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Elizabeth's Women: Friends, Rivals, and Foes Who Shaped the Virgin Queen

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A source of endless fascination and speculation, the subject of countless biographies, novels, and films, Elizabeth I is now considered from a thrilling new angle by the brilliant young historian Tracy Borman. So often viewed in her relationships with men, the Virgin Queen is portrayed here as the product of women: the mother she lost so tragically, the female subjects who A source of endless fascination and speculation, the subject of countless biographies, novels, and films, Elizabeth I is now considered from a thrilling new angle by the brilliant young historian Tracy Borman. So often viewed in her relationships with men, the Virgin Queen is portrayed here as the product of women: the mother she lost so tragically, the female subjects who worshiped her, and the peers and intimates who loved, raised, challenged, and sometimes opposed her. In vivid detail, Borman presents Elizabeth’s bewitching mother, Anne Boleyn, eager to nurture her new child, only to see her taken away and her own life destroyed by damning allegations--which taught Elizabeth never to mix politics and love. Kat Astley, the governess who attended and taught Elizabeth for almost thirty years, invited disaster by encouraging her charge into a dangerous liaison after Henry VIII’s death. Mary Tudor (“Bloody Mary”) envied her younger sister’s popularity and threatened to destroy her altogether. And animosity drove Elizabeth and her cousin Mary Queen of Scots into an intense thirty-year rivalry that could end only in death. Elizabeth’s Women contains more than an indelible cast of characters. It is an unprecedented account of how the public posture of femininity figured into the English court, the meaning of costume and display, the power of fecundity and flirtation, and how Elizabeth herself, long viewed as the embodiment of feminism, shared popular views of female inferiority and scorned and schemed against her underlings’ marriages and pregnancies. Brilliantly researched and elegantly written, Elizabeth’s Women is a unique take on history’s most captivating queen and the dazzling court that surrounded her.


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A source of endless fascination and speculation, the subject of countless biographies, novels, and films, Elizabeth I is now considered from a thrilling new angle by the brilliant young historian Tracy Borman. So often viewed in her relationships with men, the Virgin Queen is portrayed here as the product of women: the mother she lost so tragically, the female subjects who A source of endless fascination and speculation, the subject of countless biographies, novels, and films, Elizabeth I is now considered from a thrilling new angle by the brilliant young historian Tracy Borman. So often viewed in her relationships with men, the Virgin Queen is portrayed here as the product of women: the mother she lost so tragically, the female subjects who worshiped her, and the peers and intimates who loved, raised, challenged, and sometimes opposed her. In vivid detail, Borman presents Elizabeth’s bewitching mother, Anne Boleyn, eager to nurture her new child, only to see her taken away and her own life destroyed by damning allegations--which taught Elizabeth never to mix politics and love. Kat Astley, the governess who attended and taught Elizabeth for almost thirty years, invited disaster by encouraging her charge into a dangerous liaison after Henry VIII’s death. Mary Tudor (“Bloody Mary”) envied her younger sister’s popularity and threatened to destroy her altogether. And animosity drove Elizabeth and her cousin Mary Queen of Scots into an intense thirty-year rivalry that could end only in death. Elizabeth’s Women contains more than an indelible cast of characters. It is an unprecedented account of how the public posture of femininity figured into the English court, the meaning of costume and display, the power of fecundity and flirtation, and how Elizabeth herself, long viewed as the embodiment of feminism, shared popular views of female inferiority and scorned and schemed against her underlings’ marriages and pregnancies. Brilliantly researched and elegantly written, Elizabeth’s Women is a unique take on history’s most captivating queen and the dazzling court that surrounded her.

30 review for Elizabeth's Women: Friends, Rivals, and Foes Who Shaped the Virgin Queen

  1. 5 out of 5

    BAM Endlessly Booked

    This is the perfect introduction to Elizabethan female royal society. Let me stress INTRODUCTION. Having read bios on many of the women briefly discussed, I learned nothing new. However, if one is just beginning to read about this period, this book is perfect.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Louise

