Sunday, June 14, 2020

NetGalley ARC | Elizabeth I: The Making of a Queen


I received a digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Rating ⭐

I am not a fan of QEI at all. Much like with her mother, I don't see the point of the hype and they're both awful. I do, however, enjoy a good biography about anyone from the Tudor period whether I like them or not. In fact, Eric Ives' book on Anne Boleyn is one of my favorites of any Tudor figure. It is so well-written and researched, and I consider that the Bible of Anne Boleyn.

That is why I continue to read books about all of them, despite the fact that I like some much better than others. The one star for this book has nothing to do with the content regarding Elizabeth herself; I know her story as much as one can four hundred years on. Instead, it has everything to do with fact that this book is simply not well-written.

Writing about Elizabeth I is a massive undertaking. There has been so much written that it is hard to find a new angle without simply re-hashing everything that has come before. The author attempted to look at the events that created Elizabeth, that shaped her into the monarch she became. The problem with that is, there's no new information here, and at times the text wandered so far away from Elizabeth that some events had nothing to do with her at all, but instead impacted someone who impacted someone else, who in turn impacted Elizabeth. Even then, rarely did the event in question contribute to 'making' Elizabeth. As I read, the book definitely felt more like a dissertation than an actual book. After I finished and returned to the forward to read a bit more from the author, I discovered this is, in fact, a dissertation. She mentions that this is what she had hoped to write her undergraduate dissertation on, but was told it was too vague. Well, she very much succeeded in publishing a book that reads exactly like a dissertation.

Aside from the perceived bias that comes across in the writing, there were errors within the book that are unacceptable in even the most basic of Tudor literature. With this being an ARC, like with all the others I read, I allow for some errors. However, at this point there should not be factual errors that should have been caught/verified by an editor. There were also some assumptions made that historians have looked at and come to very different conclusions based on a wider body of evidence. Then, there were just the all-around clunky or awkward sentences that will hopefully be polished up before this goes to its final publication. The narrative begins with Henry VIII, and each of the women who had the misfortune of being married to him for any length of time. From there we visit the reigns of Edward VI, Jane, then Mary. Primarily the religious upheaval is discussed, and at several times none of the discussion relates directly to Elizabeth.

When discussing Catherine Howard's downfall
"The Viscountess Rochford was cornered and once again found herself informing on a queen and one of her relatives to a royal investigator" (12%).

Great, except this is not true. There is no sources that show at any point that Jane Boleyn ever gave any evidence against Anne and George, ever. To say that she did so 'again' when it came to Catherine and her liaisons is misleading, and quite frankly poor researching. There has been a great deal of scholarship in the last few years especially that looks at Jane and these exact situations.

At 24% Mary is referred to ad Edward's step-sister. They have the same father, which makes them half siblings, not step siblings. Come on. Seriously.

When discussing Mary, Queen of Scots toward the end of the book, the author tries to stress the point that Mary agreed to marry Bothwell quickly, even after the recent murder of her husband Lord Darnley. She dismisses the idea at all that Mary was coerced in any way and refers to the signatures Bothwell had collected from fellow courtiers encouraging the marriage. First of all, Bothwell was a psycho, so OF COURSE the other courtiers signed on to the idea of Mary and Bothwell getting married because everyone was afraid of him. Secondly, wouldn't those signatures themselves be a sign of such coercion, that Mary felt she had to do whatever it took to try to keep support? Plus, historians have questioned the authenticity of the document, either suggesting forgeries, or the signers themselves heeding Bothwell's demands for their signatures.

As with any book on Elizabeth or the dynasty in general, I typically would rather gouge my eyes out with an ice pick than read one more fucking sentence about how upset Elizabeth was when Mary was executed. Fuck all the way off with that garbage. The author notes that Elizabeth twice signed a death warrant for Mary, but then tore them up before they could be delivered and the order carried out. She goes on to say that Elizabeth did not learn of Mary's death until two days after it occurred, on February 10th, and that was angry at both Burghley and her Privy Council, as well as her personal secretary. William Davis, for carrying out the order. First of all, she signed the warrant. She KNEW Burghley was chomping at the bit to execute Mary, and had been practically begging to do it for YEARS. And if she was so careful to sign and then tear up the first two warrants, did she not think it odd that she signed a third one, and then it disappeared before she could tear it up as well? Where did she think it could have possibly gone? She knew the order would be carried out, so Burghley and Davis made sure people knew they were 'responsible', though it was Elizabeth who needed to sign the death warrant - WHICH SHE DID. Stop with this narrative about how she felt so awful and was so torn up about it. She wasn't.

