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Elizabeth's Women: Friends, Rivals, and Foes Who Shaped the Virgin Queen    by Tracy Borman order for
Elizabeth's Women
by Tracy Borman
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Anyone who knows a little history has heard of the various men in the life of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603), from Walter Raleigh who supposedly tossed down his cloak for her to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who was her long-time favorite and a suitor for her hand. But what of the women?

In Elizabeth's Women, Tracy Borman tells us about key 'Friends, Rivals, and Foes Who Shaped the Virgin Queen', revealing the ways in which they would have influenced the life and reign of Gloriana, 'one of the most iconic women in history.'

First and foremost is the queen's mother, Anne Boleyn, who lavished affection on her small daughter but was taken from her to the block when Elizabeth was only two years old. From Anne, her daughter inherited 'tenacity, self-discipline, and charisma' as well as flashes of vindictiveness and cruelty.

Her half-sister Mary was declared illegitimate on Elizabeth's birth, but showed affection when the child was small and was herself declared a bastard. That changed when they were both adults, in conflict over religion and in competition for the throne. And Mary's childbearing problems might have also influenced her sister to remain a virgin.

One of Elizabeth's early caretakers, Blanche Parry, 'always put the princess first' and her unswerving loyalty made her 'one of the most influential women in Elizabeth's life.' Elizabeth's governess, Kat Astley, proved her loyalty again and again, but was not always wise in counseling the young woman.

Of course, stepmothers came and went quickly in Elizabeth's life, giving her 'the notion that marriage was inextricably bound up with death'. Before reading this book, I was aware (through historical fiction) of the strong role model Katherine Parr was for the princess. But I was intrigued to learn that Anne of Cleeves and Elizabeth also formed a lifelong bond of friendship.

Once Elizabeth became queen, she hedged her bets on marriage, using the ladies who surrounded her to spread false rumors of her intentions. She also demanded their absolute loyalty and became enraged if they married or became pregnant while in her service - accounts of the many deviations from her wishes in this respect read like an Elizabethan soap opera!

Of course, those women whose existence threatened the throne were of greatest concern to the queen of England, from Lady Katherine Grey to Mary Queen of Scotland, and young Arbella Stuart (of whom I hadn't heard before reading the book, but who might have ruled after Elizabeth if she'd made wiser choices).

If you have any interest in the life of Elizabeth I, and in the era in which she reigned, then Elizabeth's Women is a fascinating must read. It includes over thirty color portraits of these ladies. Don't miss it.

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