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The Lady Elizabeth    by Alison Weir order for
Lady Elizabeth
by Alison Weir
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Alison Weir, author of Innocent Traitor, now applies both empathy and extensive historical research to tell the story of The Lady Elizabeth, set in the same colorful era - but, as we all know from history, with a happier ending. Interestingly enough, the two stories intersect in several places, and readers see the same events through Elizabeth's eyes, rather than Jane Grey's. Though I've read other books about Elizabeth I, this is the one that engaged me most, exploring as it did possible reasons - other than the obvious political ones - for the highly intelligent Virgin Queen's lifelong aversion to marriage.

Weir shows us Elizabeth from the age of three, when she is loved and treated affectionately by her elder sister Mary - who is the one to break the news to the precocious child of her mother Anne Boleyn's execution, and of her disinheritance (she's demoted overnight from Lady Princess to Lady Elizabeth). King Henry VIII is shown as a father who is kind to his little Bessy as long as she doesn't cross his will. But essentially Elizabeth is brought up by governesses, with the occasional interventions of a dizzying series of stepmothers, whose fates make her fearful of the possibilities in her own future.

We see Elizabeth's relationship with her younger brother Edward, heir to the throne, with whom she is tutored and shares the Protestant faith. When her father marries Katherine Parr, Elizabeth finally receives and revels in 'a mother's love and guidance'. After the King's death, Katherine soon weds her first love, the ambitious Lord Admiral, Tom Seymour. Unfortunately, even with his wife in residence, Tom's marriage doesn't stop him from flirting with Elizabeth, who's torn between her loyalty and love for Katherine and her attraction to the rakish courtier. Alison Weir shows us one possible set of consequences for their propinquity - and discusses the likelihood of her take on events in an Author's Note at the end.

As we all know from history, Edward dies young, Mary takes the throne, and is surrounded by advisors who warn her against the sister she once loved dearly. Mary, concerned for a Catholic succession, listens to them. Elizabeth must walk a perilous precipice, with a queendom on one side and her mother's fate in the Tower of London on the other. She is put at risk repeatedly from plots initiated by ambitious nobles. That she survives and succeeds says a lot for her pragmatism and native intelligence - and of course, these shine when she finally takes her place on the throne. In her absorbing novel of The Lady Elizabeth, Alison Weir shows us how it all might have happened - certainly how at least some of it did - and brings history to colorful life.

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