This book was exactly the kind of biography of Elizabeth I that I wanted to read. It doesn’t deal with the tired subject of Elizabeth’s sex life which I find utterly uninteresting. Instead it discusses her image as a Renaissance Prince that is a modern politician rather than a Medieval ruler.
Hilton uses this biography as a means to discuss an idea of Elizabeth rather than as a record of her life. It is the kind of biography I really enjoy much like Mad World as a biography of Evelyn Waugh. Told chronologically it follows the key events of Elizabeth’s life that show her to be a shrewd politician rather than as the romantic image of Gloriana. From the uncertain beginning of her life as an illegitimate child of Henry VIII we see how Elizabeth learnt the crucial necessity of self preservation. We see how the sexual indiscretion with Thomas Seymour nearly cost Elizabeth her life and how she learnt the importance of self image and reputation. From learning her past we she how her opinions are shaped and as a result can better understand the mythical being that Elizabeth I came to be.
I felt as if the very first chapter of this book were a test for the reader to overcome. It felt as if it was there to put off anybody who had accidentally picked up this book in the hopes of reading a conspiracy theory about how Elizabeth was secretly a man. In fact much to my pleasure Hilton frequently throughout the book dismisses many of the more far fetched myths about Elizabeth that seem to have crept in to the public conciousness. She is very discerning about Elizabeth’s relationship with her mother, something which is always romanticised and infuriates me, and she does a brilliant job of clarifying the relationships Elizabeth had with her many suitors. I understand much more about the rituals of courtly love and their political importance as a result of Elizabeth Renaissance Prince, Lisa Hilton really manages to portray the heighten emotional state of the Elizabethan court. It makes for very refreshing reading.
I will admit at times that this book did get a little too heavy for me. I am pretty good at ploughing through books I don’t like and I really had to push about halfway through this one. There are lots of references to classical images that I didn’t fully understand. Crucial to Elizabeth’s political appearance were references to figures from antiquity and knowing nothing about ancient history made it very difficult to follow. Perhaps just a footnote every now and then explaining some of the more obscure and intertwining myths would have made all the difference.
On the whole I am really impressed with this book. It has been incredibly useful in terms of my dissertation and I was able to enjoy parts of it like I would fiction.
Would recommend to: anyone looking for a new perspective on the Virgin Queen.