THE VIRGIN QUEEN by Christopher Hibbert


Elizabeth I, Genius of the Golden Age
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 A portrait of England's Queen Bess (1533-1603), which, despite its author's considerable storytelling skills, fails to demonstrate that she was central to England's ``golden age''-and fails to explain her character plausibly. Hibbert (The Days of the French Revolution, 1980; Rome, 1985; The American Revolution Through British Eyes, 1990 knows how to pace a narrative with well-chosen anecdotes and details that deftly summarize major figures (e.g., a memorably ugly French suitor of the queen have ``a nose so large as to appear to be worn as a joke''). He portrays both the public and private monarch in representative moments: riding horses, facing down Parliament and Spanish ambassadors, poring over finances, or speaking eloquently of her love for her subjects. In spite of the biography;s subtitle, this is no simplistic Anglophilic discussion of Queen Elizabeth. Yet, without a fuller discussion of the Tudor monarch's times, her special contribution to her country can't be understood. Moreover, the less attractive facets of this fiercely intelligent, charming queen-vanity, deceit, indecision-seem to come from a vacuum. Her constant disruptions of male expectations, her coquettishness and lifelong refusal to marry, all make little sense. One problem seems to be that her sexuality does not receive the sustained and careful attention given in Lytton Strachey's Elizabeth and Essex. Otherwise, the brilliance of the Elizabethan age seems disconnected from the ruler self-described as having ``the body of a weak and feeble woman, but...the heart and stomach of a king.'' A sharply observed biography that catches Elizabeth in all her complexity, but without a coherent vision of her character. (Sixty color and b&w illustrations.)

Pub Date: April 18th, 1991
ISBN: 0-201-15626-1
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Addison-Wesley
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1991


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