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bookcover Elizabeth by David Starkey Hardcover - 350 pages (27 April, 2000)

The Virgin Queen, Gloriana, Good Queen Bess; Elizabeth I holds a unique place in the English imagination as one of the nation's most powerful, charismatic and successful monarchs. Elizabeth is usually imagined as the icy, untouchable figure memorably recreated on screen by Bette Davis and Judi Dench, but that vision of Elizabeth ignores the turbulent years of her early life, from her birth as the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in 1533, until her accession to the throne in 1558 following the death of her sister Mary. It is these early years which are the subject of David Starkey's fascinating Elizabeth I, written to accompany his television series about the life of Elizabeth.

An abused child, yet confident of her destiny, passionately sexual yet, she said, a virgin, famed as England's most successful ruler yet actually doing little, Elizabeth I is full of contradictions. This biography, published to accompany a Channel 4 series presented by the author, aims to turn the paradox into a person. Starting with Elizabeth's own speeches and writings, the author lays emphasis on two things: her faith made her see religion as a purely personal relationship between the individual conscience and God, yet her sophisticated education led her to a smoke-and-mirrors view of politics, in which clever image-making and speech-writing could solve or postpone real problems. The result was a surprisingly contemporary approach to some very modern questions, like civil strife in Scotland and Ireland and the risk of England's absorption into a European super-state. This approach to the enigma of the Queen's character is presented in a retelling of her reign; her love for Robert Dudley, the tragi-comedy of her favourites and suitors, her struggles with Mary Queen of Scots and Philip II of Spain and the final, humiliating debacle of her relationship with Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.

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