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Despite reading at least two books a week on my commute to and from work, I don't often write book reviews as I don't feel I can do these beautiful books any justice. However I decided to give myself a challenge and write a book review about one of my favourite topics, by one of my favourite authors. Alison Weir is a historian who mainly writes biographical accounts of British royalty. After reading a number of her non-fiction books, I decided to read her novels, one of which was The Lady Elizabeth, based on the life of Elizabeth I before her ascension to the throne.
=== Elizabeth I ===
Elizabeth I is one of the most well known and interesting figures in British history. From Cate Blanchett in the Oscar winning film Elizabeth to Miranda Richardson in Blackadder, Elizabeth has been widely portrayed in film and television and her life is well documented to the point that I felt I knew much about her rule as Queen of England. Through reading about the Tudors over the years I knew various scraps of information about Elizabeth's younger years but _The Lady Elizabeth_ gave me an opportunity to find out more about her childhood and upbringing which shaped her to become such a popular Queen.
Elizabeth I ruled England from 1558 until her death in 1603 and was the last of the Tudor monarchs. She ascended the throne and led the country to the 'reformed faith' after the death of her Catholic sister Queen Mary who burned thousands of heretics at the stake.
=== The Lady Elizabeth - the book ===
"England, 1536. Home to the greatest, most glittering court in English history. But beneath the dazzling façade lies treachery".
The Lady Elizabeth is split into three parts: 'The King's Daughter', 'The King's Sister' and 'The Queen's sister' which represent the different stages of Elizabeth's life under the rule of her father, brother and sister before she took the throne herself aged 25.
The book begins in 1536 with three year old Elizabeth declared a bastard after the execution of mother and facing her young life away from her father's court. Her sister Mary, also illegitimate, visits Elizabeth at Hatfield House to break the terrible news of her mother's death. Devastated at her loss, Elizabeth can't understand why she is suddenly treated so differently. "Why Governor, why is it that yesterday you called me Lady Princess and today Lady Elizabeth?" She is raised by a loyal household including her governess Lady Bryan who later leaves her to become the new governess to Elizabeth's younger brother, Prince Edward, the son of Henry and his new wife Jane Seymour. Kat Champernowne (later Astley) becomes her new governess and the two quickly form a relationship that will become the most important of Elizabeth's young life.
I enjoyed the way that Weir developed Elizabeth's relationship with Kat and how they bonded almost becoming like a mother and daughter. Weir keeps the early book historically accurate but does apply a bit of artistic licence to develop Elizabeth's character, including scenes between her and her household and the moment that Elizabeth decides she will not take a husband and that she will make her own decisions. Although the book is written as a third person account, we do get glimpses into Elizabeth's mind and way of seeing things. She appears childish but has a huge of understanding of what is going on in her world and the people around her.
Elizabeth spends little time with her father and his series of wives, however, aged 10 she is invited to court by her father and his new wife where she is made a chief lady in waiting to her stepmother Kathryn Parr with whom she bonds and becomes close to. As King Henry's health deteriorates Elizabeth and Edward are sent to Enfield where that same day they are told their father has died and that Edward is now King of England.
"It was a harsh lesson for one who was just fifteen years old".
This is where book two begins and for me the book begins to take an interesting turn. After her father's death Elizabeth is delighted to be invited to live with Kathryn Parr at Chelsea. Elizabeth enjoys living with Queen Kathryn, who has recently remarried, but finds her attraction towards her new husband Tom Seymour difficult to ignore. Their inappropriate behaviour around the house does not go unnoticed, especially by Kat who tries her best to put an end to it and also by Queen Katherine who does not want to acknowledge that it might be going too far. This is one of the most well documented parts of Elizabeth's younger years and there has always been speculation as to the extent of her relationship with Seymour. Weir, who up until this point has stuck to historical fact creates a story around this speculation which adds some drama to the novel. This part of the book reveals a lot of Elizabeth's character as she experiences desire, guilt and humility and is asked to leave the house.
In part three of the book, Elizabeth's sister Mary becomes Queen after Edward's premature death. It is one of the most trying times of her young life as she and her household are questioned for months over a plot which has been uncovered to overthrow Queen Mary and to instate Elizabeth as Queen of England. Elizabeth and her household were kept as prisoners in the Tower of London for eight weeks before her confinement at Woodstock Manor for a year. Mary is satisfied that Elizabeth is innocent although most of the Lords of the Court are convinced that she is part of the plot and make her life very difficult.
