By John Guy
$35, 512 pages
We can't get enough of the Tudors. Despite the centuries that have passed, the clan that began with Henry VII and ended with Elizabeth I continues to command legions of loyal subjects, from BBC watchers and biography buffs to fans of historical fiction.
Those whose fealty lies with Elizabeth I (1533-1603) should procure John Guy's new book anon. The first substantial narrative to deeply explore the latter decades of her reign, Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years zooms in on a critical period in Tudor history, providing a fascinating close-up of an aging queen taking her final turn upon the world stage. During this crucial, conclusive epoch in Elizabeth's 44year rule, many of her most trusted advisors died, and she faced a protracted war with Spain. She also reckoned uneasily with her own mortality, as her physical charms and health both waned.
In researching the book, Guy had access to a trove of largely unexplored archival material, and his narrative corrects a number of inaccuracies circulated by the queen's previous chroniclers. The conception of Elizabeth as accessible and merciful--as "Good Queen Bess"--is one such fiction Guy deflates, noting that she lived in splendor while plague and a poor economy crippled her country, a state of affairs that aroused in her subjects resentment rather than adoration. Toward the end, Guy writes, to her people, Elizabeth was "a distant image or just a name."
In her majesty's orbit during these years were dashing, impetuous adventurers Walter Raleigh and Robert Devereux, who sought their fortunes at sea and in war. Their romanctic exploits during a time of political instability, when the question of Elizabeth's successor was unresolved, make the book a bit of a nail-biter.
Guy, winner of the Whitbread Award for Queen of Scots (2005), has produced a book in which Elizabeth's royal presence is palpable. Tudorists, take heed: This fresh consideration of the queen--a woman by turns valiant and vulnerable, jealous and generous, unapproachable and compassionate--at the finis of her rule is a rousingly good read.