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The Reign of Elizabeth I. .

Carole Levin. The Reign of Elizabeth I.

Houndsmills, England and New York: Palgrave, 2002. x + 146 pp. index. bibl. $39.95. ISBN: 0-333-65865-5.

This brief study, which synthesizes the recent work of many Elizabethan scholars, is an extremely useful introduction to the reign of this queen. One of the most famous women in history, her life has inspired and continues to inspire numerous scholarly studies, which, as Levin points our, range from great praise to great condemnation. They move from the providential writings of John Foxe to the critical analyses of the Protestant James Froude and of the Catholic John Lingard to the work of Levin, herself, who has contributed an important gender dimension to these interpretations.

In this survey, she provides a narrative of the major topics of Elizabeth's reign and offers an interesting discussion of the complex intersection of political, religious, social, and cultural issues. Besides the introduction, it is organized into six chapters: an overview of the reign, a discussion of religion, two analyses of foreign relations, an examination of the plots against her, and a summary of cultural changes. The endnotes, which offer suggestions for further reading on the topics covered, is supplemented by a bibliographical essay that clarifies the most recent scholarly works on Elizabeth.

Although the book is about Elizabeth's reign, Levin does not limit her discussion to her realm but relates how events in Scotland and Ireland impacted on the queen's decisions. The life of Mary; queen of Scots, partly because of her three marriages and her execution, has probably inspired more studies than that of her English cousin. The Catholic alternative to Elizabeth, who also struggled against English Protestant extremists labeled Puritans, Mary complicated English politics first in Scotland as its ruler and then in England as its prisoner for nineteen years. Levin treats Mary's imprisonment with sensitivity, emphasizing Elizabeth's reluctance to permit the public execution of another monarch. Mary's presence in the British Isles, moreover, did not just generate controversy about the English succession, but also raised questions about the English control of Ireland.

The decision of Elizabeth not to marry and settle the succession by having a child of her own is a major theme of the book. Here Levin validates the recent work of Susan Doran, who pointed out that psychological studies of a woman who died about four-hundred years ago clearly do not assist in understanding her decisions. The written record actually indicates that Elizabeth did seriously consider marrying but that while her councillors all agreed she should wed, they could never agree wholeheartedly to support a particular candidate. That the suitors most likely to enhance her status in the royal community were Catholics greatly complicated the courtships. Marriage to Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, or another Englishman might nor only have diminished her reputation abroad but might also have resulted in internal dissension. In fact, as Elizabeth knew from her own alleged support of Thomas Wyatt's revolt in 1554 against her sister, Mary Tudor, and from her imprisonment of Mary, queen of Scots, after her for ced abdication and flight to England, all the marriages of sixteenth-century British queens regnant, both to natives and to foreigners, led to rebellions against their governments principally because contemporaries believed that their husbands, as the head of the household, would naturally become their realms' actual rulers. Levin treats the accession of Mary's son, James VI of Scotland, to the English throne and the resulting union of the crowns positively, while deploring the destructive English involvement in Ireland.

There is much of value in all the chapters, but in many ways the most significant is the final one on culture, which demonstrates how drama and literature reflected the troubled times. Focusing on the 1580s and 1590s, Levin relates that the English people, facing war, famine, and poverty became increasingly critical of their monarch. They responded to their problems in part by harshly attacking witches, Anglicized Jews, soldiers, Africans, and other foreigners. Shakespeare and other authors represented these marginalized people in some of their most celebrated works, providing them with a greater contemporary presence than their numbers would normally allow and offering interpretations of universal human values that are still relevant to twenty-first-century audiences. At the center of all this was the queen, herself, who continues to inspire the creative imagination.
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Author:Warnicke, Retha M.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 2003
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