I loved the way that Weir tackled the relationship between the sisters and their rivalry, yet always maintaining that they loved and trusted each other. Their religious differences are central to the book and the death of Lady Jane Grey reveals how strongly Mary feels about her Catholic faith. Mary's character is explored in detail and contrary to the 'Bloody Mary' image in other books I've read, Weir portrays her as someone of deep faith, with a love for her sister and as a woman who desperately wants a husband and children. Despite the fact that I knew Lady Jane's fate, I was willing Mary not to sign the death warrant and right until her death was convinced she would change her mind!
=== The truth in the book? ===
Alison Weir is first and foremost a historian and most of her books are historical biographies of British royalty. Her books are more accurate historically compared with other authors who write in the same genre such as Philippa Gregory. However, Weir writes her author's notes that although most of the novel is based in fact, she has added extra bits of information where there are gaps in historical information. Elizabeth's 'affair' with Tom Seymour is widely speculated over but it is acknowledged amongst historians that there is some truth in the story and that there is evidence of some sort of relationship. Weir weaves a story into the book around this story from some gossip from the time that was never proved. I will not elaborate here as it could be seen as a spoiler for potential readers, however, Weir wanted to use the story to ask the reader 'what if' which as a historian she is normally unable to do. She even goes as far as to say that she herself believes the gossip to be untrue.
=== Where to buy and how much? ===
Alison Weir's books are all widely available in good book stores and online. I spent last weekend in the Lake District and the tiny bookshop I visited had a whole section dedicated to Tudor history with Alison Weir's books taking up most of the space! My copy of The Lady Elizabeth was bought from Amazon at £5.25 which seems to be the standard price. Second hand copies can be picked up cheaper on Ebay.
=== My thoughts ===
I have now read a lot of Alison Weir history books and enjoyed all of them. I thought her first novel Innocent Traitor was fantastic and couldn't wait to read The Lady Elizabeth. I loved that even though I knew that Elizabeth would become the Queen of England by the end of the book, I was kept in suspense and worried for her the whole way through! Weir states in the book that "for dramatic purposes, I have woven into my story a tale that goes against all my instincts as a historian!" She does this with great skill and where other authors could end up ruining the story by straying from the truth and creating a story, it adds a new dimension to the book and the character. There are many text books and biographies where you can read a more factual account about Elizabeth's early life, but this book really brings out her character and speculates 'what if?'. A lot of people compare Weir to Philippa Gregory who writes in a similar genre. I have read a lot of Gregory's books and have enjoyed them all but feel that Weir's books have more depth and more historically accurate which for me gives them more credibility. I love the way Weir has brought Elizabeth to life and given her a personality and opinions and the book has added to my knowledge of the period. As I mentioned earlier, Innocent Traitor, about the life of Lady Jane Grey was a great book and for me it was better than this one. However this doesn't stop me giving The Lady Elizabeth 4 stars out of 5. It comes recommended but with a warning; don't read it if you don't like historical fiction!
The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir
The setting is 1536 in the Tudor years of England. Elizabeth Tudor is the daughter to Henry VIII, one of the most famous and historically known kings of England, he at the end of his life is about to pass the throne onto one of his rightful heirs. However, this is not only a story of the ascension of Elizabeth the throne but of her earlier years when less is known about her life. The story follows Elizabeth from nothing more than a young girl, through her teenage years where even the future queen can be rebellious then into her adulthood. At each stage of her life Elizabeth had many enemies, sometimes more so than friends. The novel tells the story of Elizabeth's struggle to become one of the most historically renowned women of today, it is the story from her early childhood through to the moment she is rightfully crowned and we learn that her life was not an easy journey.
