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ELIZABETH I by Wallace MacCaffrey

ELIZABETH I

By Wallace MacCaffrey

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-340-56167-X
Publisher: Routledge

 A mildly revisionist political biography of the last Tudor monarch. As presented by MacCaffrey (History/Harvard), the resolutely unsentimental Elizabeth I is less the indomitable, manifestly destined virago of English national myth than a wary practitioner of royal Realpolitik, gingerly testing the waters before plotting any course in the unpredictable seas of late Renaissance statecraft. In fact, given the conventional heroic picture of the Elizabethan Age, the Virgin Queen proves a surprisingly cautious, even timid, helmsperson here, loath to commit her authority to a consistent path in domestic politics or to expend her nation's slim human and material resources on overseas adventures. She appears as a compulsive consensus-builder always conscious of the fragility of her constituency and the challenges to her authority posed by her sex, the religious schisms still racking the English polity, and the constant intrigues of her Scottish cousin and rival, Mary Stuart. MacCaffrey organizes his study well, defining and dealing with each of the major political issues of Elizabeth's reign in turn--notably, the domestic religious situation, its international repercussions, and Elizabeth's interactions with Mary and the monarch's other rivals, suitors, and aspiring successors. In the author's convincing portrait, we see a political establishment in the throes of a sometimes uncertain transition between a waning feudalism and a nascent, still very uncertain, modernity. But the almost exclusively political focus here threatens to engulf its human subject in the sometimes bewildering machinations of Tudor diplomacy: MacCaffrey's speculations, for instance, that the spectacular theatricality of the Elizabethan court ``probably helped to fulfil the emotional needs of a lonely and isolated human being'' are an exception to his strict reliance on the documentary record. A solid, scholarly study that will please historians--but leave latter-day monarchists still searching for the human essence of the fascinating Elizabeth I. (Illustrations)