Fields (Shylock: His Own Story, 2015, etc.) tackles the knowns and unknowns of England’s Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) in this work of history.
Elizabeth I, aka “Gloriana” and “the Virgin Queen,” was a colorful figure at the center of an eventful period in English history who still manages to stimulate the popular imagination more than 400 years after her death. This wide-ranging biography’s first section is a breathless account that spans the entire Tudor dynasty from the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 to the ascension of James I in 1603, with the requisite reiteration of Elizabeth’s rise to power, her completion of England’s break from the Catholic Church, the war with Spain, and her constantly evolving entourage of advisers, favorites, and paramours. The second section of the book, “Elizabethan Enigmas,” is organized by topic as Fields delves into the curios of Elizabeth’s life. Was she truly a virgin? Did she sanction the murder of the wife of nobleman Robert Dudley? What were her true thoughts on Catholicism? In other chapters, such as “Duplicity,” “Miserliness,” and “Piracy and Worse,” Fields introduces readers to aspects of the queen that they may not have heard before. The concision and comprehensiveness of the first section are impressive, and its brevity and quick pacing keep it from getting bogged down in minutiae the way that biographies of monarchs often do. Fields’ true interest seems to lie in the second section’s subject matter, though, and his enthusiasm is infectious. Without humoring outright conspiracy theories—he dismisses the idea that she wrote Shakespeare’s plays with the terse statement, “She did write well; but not that well”—Fields finds plenty of intrigues to challenge conventional notions of the queen. Twelve beautiful, full-color portraits from the National Portrait Gallery in London and a timeline of the queen’s life round out this volume. Its 450-plus pages belie what a quick read it actually is, making it a perfect primer for those interested in the “Good Queen Bess” but who may be intimidated by some of the longer tomes available.
A comprehensive and unusual look at England’s most famous queen.