--The life of Elizabeth--
I am growing to be quite a fan of historical fiction, especially that which is set in the Tudor court of England. Alison Weir does a fantastic job of mixing enough historical detail into the plot that the story feels authentic but not stifled by historical accuracy. The novel starts with Elizabeth in her younger years, who is the child of one of the most powerful kings, but her life is far from easy. Her mother was Anne Boleyn who was executed for treason, and Elizabeth has to overcome many obstacles because of her birth right. Before she takes her place on the throne of England, we learn about her life and loves and her heartache. The novel is set before Elizabeth becomes Queen and I found it quite surprising all the hardship and difficulties that she had to endure. Without giving too much away this is a story that is beautifully written and tells the very complex journey of Elizabeth's life and fight, for not only survival in a treacherous world but the fight for her rightful place in history.
I really enjoyed reading this book; it is both well written and well researched. I would highly recommend reading this, especially if you enjoy historical fiction or are starting out looking for a book to read in this genre. I found this book very easy to read and had more trouble putting it down that picking it back up. Overall, this is a fantastic book with a great story about an inspiring historical character.
I quite happily give this one five out of five! A fantastic story.
A friend passed this book on to me saying I must read it, and to be honest it didn't really appeal to me but I thought I would give it a go ....... and am I glad I did???!!!
This story got me so hooked right from the very first page.
History has never been my strong point so even before the story began seeing the family tree of The Tudors gave me some understanding and even a sense of anticipation of what was about to come.
The book is divided into three parts; The King's Daughter, The King's Sister and part three The Queen's Sister. It starts in 1536 with Elizabeth not even three years old and finishes in 1558 just as she is made Queen.
The story is of Elizabeth before she became Queen. We learn about her childhood with no mother, a father who became a legend for his six wives and about the rest of her family. There were times when Elizabeth had to struggle for her survival and this helps to somewhat explain her character and how she became a great Queen.
Alison Weir has taught me more in 483 pages than any teacher in my school days and I truly feel a wiser person for reading this book. I am now reading "Innocent Traitor"and will continue with Weir until I have read her entire collection.
I enjoyed Alison Weir's first book so much I was very excited when this one was released. This novel really didn't disappoint. It it a brilliant read.
This novel examines the childhood and adolescense of the Virgin Queen culminating in her coronation. This novel offers a glimpse at the motherless childhood and adolescence of the Virgin Queen.
It is written in three sections: The King's daughter - details her formative years, including how she is demoted from being a princess early on. Even at the age three Weir depicts her convincingly asan astute and very intelligent woman. The King's Sister - examines her life after the death of her father during the brief reign of Edward, her younger brother. Finally, The Queen's Sister describes Elizabath's sucession to the throne.
I couldn't put this novel down. Her writing style is differeint to Philippa Gregory but not in a negative way. It is very concise, descriptive and captivating. I was hooked from page one. Given that this is a historical novel the story is predictable because it has already happened, despite this Weir keeps you hanging on every word, interested in the developments and she evokes an overwhelming sense of suspense. You really feel for Elizabeth when she is banished by Mary, you really get into the character's emotions and feel the strength of the woman behind the Queen.
It is colourful and vivid n description, accurately reflecting the vibrancy of court. When Elizbth is supressed by the men you really feel the strength of her words and her conviction in herself.
Weir s a historian by trade so writing historical fiction is a bold move but she is natural at it. She brings to life an old story, breathes oxygen into it, makes history come alive in a refreshing and innovtive way.
I couldn't put it down and I can't reccomend this book more highly to anyone with a remote interest in historical novels.
I'm a huge fan of history - both factual books and historical fiction, but somehow Alison Weir passed under my radar somewhat. It wasn't until I saw this book, 'The Lady Elizabeth' on my mums coffee table and decided to borrow it that I'd read any of her works.
Having done a little research into her (love wikipedia!) I cans see that she has published numerous factual accounts of historical events, and that this book is her second foray into historical fiction .
This book covers Elizabeth's life from when she is three, and informed of her mothers execution by beheading on the charge of adultery, until the moment she learns that she is Queen . We therefore get a detailed account of her earlier life, a life that perhaps we don't know as much about, seeing as she was so rarely a figure at court .Before I go too much into the book, I'll point out that Alison Weir does mention she has used a fair bit of artistic licence in filling in some of the gaps of Elizabeth's younger years.
