Alison Plowden's fourth volume on Elizabeth, an account of her reign from the defeat of the Armada until her death, is like its predecessors in providing detail without substance. The subtitle notwithstanding, Plowden, in common with everyone else, sees 1588 as the ""high noon"" of Elizabeth's reign; thereafter, though Elizabeth (age 55 in 1588) retained her physical vitality and mental agility, ""her world,"" platitudinously, ""was changing"": there would be no more great triumphs. We see little of that world here, however, beyond Elizabeth's court circle and her foreign connections--her embroilment with the rash, petulant young Earl of Essex, that is, and her running (or dragging-on) war with her old antagonist, Philip of Spain. But Essex, to Plowden, is simply a ""paranoid"" condemned to self-destruction; and since she also tiptoes around Elizabeth's passion for him, the account of their run-ins and stand-offs (to her final signing of his death warrant) is, while factually full, almost bare of drama. The detailed account of the successive forays against Spain serves to demonstrate, at least, that Elizabeth, ""unlike Walter Raleigh and his fire-eating friends,"" wanted not piecemeal triumphs, but ""a sensible, unexciting settlement of a foolish and wasteful quarrel."" Or perhaps, as Plowden subsequently suggests, her inability, as a woman, to ""take the field in person"" contributed to her dislike of war. Most of the rest--Elizabeth's vigorous suppression of the Puritan ""underground"" (and relative toleration of the less-dangerous Catholics), her adroit handling of Parliament, her disastrously misguided subjugation of Ireland--is unexceptionable but unremarkable: one can learn as much or more from a one-volume biography or a standard history. Plowden is a sedulous, if rather thin-blooded, champion of Elizabeth and a clear chronicler of events-modest recompense for an undemanding readership.