Elizabeth 1- Margaret George

Radhika, who is a school-time friend of mine, was staying with me in Bangalore for a few days with her hubby and totally adorable daughter and before leaving she took me to a book shop and asked me to pick a gift for myself. Now, that is just the kind of choice that I love. Since I read real fast it is imperative for me to find books that are thick and preferably with miniscule print to last at least a week.  I walked all over the aisles choosing and discarding, unable to decide until I found this mammoth book at the discount section that seemed to meet all the criteria for the day. I mean even if you know you aren’t going to be paying for it, you can’t really be mean enough or greedy enough to totally disregard the cost.

The best way to describe this book is a fictionalized account of Queen Elizabeth I’s last few years decades of  reign. Strictly speaking, I don’t like history unless its in the pictorial form of Amar Chitra Katha; but now that I have grown up and should be developing an intellectually broader range of reading I have decided to enrich myself with fictionalized versions of history. I like facts mixed with some dialogue thrown in. Makes it easier to remember.

It was interesting reading about the reign from two perspectives – one of the Queen herself and one from that of Lady Essex or Lettice who was the queen’s cousin. Reading this book immediately after Wolf Hall lent a sort of continuity to the characters and made it easier to follow the convoluted relationships and religious upheaval of the newly protestant England. Though Margaret George wrote a book that’s easier to understand and follow.

The story begins in 1588, in the 30th year of her reign, with Rome trying to throw her over and re-establish a Catholic  monarchy in England. In itself it seems no mean feat that a woman managed to rule a country so many years ago for such an extended period of time. She comes across as a prudent and economical ruler even if a little prone to the charm of a handsome man. Apart from her very great diplomatic skills, I believe she was a very lucky lady indeed. When the Spanish Armada attacked them the wind favored the English ships not once but twice, wrecking their adversaries ships and filling up their sails with speed to follow and capture. The Earl of Essex, who could have assassinated her in her bath did not do so and instead was imprisoned himself. She has an extraordinary spy master who managed to uncover plots against her and the throne time and again to ensure her survival. She had loyal friends and  confidantes who served her for almost her entire tenure as Queen, protecting her and providing support when she needed it. Yes, she was a lucky lady.

I also, liked the references to Shakespeare, and his plays and the success and patronage he enjoyed in London. After reading this book it is impossible to forget that Shakespeare was alive in early 1600’s and had two children and a wife 8  years older to him and a brother as well.  Somehow, icons seem to have no life other than the one their sphere of expertise.

On reading Henry VIII , it seems all he ever did was run around after women either trying to marry them or divorce them or just plain trying to get them into his bed whereas Elizabeth seems to have gone to the other end of the spectrum going through her reign as the ‘Virgin’ princess.

Yes, the book is extremely interesting and illuminating for other non-history buffs like me to get acquainted with the life and times of the  Virgin Queen of England.

The best part of this book is of course the first page with  a note from Radhika and  I was wondering about when I am old and gone and this book finds its way to a second hand bookshop, some nosy kid like me will open it and wonder at who we were and what was the memorable week about.

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