As mentioned, the book begins when Elizabeth is a mere toddler, and is written., at least at the start, in small sections that pop in and out of Elizabeths life at turning points in her childhood - her mothers death, her fathers many marriages (and seperations) after that, and her relationships with her elder sister Mary (daughter of Katherine of Aragon) and younger brother Edward. It also deals briefly with issues of faith, which of course were hotly debated at the time. At the start of the book, one of the things that utterly charmed me was small passages that allowed us into the mind of the young Elizabeth, giving us a chance to truly see her as a child with a lot going on around her that she wouldn't have understood . We get to see into her child mind, something we do not get with dry factual accounts, and I have to confess that in the earlier chapters of the book, I found myself giggling, especially at the following passage :
'Why would her father want to mount the French ladies ? That was what you did to horses - you mounted them .........she was too busy trying to imagine her father riding the French ladies,much as she would ride her hobby horse, round and round Calais. The images this conjured up made her giggle under her breath - adults did the silliest things!'
Its also nice to get a glimpse into Elizabeths early relationships with Kat Astley and Blanche Parry, characters who also have featured in many accounts of her older life that I have read . It really is refreshing to get an in depth glance into their characters , especially Kat who comes across as really quite silly and naïve, yet genuinely caring towards Elizabeth.
As the book progresses, we also get brief introductions to all of Henrys wives, although the only ones that make a big impact on the story are Katherine Parr, and to a lesser extent, Anna of Cleves . Elizabeth's well documented flirtation with Thomas Seymour, the husband of Katherine Parr, is delved into in this story, although I do feel the certainly some guesswork has gone into this element of the story - not that this is a problem, as to be honest, nobody really knows what happened then!
We get to see the breakdown in relationship between Mary and Elizabeth over religious issues, and the way Elizabeth unfortunately had her name dragged through the mud with every plot against her sister - whether she was involved in these plots or not, she was certainly a rallying point for protestant England.
It's odd, but despite me knowing exactly how thing turn out at the end ( we all know Elizabeth got safely through her sisters reign and became Queen) the book still managed to be exciting and suspenseful - and that is the sign of a good historical writer, to keep you guessing in spite of your own knowledge . There were some unnecessary scenes in the book - whilst I felt the scenes with Elizabeth's mothers ghost were a bit far-fetched, they did add a certain amount of sentimental vulnerability to her character .
Overall, I very much enjoyed this book - the writing flowed effortlessly from one event to another, maturing as Elizabeth herself got older, and perfectly capturing the atmosphere of fear and tension in which Elizabeth must have lived most of her life. It was fast paced and exiting, without feeling rushed, and I couldn't put it down!
5 stars .
As an avid fan of all things Tudor, The Lady Elizabeth was an obvious read for me. Although I have read a lot about Elizabeth I, this book intrigued me as it covers her life BEFORE she became Queen; the part of her life which in my opinion isn't covered in enough detail in most books about her.
The book is split into sections, covering the different parts of her childhood - from being a bastard, to a King's daughter and finally sections covering when she is the King/Queen's sister. The sections seem to be divided fairly evenly, depending on events that occured during this time - including Elizabeth's "scandal" with Thomas Seymour, and her imprisonment during Mary's reign.
Unlike most historical books, Alison Weir has written this as more a novel than an account, as she admits in her historical note. She makes use of rumours surrounding Elizabeth's relationship with Thomas Seymour, and also uses artistic licence to fill in blanks about the Princess' childhood. However, I found this to work quite well and add to the story. She has used historical sources for The Lady Elizabeth, and only appears to veer from fact on those two occasions.
I enjoyed discovering that until Mary's reign and due to the matter of religion the sister's had a great friendship and seemed to care a lot for each other - a new light on the relationship that has always seemed fraught. I feel that Elizabeth seeing apparations of her mother was a part of the book that was not necessary as it veered too far from fact and seemed to have no real need to be mentioned.
At almost 500 pages, it is a very good length for a book and written in a very readable style - so no confusion over events or people. I found it was quite a leisurely read; extremely hard to put down, and perfect for a long Sunday afternoon.
The Lady Elizabeth begins, well, at the beginning of her life just after the execution of her mother and ends as she is pronounced Queen. This leads on to Alison Weir's previous novel, Elizabeth the Queen.
I have recently finished reading The Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir and thought it was extremely hence the reason why I sought out to get The Lady Elizabeth. Sadly I feel that I am a little disappointed with it.
