If you wanted to create a character for your novel or play, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with someone as interesting and story-worthy as England’s Elizabeth I. After her mother, Anne Boleyn, was beheaded Elizabeth was declared a bastard, but she continued with her rigorous education and the hardships she experienced as a result of her demotion helped make her politically savvy, a trait that saved her neck more than once and ultimately put her on the throne. I’ve enjoyed several biographies about Elizabeth I, but this one has extras that make it stand out.
Lisa Hilton’s premise is that Elizabeth saw herself as a Renaissance prince, and while Elizabeth was happy to invoke the conventions of courtly females when it suited her, she lived in an age when royal gender was more fluid than we might think now. Hilton spends some time describing the Renaissance era and what being a Renaissance prince would mean, which leads her to a discussion of contemporary literature, period attitudes, and Machiavelli. Elizabeth’s relatively long life is covered thoroughly, but more space is given to art analysis, cultural philosophies, and intellectual history than I’ve read elsewhere, which I found fascinating. I’ve read other books by Hilton, my favorite being Horror of Love about Nancy Mitford, and I appreciate the broad scope and thoughtful scrutiny she brings to her subjects, this book about Elizabeth being no exception.
I read an ebook review copy of this book supplied by the publisher through Edelweiss. Review opinions are mine.
–Among the artwork discussed in this biography is Elizabeth in a Judgement of Paris allegory with Juno, Minerva and Venus–the artist is Joris Hoefnagel. The painting hung in her court at Whitehall where it and its message of regal power were seen by thousands of visitors.