ELIZABETH TUDOR: Portrait of a Queen by Lacey Baldwin Smith

ELIZABETH TUDOR: Portrait of a Queen

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Ultimately it was Gloriana's style that made the difference . . . like her father Elizabeth Tudor was a master of the art of kingship. . ."" Smith, whose fine Henry VIII (1971) offered a dynamic portrait of the king (""behind the facade of divine omnipotence . . . a rather timid and emotional man"") here follows the feints and thrusts, the retreats and prevarications of Elizabeth I to arrive at the core of a remarkable personality. Elizabeth, like her father, was fiercely protective of her throne, but more so than Henry, she had a firm sense of reality, and saw policy in human rather than abstract terms. She had tact and timing, knowing when to ""wink at treason and human fraility."" Smith reviews her actions--or frequently her deliberate inaction--in foreign and domestic matters. Rooted in the static certainty of dynastic legitimacy and in the knowledge that ""the throne spoke for God,"" she was not happy with change which explains in part her distrust of the Puritans and their libertarian ideas and her choice of conservative advisers. She disliked war because it cost money and she was not one to give undue power to the military. As for her famous hesitations, doubledealing and abrupt reversals, they were Elizabeth's means of protecting the throne. Yet even political instinct, extraordinary skill in expression and a fortunate confluence of circumstances would not alone have created her legend and success--""like the quality of grace (her success) is explicable but not describable."" And as Smith runs through the chronology of highpoints in the sovereign's career, a portrait emerges of a ""bespangled female of uncertain temper . . . of immense personal magnetism . . . who lived through four decades of rather shoddy history without forfeiting her glamour. . . ."" Not as dramatic a presentation as Henry VIII, but thoughtful, responsible and a further contribution to that school of historiography which views the past as a series of events forged from the genius of personality.

Pub Date: Oct. 30th, 1975
Publisher: Little, Brown