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Richards, Judith M., Elizabeth I.

Richards, Judith M., Elizabeth I (Routledge Historical Biographies), London, Routledge, 2012; paperback; pp. 220; 10 b/w illustrations; R.R.P. 16.99 [pounds sterling]; ISBN 9780415481571.

Judith Richards's concise biography of Queen Elizabeth I offers a fresh perspective, in comparison to the many lengthy, speculative accounts promoting a powerful monarch. Richards sticks to the historical facts rather than glamorising a troubled queen. The Introduction details Richards's aim to challenge the myths surrounding Elizabeth's apparently straightforward restoration of Protestantism, her celebrated Tilbury speech, her actual authority in relation to policy, and her influence over her infamous courtiers.

Chapter 1 summarises Elizabeth's early life. Henry VIII's annulment of his first marriage to his brother's widow and her older sister Mary's mother, meant that Elizabeth, at her birth, was the heir to the throne. Mary, seventeen at the time, was forced to declare her own illegitimacy. Richards emphasises how these 'nuanced issues' created 'difficult relations between the two sisters as long as Mary lived' (p. 11). The chapter concludes with Elizabeth's apparent romance with Thomas Seymour who was eventually executed for high treason. Richards highlights the fact that there is scant evidence of Elizabeth mourning for him, contrary to more romantic imaginings.

Chapter 2 focuses on the influence of Mary I on Elizabeth. Elizabeth copied Mary's spectacular procession through London, which marked her as Queen of England. When her sister died, Elizabeth argued that although female, she was still ordained by the body politic to rule; an argument earlier used by Mary. Also, like her elder sister, Elizabeth used the royal healing touch to cure her subjects suffering from scrofula.

Richards begins Chapter 3 with an amusing anecdote in which a woman, seeing Queen Elizabeth for the first time, remarked that she was a woman. This detail highlights the extent to which the propaganda surrounding Elizabeth was 'originally directed at the literate few' (p. 47). Richards also discusses Elizabeth's failed attempt to reclaim Calais in 1562. She comments on how much easier it is 'for later historians than [it was] for Elizabethan contemporaries' to argue 'that the loss of Calais was neither a financial nor a strategic disaster' (p. 58). Richards gives a stern reminder for historians who approach Elizabeth's reign anachronistically.

Chapter 4 addresses the twin concerns of Elizabeth's unmarried status and the threat from Mary Queen of Scots. When Mary gave birth to the future James VI and I, the pressure increased on Elizabeth to marry or at least nominate an heir. Richards builds up the intrigue by stating that Mary's arrival in England gave Catholics hope of restoring the 'true' faith to England. The chapter ends with Richards reminding the reader that together with Elizabeth's illegitimacy, her Protestant status, and her affairs with Seymour and Robert Dudley, the Queen's rule was under threat.

In Chapter 5, Richards examines those closest to Elizabeth, what might be described as her family. She then debunks the myth that the Queen travelled widely throughout her realm on progresses, despite never straying far from London. On the significance of the verb 'love', Richards's clarifies that Elizabeth did not attract infatuated subjects or admirers, but 'love' simply denoted social respect. Chapter 6 details the growing threat from Catholicism and the arrival in 1580 of the first Jesuits, Edmund Campion and Robert Parsons. Against that tense religious backdrop, Elizabeth began her courtship with the Catholic Duke of Alencon. The French duke became her last suitor.

Chapter 7 examines the dual crisis of Mary Queen of Scots's eventual execution, and the 1588 Spanish Armada. In particular, Richards challenges the Queen's Tilbury speech. The fact that the speech was published long after the event and contained inaccurate language indicates it was never spoken at all. Richards also emphasises the unlikelihood of Elizabeth being dressed in armour in a potentially dangerous situation. In Chapter 8, Richards describes the last decade of Elizabeth's reign. It examines the personal costs to the Queen as well as the hardships affecting her subjects.

Chapter 9 begins with the curious observation that Elizabeth never spoke of her mother during her reign, or even attempted to repair her reputation. It then examines Essex's influence on the Queen, and the problems concerning Ireland. The final chapter considers the problems of providing an accurate portrayal of the Queen. Richards acknowledges that the surviving early modern sources are dubious. She then examines the possible reasons behind Elizabeth's insecurities.

For students of Tudor history, Richards's biography is an essential text. Not only is it well researched, but Elizabeth I is also a reliably informed book. It debunks the many myths surrounding the Queen, which many scholars are guilty of propagating. In this context, Richards highlights the dependable sources she has used. Also, through an uncluttered narrative, she gives a lively portrayal of Elizabeth I.

Frank Swannack

School of English, Sociology, Politics and Contemporary History

The University of Salford
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Author:Swannack, Frank
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2013
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