & Leicester: Power, Passion, Politics - her third published biography. Richly detailed without being overwhelming or getting bogged down with the details, Gristwood writes an excellent account of the relationship between Elizabeth I and her longtime favorite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. The story is engaging with details that I, as someone who reads about Tudor historical figures regularly, was unaware of and that round out a well known story.

Solid research and wonderful use of original source material quotes surrounded by vivid details and judicious use of humor turns a historical documentation into something that could almost be a political romance - if we didn't all know exactly how it ended before ever picking up the book. To me the most brilliant history texts are the ones that make me feel almost like I'm reading a novel and Elizabeth & Leicester: Power, Passion, Politics does a very good job of this without losing the factual nature of the book.

Throughout the years, there have been many fictionalized portrayals of Elizabeth I and the events and people of her reign. Gristwood doesn't ignore these as many historians might - instead she directly addresses many of the most popular and brilliantly juxtaposes them next to the historical record without judgement for their fictionalized nature.

With Elizabeth & Leicester: Power, Passion, Politics, Gristwood has moved right up next to Alison Weir on my history author list. I'll definitely be reading her next biographical offering.


Few relationships fire our imagination like that of Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leicester, Robert Dudley - the love affair immortalized in Philippa Gregory's The Virgin's Lover - but nearly fifty years have passed since a book has been dedicated solely to their lifelong love.

Soon after Elizabeth became queen she scandalized the royal court with her passionate obsession with the married Robert Dudley. When Dudley's wife mysteriously died two years later, there was rampant speculation that Elizabeth and Dudley would marry. Instead, over the next decades they formed a working partnership and an intimate bond of mutual dependence. Robert advised Elizabeth, serving as her counselor, unofficial consort, and army commander. He guarded her sickbed and represented her on state occasions. But despite her devotion, Elizabeth humiliated him, made him act as a go-between with her other suitors, and tried to imprison him when he finally remarried. Fueled by scandal and intrigue, this royal relationship was never dull.

Elizabeth & Leicester is an intimate, startling portrait of two people who transformed their age. For those who adore reading about the royals and the many fans of the Emmy Award- winning miniseries Elizabeth I and feature film Elizabeth, this is a story of enduring love that continues to speak to us today.

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