Publicly declared a bastard at the age of three, daughter of a disgraced and executed mother, last in the line of succession to the throne of England, Elizabeth I inherited an England ravaged by bloody religious conflict, at war with Spain and France, and badly in debt. When she died in 1603, after a forty-five- year reign, her empire spanned two continents and was united under one church, victorious in war, and blessed with an overflowing treasury. What’s more, her favorites—William Shakespeare, Sir Francis Drake, and Sir Walter Raleigh—had made the Elizabethan era a cultural Golden Age still remembered today.
But for Elizabeth the woman, tragedy went hand in hand with triumph. Politics and scandal forced the passionate queen to reject her true love, Robert Dudley, and to execute his stepson, her much-adored Lord Essex. Now in this spellbinding novel, Rosalind Miles brings to life the woman behind the myth. By turns imperious, brilliant, calculating, vain, and witty, this is the Elizabeth the world never knew. From the days of her brutal father, Henry VIII, to her final dying moments, Elizabeth tells her story in her own words.
Popular historian ( The Women's History of the World ) and novelist ( Return to Eden ) Miles brings deep research to this iconoclastic but only partially successful fictional life of England's ``virgin queen,'' Elizabeth I. Miles traces, through the queen's own voice, Elizabeth's turbulent years as a princess in Henry VIII's court, her uneasy status during the brief reigns of her brother Edward and sister Mary and her decades on the throne. The author leaves no event unreported, describing in detail the defeat of the Spanish Armada, Elizabeth's struggles with Mary, Queen of Scots, and the rise and fall of Essex. In a genre that often uses passionate love scenes to temper the drier affairs of history, a novel about the world's second most famous female virgin presents a challenge. There are love scenes aplenty, however, since Miles depicts the young Elizabeth as being as sexually obsessed as she is frustrated, her interest in men overshadowing affairs of state, religion and the succession to the throne. Miles is at her best in describing everyday Elizabethan life--religion, food, dress, illness. But her Elizabeth lacks the charisma to carry this lengthy chronicle, which is weakened by the device of having the queen, in italicized passages, comment from a pallid, distant hindsight on her past actions. As an entertaining look at Reformation England, this novel succeeds, but it fails at the more immediate task of creating memorable fictional characters from the leavings of history. Literary Guild and Double day Book Club selections; author tour. (Aug.)