What would be the psychological effects on a daughter knowing she was illegitimate, had a absentee father (Henry VIII), knew her father had killed her mother (Anne Boleyn), and knew her father could have her killed at any time?
The first Queen Elizabeth of England, 1533-1603, continues to be one of most interesting and popular historical personalities but most books/biographies focus on her reign as the virgin queen and the last Tudor. However, this historical novel by one of Britain's best historians focuses on her formative or childhood years which, for most people including many "Elizabeth" readers, probably have not sufficiently considered her precarious upbringing. By today's standards, her childhood and adolescence would be considered dysfunctional in the extreme. Most psychologists and psychiatrists would probably be surprised Elizabeth turned out as well or as normal in spite of such a maladjusted environment.
Ms. Weir reminds readers of the powerful competing interests, rivalry, and intrigues swirling around her and how close she came in suffering the same fate of her mother, Anne Boleyn. At age eleven she contemplates the reality, "Life at court was as wonderful and exciting as Elizabeth had dreamed it would be...Yet she was old enough now to sense the darker side of life at court, the insincerity, the vicious intrigues, the backbiting, the tensions and jealousies. And the fear...that was often palpable. How could it not be, when the King's displeasure could mean imprisonment, ruin, or even death?"
What might have saved young "Bess" were the social stimulus, mental preoccupation and diversion of academics and learning. Fortunately, her father did respect and recognized the value and importance of education and knowledge. Consequently, rare for young girls of the times, she was fortunate to be well educated by some of the best teachers available including the famous scholar Roger Ascham (1515-1568). He and her other tutors were impressed with her precocious intellect. No doubt, her I.Q level was close to genius.
The author ends with Lady Elizabeth ascending the throne. She reflects on her past and her survival: "All the troubles, terrors, and obstacles that had beset her--her bastardy, her mother's execution, her precarious childhood, the scandal of the admiral, the perils of religion...her imprisonment in the Tower...Mary's distrust and schemes to marry her off against her will...She had survived them all...What else could it be but God's will?"
For those who want to continue to follow Bess as queen, all they have to do is continue reading the author. Her 1998 biography, The Life Of Elizabeth I, is considered the definitive history of her entire life. Prior to the Weir book but still highly readable, most libraries relied on the 1991 Elizabeth I by Anne Somerset and Carolly Erickson's 1983 lively and less scholarly The First Elizabeth. 473 pages.
Recommended by Robert L. Hicks, high school librarian