Miss Luke explored Elizabeth's deprived and most hazardous childhood and youth in the lively A Crown for Elizabeth (1971); here she refers to those years as a training ground in tightrope strategy, and a source of object lessons in the dangerous extremities of power plays and the fate of women married to Princes. To the remarkably intelligent and shrewd Princess Elizabeth, the Crown meant release -- no longer the victim, she was free. However, she felt fiercely responsible for all the Crown represented, all that was hers -- the State, the land, and, above all, the people, whose adulation was as necessary as air and food. The author follows Elizabeth through the major political crises -- the Northern disturbances, Irish and Scottish troubles, feints and thrusts with France, Spain and the Pope. Elizabeth's manipulative politics -- playing one sector against another as she spotted the loci of power swings -- kept the country out of major wars. Her nagging parsimony held the treasury above the low water mark and she eased to a large extent domestic religious conflict. All of Elizabeth's more memorable methods and embroilments Luke sees as proceeding from a passion for the sanctity of England's throne: she did delay decisions, but often this invited hitherto unconsidered solutions; she did love Dudley and wanted to marry him (from Essex and Raleigh she de, manded everything, gave little) but she was not averse to using him as a pawn in negotiations with Spain; and although she was loath to execute Mary Queen of Scots -- another Queen -- Mary's feckless involvement in plots forced the death warrant. (Luke's insistence on Elizabeth's subsequent grief is not completely convincing in light of her previous estimate of Elizabeth's skill at public gestures and posturing.) To be sure, other personalities in this biography dim beside the spotlighted Gloriana, but few will be tempted to wander from stage center. Empathic and completely engrossing.