At 92%, Arbella Stuart is introduced as a potential claimant to the throne. ARBELLA. ARBELLA. ARBELLA. Most certainly NOT ArAbella, as the author repeatedly wrote.

Though the book is undoubtedly biased in favor of Elizabeth and thus by extension Anne, I did appreciate the statements made in regards to Mary Tudor and Catherine Howard. To this day Mary is still referred to as 'Bloody Mary' and quite honestly, it is not a moniker that fits. Both Henry VIII and Elizabeth ended up executing as many people as Mary, if not more. So singling her out still as some kind of monster is tired at this point - about as tired as still accusing Jane Boleyn of giving evidence against Anne and George with literally no evidence of her having done so.

On Catherine Howard
"Her age and lack of maturity, as well as her naivety played major roles in her tragic story. She was also indiscreet and trusted too much in the wrong people" (13%).

On Mary Tudor
"The number of Catholics and conservative Anglicans that lost their lives during the Prayer Book Rebellion was far higher than those who were persecuted and executed for Protestantism under Mary Tudor, who would go on to be remembered in history as 'Bloody Mary' for her actions" (23%).

But then we get some nonsense like this, regarding Jane Grey and her father
"Her father, the Duke of Suffolk met the same fate on Tower Hill eleven days after his daughter went so bravely to her death all because he and several other powerful men felt Mary Tudor was not a suitable queen" (38%).

Um, no. They just wanted to keep the power for themselves, and thought the best way to do that was to bypass Henry's will and install Jane as queen. They thought she would be easier to control, because obviously Mary was fully capable of ruling on her own.

There are also just some weird/oddly phrased sentences. And a lot of missing commas. At least a couple times also where the wrong tense was used, or the tense changed within a sentence. This was not nearly as common, but I noticed it.

"Edward VI, the last Tudor male monarch, finally became consumed by his tuberculosis on Thursday 6 July 1553" (30%).

"It is worth noting here that it was not customary for the spouses of courtiers to attend court if they did not hold a position at court themselves this goes to explain why Amy did not often attend court with her husband" (48%).

There's also the examples of a bias toward Anne and Elizabeth, as compared to other figures discussed.

"There's no denying that Anne had been a passionate, exciting, reformist, dark, mysterious, and in many ways, a modern woman, living before her time during the 16th century" (7%).

"This moment in Elizabeth's life meant that Anne had finally triumphed over both her predecessor Catherine of Aragon and her successor Jane Seymour; for her daughter had succeeded both of their children and went on to become Henry VIII's most successful heir" (44%).

But THEN we get the very last line of the whole book, when the author strangely begins speaking of herself personally, and ends the entire book rather awkwardly when discussing how Elizabeth changed and adapted throughout her life and reign.

"Elizabeth I got this down to an art form and for me she is one of the greatest historical figures because of this" (94%).

Definitely not a strong or solid ending, and honestly not even a way one would likely end a dissertation. This was a quick read, but unfortunately I can not recommend it.


  1. i admire your writing skill: splendid review... it's a shame that scholarly rigor has lapsed to such an extent; what is your favorite over-all work on that period?

    1. Thank you so much! I appreciate your words quite a bit. I have read some really fantastic stuff on the Tudor period, but I would definitely say the Ives book I mentioned about Anne Boleyn is one of the best. Also:

      - The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
      - The First Queen of England: The Myth of "Bloody Mary" by Linda Porter
      - Young and Damned and Fair: The Life of Catherine Howard, Fifth Wife of King Henry VIII by Gareth Russell
      - Catherine of Aragon: An Intimate Life of Henry VIII's True Wife by Amy License
      - Devices and Desires: Bess of Hardwick and the Building of Elizabethan England by Kate Hubbard
      - The Dead Queens Club by Hannah Capin (Okay, so this is a YA retelling of Henry VIII and his wives, but it is a book that exquisitely captures the period and people SO WELL, I loved it)

  2. The only one of those I definitely have is 'Young and Damned and Fair'. I do have one on Bess of Hardwicke but I can't recall the title and it's buried under a pile of other books..... I'll try to slot in a few on the Tudors @ my place before New Year. [grin]

    1. Russell's book on Howard is so fantastic. She finally gets her voice back, instead of constantly being painted as the villain. I appreciated that aspect a lot. Of all the wives, she is the one I feel most sorry for. She had no idea what she had gotten herself into and every adult in her life failed her. I can only recall one other book on Bess on my TBR, but also can not recall the title. Let me know when you find it!


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