The life of ""Good Queen Bess"" is realistically retold in this finely crafted, illustrated biography from Thomas (Celebration!, 1997, etc.). This compelling account begins, necessarily, before Elizabeth's birth, and covers the stormy reign of her father, Henry VIII (he had four wives within her first six years); her religious persecution and imprisonment during the reign of her half-sister Mary I; and the birth of the Elizabethan Age during her own reign. Readers who assume princesses know no pain will be amazed by the personal losses Elizabeth suffered--her mother (Anne Boleyn) was beheaded when the child was not yet three, and she was subsequently disinherited. Indeed, the path to her throne in 1559 seems to have been forged by circumstance as well as her own cunning. Once coronated, this proto-feminist declared that she would never marry, despite her love for courtier Robert Dudley, knowing that any spouse would become her ruler as well as the country's. Always aware of public opinion, Elizabeth stayed in her people's good graces, casting herself as the Virgin Queen, joining her soldiers on the front lines when the Spanish threatened invasion, and financing wars with her own funds. Thomas composes a complicated, wholly human picture of Elizabeth, but also makes clear how she remains one of Britain's most beloved figures. An inset of full-color reproductions of portraits completes this rewarding volume.