I am fascinated by all things Elizabethan and I admire Elizabeth, as a strong woman and leader. I lap up any documentaries, TV series, films and books about her. So when I saw Elizabeth I and Her Circle by Susan Doran for offer; I just had to request it.
The majority of the book looks at the advisors that Elizabeth chose to surround herself with. Those I had heard of before were Sir William Cecil, the Lord Burghley, Sir Francis Walsingham, and Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. While those I knew little of were Sir Christopher Hatton, Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex and Sir Robert Cecil, 2nd son of Sir William Cecil. While she had her ups and downs with them all, ultimately she appears to have been a good judge of character. Choosing knowledgeable men who cared for her and the country. Not just for their looks; as she has been accused of. Robert Dudley, again for me, came out as a more sympathetic character, than previous histories and portrayals have made him out to be.
Sadly as there is little written proof, i.e. letters, there is only a small proportion of this book given over to the ladies who waited on Elizabeth. They had intimate access to Elizabeth, many were kinswomen on the Boleyn side, and also many stayed with her their whole lives, even after they married. Elizabeth was known to have a terrible temper, like her father, but she is perhaps not the tyrant to her ladies as she is often portrayed. She didn’t refuse them to marry. In fact she bestowed gifts and privileges on many of her ladies and their spouses. Her wrath was only incurred when a lady married without permission, secretively and below their station; which incidentally were all against the law anyway.
This is packed with so much interesting information that I couldn’t possibly discuss it all here. I also don’t want to give too much away; in case of spoilers. I know talking about spoilers in a non-fiction review sounds a little silly, but this was as gripping for me as reading a novel. I found it very hard to put down! I haven’t read anything by Susan Doran before. I am pleased I took a punt and requested this. I thought it was well written and researched, with a great use of letters for proof and reference. At first I found the letters difficult to read. However once I got used to the fact Elizabethan’s spell phonetically and follow no standard rule; I was fine. In fact the letters made the information feel more real and present, which really helped to capture my imagination.
Elizabeth I and Her Circle is a fascinating read, which I highly recommend to those who are interested in English and Elizabethan history. Great read.
Thank you to Oxford University Press for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.
Have you read this? Do like reading about Elizabeth I? Do you know if Susan Doran has written any other histories?