I've always been interested in the tudors so naturally Elizabeth I has always been a keen figure to read up on. This book features her life from that of her Mothers (Anne Boleyn) execution, to the death of her elder step sister Mary and onto her becoming Queen of England.
The book initially starts in 1536, where Anne Boleyn was beheaded. At the time Elizabeth was only 3 years old and has suddenly been renounced as a bastard overnight. Anne Weir already hints at how intelligent and able she is to pick up on things when Sir John Shelton calls her The Lady Elizabeth, rather than The Lady Princess which he had said only the day before. It's clear to her that something is not right. There aren't many fictional books out there where you get the chance to imagine what her reactions might of been, or as to how the news of her Mothers' death affected her, but this I believe sets her aside as being just a little girl. Albeit a clever one.
At first I admit that I liked the way Elizabeth was portrayed as a young girl but then later on, as she was becoming a teenager, the way she 'acts' makes me think otherwise. It wasn't until a lot later on in this book that I picked up on the possible grudge being held against her by Mary. At the beginning it's all 'sweeting' and 'dearest sister'and there's nothing there which suggests that Mary feels a coldness towards her as it was Elizabeths Mother who pushed Katherine out of the way and reduced her to becoming a bastard.
About half way through the book the princess Mary, soon to be known as Bloody Mary due to the burning and killing of protestants, becomes Queen. I do feel a bit sorry for her despite everything as it is noted early on that all she wants was a husband and children. Due to the fact that Elizabeth is so young and more or less everything she is not we see a jealous streak in the monarch as she basically imprisons her in the tower and at Woodstock. With the possiblilty of death hanging around you can feel a sense of sympathy towards her.
Throughout this, you see the blooming relationship between Kat, Elizabeths governess, and Elizabeth herself. The fact that Elizabeth was indeed close to her last step mother puts a new show on the fact that we also read about a jealous streak in Kat as well. Indeed a lot of this book seems to show jealousy between a lot of the people surrounding Elizabeths life.
Alison Weir also delves into the rumours about Thomas Seymour and the supposed Virgin Queen. Whether or not the affair really happened I suppose we will never truely know, but it was just interesting that it was featured.
Weir goes into great detail when describing the gowns and jewellery that Elizabeth loved to wear and I can just imagine the clothes by words alone. She also is constantly writing it seems, about her love of candied fruits. Yes, I think most people know that Elizabeth had a sweet tooth. It just didn't need to be mentioned that much.
The main problem I had with this, is that maybe it is just a little bit too long for me. At 487 pages it's a bit hefty and yes there is a lot of information that has to go into it, but I felt that the point could of been made using a lot less words!
You can get this for about £9 from Amazon at the moment, which is pretty good value for what you're getting. To me, it's more about the facts which are pressed upon you, rather than getting it a fictional style way.
I have read a few of historian Alison Weir's non-fiction books and thoroughly enjoyed her debut fiction novel, Innocent Traitor, which wove its tale around the tragic story of Lady Jane Grey. When I glimpsed a second Alison Weir novel in the library last week, The Lady Elizabeth, I knew I wanted to read it straight away.
I am not the quickest reader in the world, but I found this novel so interesting and enthralling that I managed to get through this thick 483 page hardback in just under a week. I found myself dipping into it when I had a few minutes to spare, I read long and hard through the night and took it into the bath with me. I couldn't seem to put the book down.
The Lady Elizabeth tells the true story of Queen Elizabeth I from the point of the execution of her mother, Anne Boleyn, when she was just three years old right up to the moment of her succession to the English throne following the death of her elder half sister the Queen Mary. What Alison Weir has done is cleverly picked out the pivotal moments in young Lady Elizabeth's life and based her story around these, giving a real voice to this extremely important English historical character.
I found Lady Elizabeth to be a very educated and clever woman; her intelligence was known throughout Europe in her lifetime and the author has made much of this in her story making the reader look upon this young princess with an element of awe. I doubt she would have survived her teenage years without her amazing wit and intelligence, certainly older and wiser people would have liked to have seen her face the same death as her mother and from this book I understand that it is only the fact that she was able to outwit them that she lived long enough to take her crown.
