I, Elizabeth, Rosalind Miles
This is a wonderful "autobiographical" novel by Rosalind Miles and probably the book that got me hooked on British historical fiction and history. I have read this tome several times (and it is pretty big) and have loved it each time. It is still at the top of my favorites list (though it has been joined by SKP's Sunne!)
It is wonderfully (and very believably) written in Elizabeth's "voice" and as a reader I could honestly see Elizabeth acting, thinking, and talking like that. Miles really makes her come alive in this telling that covers Elizabeth's earliest memories as a child, her precarious position during her brother and sister's reigns, the tumultuous early years of her own reign, and the numerous issues she had to deal with during her life (from about age 4 up until 2 years before her death). Elizabeth is portrayed in many different ways (flirty, vain, silly, brilliant, cunning, clever, stubborn, manipulative, caring) but they all fit together wonderfully and these different attributes are what made her an amazing queen. I think one of my favorite things about the novel is the humor you see from Elizabeth. I really enjoyed some of her "one liners" and her sense of humor. It really makes her seem human.
Through Elizabeth's eyes you get a very interesting perspective on her father Henry VIII, her brother Edward, and her older sister Mary. Her feelings concerning her father change over the course of her lifetime and you really see the different events (and her maturing) that help bring about that change. She moves from loving and adoring him to fearing him and eventually hating him (quite a bit of that is due to what he did to her mother). You also see that she very much takes to heart the lessons to be learned when a woman marries and gives all the power to her husband. She has her mother's example always looming over her, she saw what happened to her stepmother Catherine Parr, and she also sees what happens to her sister Mary after she marries King Phillip. She also sees what befalls her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, in her disastrous marriages. Who can blame her for not wanting to stumble into the same trap?
There is a lot of time devoted to Elizabeth's male favorites, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and the Earl of Essex, throughout the course of this novel. These two men played a large roll in her life and I did not mind reading about her feeling and interactions with them, especially Dudley. Elizabeth really does seem to have loved him and wanted to marry him but she knew she couldn't (and wouldn't want to) give up any power to a husband. In her mind she was married to England and England came first in her heart. As to the Earl of Essex, I never liked him and I wanted to shake Elizabeth a few times for letting him get away with some of the stunts he pulled. She even said many times that she knew what he was doing, that her feelings for him had died, that she realized he was a traitor, but she always forgave him. It took a very drastic act for her to finally have him arrested and sign the warrant for his execution.
You can't talk about Elizabeth without mentioning her cousin Mary and Miles does a wonderful job of showing how torn Elizabeth was on this subject. She knew that Mary was a huge and dangerous threat to her and was well aware of her plotting to take the English throne. As a queen she knew that she should let Mary have the justice she deserved for plotting against her (many times) so as to secure the safety of her realm. However, Mary is after all an anointed queen (and her cousin) and she sees the danger in setting a precedent in which the Lords of a land can put a queen on trial and condemn her to death. She tells her councilmen many times that what they do to Mary could easily be done to her. Elizabeth really struggles with this for twenty years until she finally makes that ultimate decision. During all that time you can really sympathize with her and feel how hard she struggles with this.
This is a wonderful book and I would recommend it to anyone interested in the Tudors. It is a well written novel and you really get a glimpse into what Elizabeth was really like (perhaps) and the sacrifices she(maybe) made to keep England safe.