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The Marriage Game: A Novel of Queen Elizabeth I    by Alison Weir order for
Marriage Game
by Alison Weir
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2015 (2015)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Alison Weir continues to chronicle the life of Elizabeth I in The Marriage Game. Her earlier novel, The Lady Elizabeth, showed us Elizabeth from the age of three, raised by governesses with the occasional interventions of a dizzying series of stepmothers, whose fates made her increasingly fearful of marriage. Weir brought history to colorful life, portraying teen Elizabeth's attraction to rakish Tom Seymour, her survival of her sister Mary's reign, and her ascension to the throne in 1558.

Elizabeth learned her lesson about the dangers of marriage at a young age - first and foremost the likely loss of power to whoever would become king, but also the high risk of death in childbirth or of imprisonment and/or execution. She is intelligent and pragmatic and (rightly) does not trust that another would rule the country as well as she intends to. So she plays the marriage game, encouraging suitors from various countries with which she would like alliances - they side with England for as long as they believe in the possibility of a royal marriage.

At the same time, Elizabeth is a young woman, who enjoys the attention of handsome men, in particular that of her childhood friend (they were in the Tower together) Lord Robert Dudley. She flirts with him, leads him on constantly and even includes him in her marriage game. She rewards him with high office and land, insists on keeping him by her side, despite his ailing wife, and calls him her Eyes. Then when Amy Dudley dies, speculation of foul play is rampant and Elizabeth is forced to send Robert away for a time.

But she cannot bear to part with him for long. When she assigns him an apartment next to hers at Greenwich Palace, rumors about their relationship spread across Europe. In Robert, love and ambition are at odds with his desire 'to breed heirs of his body, for it was dawning on him that he might never get them from Elizabeth.' He remains at her side, loyal through smallpox, the Spanish Armada, and the very difficult decision to order the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.

They continue in this mode for years, Elizabeth making promises and breaking them, pulling him close and pushing him away. You really have to feel sorry for Robert Dudley! Yet it's a fascinating and very credible read. And don't miss the Author's Note at the end, which talks about the historical record and why Elizabeth might have had such an aversion to marriage.

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