I felt myself warming to Lady Elizabeth right from the outset, and I think this was achieved because the first few pages dealt with her as a toddler with Princess Mary breaking the news of her mother's death. The child was so distraught and vulnerable that from here on in I felt she needed protecting as her fragility and loss is uncovered early on. I thought this was a clever move from Alison Weir as she gave her character real emotions so early on in the story that I could watch Elizabeth growing mentally as the book went along.
Princess Mary, later to become the fervent burner of Protestants resulting in the nickname Bloody Mary, features quite heavily in the book. As she becomes Queen roughly halfway through the story, much of Elizabeth's day to day life revolves around the whims and laws of a prematurely aging Queen who has led a miserable and pious existence since the ousting of her mother, Queen Catherine of Aragon, by Anne Boleyn.
Although Mary is kind and motherly to Elizabeth as a child, as she grows up and starts to assert her own authority as heir to the throne Mary begins to feel threatened by her more vibrant and much more desirable younger sister. This results in a long spell in seclusion both in the Tower, under constant threat of death, and at Woodstock House for the Lady Elizabeth. It is during these times that Alison Weir gathers our sympathy and grudging love for this piteous yet spirited young lady, I could feel her anger at being cooped up with snobbish Lords to keep an eye on her and sensed boredom in her every action.
I was surprised that the author made much of a suspected miscarriage that the Virgin Queen had aged 14 years; the child is widely believed to have been the result of a brief flirtation with Admiral Thomas Seymour, then husband to Queen Katherine Parr, and I found myself hating this dashing noble for his blatant misuse of Elizabeth at such a tender age. No-one is quite sure if Lady Elizabeth really did dishonour herself with the Admiral, but this miscarriage certainly added a depth of character to Elizabeth and shaped her later desire to remain unmarried and untouched by any man.
The relationship between the Lady Elizabeth and Kat Champernowne, later to become Kat Astley, was beautiful to read. That a high ranking noblewoman like Elizabeth should feel such warmth and love for her lowly governess was unheard of in those times, but these two women had a firm bond which stretched beyond friendship with Kat becoming almost a mother to the girl. She was determined from the outset to enlighten Elizabeth about her much admired mother, daring to inform the girl that common opinion was that Anne Boleyn was innocent of the crimes she was put to death for. This was traitorous talk in those tumultuous times so Kat showed great bravery and loyalty to Lady Elizabeth to discuss her mother in these kind terms.
I found this book to be dramatic, exciting and true to the events I am aware of really happening in the life of Lady Elizabeth. The author brought her to life for me and made me hope for the very best outcome for her, I found myself sympathising with her during a crisis and willing her on when it came to times of joy. Alison Weir writes extremely passionately about Elizabeth and has an rapport with this long dead woman that almost makes me believe I am reading about someone who lived much more recently.
Her vivid and colourful descriptions of the sumptuous royal palaces and stately homes are truly wonderful and I could picture the various players in this tale walking through the castle gardens, or winding their way to the scaffold for their imminent execution. I also enjoyed the descriptions of the dress of the time and again could picture Elizabeth in her maidenly white gown, while Mary dressed in the more ornate Catholic style with rich fabrics threaded through with hundreds of tiny precious stones.
I truth I cannot fault a single word in this novel. Alison Weir has fleshed out the myths surrounding Queen Elizabeth and produced a well rounded, unbiased and thoroughly enjoyable book.
I loved this book so much that despite borrowing it from the library I have just ordered myself a hardback copy from Waterstone's which cost a very reasonable £7.79. It will not only look fantastic on my bookcase but also I think will be a novel that I will refer to time and again.
Alison Weir was already one of Britain's most popular historians when she wrote her first novel, Innocent Traitor, which stormed the Sunday Times bestseller list to a chorus of praise. Now, in her second novel, Alison Weir goes to the heart of Tudor England at its most dangerous and faction-riven in telling the story of Elizabeth I before she became queen. The towering capricious figure of Henry VIII dominates her childhood, but others play powerful roles: Mary, first a loving sister, then as queen a lethal threat; Edward, the rigid and sad little King; Thomas Seymour, the Lord High Admiral, whose ambitions, both political and sexual, are unbridled. And, an ever-present ghost, the enigmatic, seductive figure of her mother Anne Boleyn, executed by Henry, whose story Elizabeth must unravel. Elizabeth learns early that the adult world contains many threats that have to be negotiated if she is to keep her heart and her head.