    Tracy Borman took on a large scale project. Some of the women in Elizabeth's life are famous in their own right and have already been extensively studied. There had to be a lot of editorial decisions about the depth of content for these women and how to balance it so they would not crowd out space for the lesser knowns. With less emphasis on the "big events", the book becomes a treatment of both Elizabeth's daily life and of her intimate and lasting relationships. We learn how her court functione Tracy Borman took on a large scale project. Some of the women in Elizabeth's life are famous in their own right and have already been extensively studied. There had to be a lot of editorial decisions about the depth of content for these women and how to balance it so they would not crowd out space for the lesser knowns. With less emphasis on the "big events", the book becomes a treatment of both Elizabeth's daily life and of her intimate and lasting relationships. We learn how her court functioned, how she viewed and treated her female rivals for the crown, her rivals for the affections of her favorites and those who served her. The first relationship explored is that with her famous mother. Most histories speed past this noting only Elizabeth's scant mention of Anne Boleyn. Borman writes how Anne doted on her daughter, even wanting to breast feed her, an unconventional idea for its time, quashed by the king himself. Though separated, as was the custom, Anne saw to Elizabeth's welfare as best she could. Elizabeth kept a locket with her mother's likeness and at her coronation adopted her mother's emblem, the falcon, as her own. Elizabeth maintained friendships with Boleyn cousins such as Lady Katherine Howard (with whom she was raised) and many who remembered her mother. She appointed to court positions and otherwise assisted many Boleyn relatives. The book provides a personal focus on famous events. For instance, the very thorough treatment of the Thomas Seymour flirtation emphasizes what it meant emotionally over what it meant politically. Borman shows how it strained Elizabeth's relationship with mentor and mother-figure, Katherine Parr; how it was viewed by her half-sister Mary; and how it defined and solidified her relationship with her governess Kat Astley. This kind of focus provides a whole new dimension. It shows Elizabeth's courage and loyalty in regards to her governess and how the experience shaped her views. The chronological arrangement of the emotional highlights, free from other events of the time, allows for the reader to digest their intensity for Elizabeth. For instance, very early in her reign, while she was still feeling her way as a woman at the helm, threats to her reign appeared at once. The timing of the unsanctioned marriages of Katherine Grey and Mary Stewart and their subsequent male off-spring couldn't have been worse. This (and personal jealousy) may have set the pattern for Elizabeth's strong reaction to the many unsanctioned marriages that followed. This is the first good look I've had at Margaret Douglas who appears here and there in Elizabethan histories. (I've not found a full bio.) Margaret is everywhere, scheming to marry one son into a kingship, another to another high born, visiting Mary Queen of Scots in her imprisoned quarters, thrice imprisoned herself by Elizabeth, and scheming to put her granddaughter in the line of succession all the while expressing her devotion to Elizabeth. The chapter "That She-Wolf" tells of the Earl of Leicester's two secret marriages since they are the ones that most impact his relationship with Elizabeth (major editorial/space decision, I'm sure, to leave out the first wife). Robert Dudley's story is more intriguing than shown here. Those interested may want to try "Sweet Robin: A Biography of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester 1533-1588" or the more recent "Elizabeth & Leicester: Power, Passion, Politics". Borman tells the stories of a host of staffers that have only cameos in other books. There are many from the long serving and most intimate such as Blanche Perry and Kat Astley to newer but still long termers such as Helena Snakenborg and Mary Radcliffe. There are some short termers from Lady Tyrwhit to Lady Warwick. Through their stories you learn of their living conditions and the dedication it took to serve Elizabeth. Most give up family time and some give up marriages. Some succumb to male flirtation and earn Elizabeth's wrath. Some, such as Mary Sidney are not appreciated. Many use their positions to advocate for their families and friends. All are virtual slaves. This book is a big accomplishment for its author. I don't know how much fully new material has been presented, but there was a lot new to me. This book can serve as a basis for subsequent researchers to explore more deeply the domestic and personal aspects of Elizabethan England. The concept could very well be applied to the women in the reign of Charles II or Queen Victoria, or even in the US to the life and adminstration of FDR. I recommend this book for all who are interested in this period. Tudor readers may yawn at the recounts of the "big events" (digested as they may be), but in each of them they will find new insight on Elizabeth and her most intimate relationships with the women of her age.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Joan

    It wasn't the book I wanted to read. I was hoping for a study of how Elizabeth influenced politics and was influenced in politics by her women. What this was about was how Elizabeth inflluenced love matches and how those matches influenced Elizabeth. While I acknowledge that would be impossible to exclude love matches from a study of Elizabeth and her women, I also feel a large part of the story I wanted to read was not told. You mean to tell me that Bess of Hardwick's only political interest wa It wasn't the book I wanted to read. I was hoping for a study of how Elizabeth influenced politics and was influenced in politics by her women. What this was about was how Elizabeth inflluenced love matches and how those matches influenced Elizabeth. While I acknowledge that would be impossible to exclude love matches from a study of Elizabeth and her women, I also feel a large part of the story I wanted to read was not told. You mean to tell me that Bess of Hardwick's only political interest was the promotion of her direct blood to the throne? Such a formidable woman had no interest in the politics of their world? I have trouble believing that. Yes, I KNOW that Mary of Scotland was an incredible idiot in how she threw away what she could have had in life through a succession of worse and worse marriages. But how did Mary affect the politics of her world? Elizabeth finally reluctantly signed Mary's death warrant because Mary was involved in treason...although one can argue it isn't treason when it isn't your country....but how did her problems with Mary, Queen of Scots, affect her relationship with Scotland? Yes, I've read other books and have an idea as to the answer. However, I was hoping for more detail on this and got none. The closest the book came to being what I wanted was in showing the impact that a few of her numerous step mothers had on Elizabeth, particularly Katherine Parr and Anne of Cleves. I felt that a lot of the book spent way too much time on the romantic partsand not enough on the actual effect these women had on their world. I know the two younger Grey sisters defied the queen and married for love. Particularly with the youngest, Mary, you'd have thought she'd have learnt something from the fates of her two older sisters and tried the one approach none of these seem to have tried: go straight to the queen, say I'm madly in love and will sign a declaration stating that neither I nor my heirs will claim the throne. Particlarly since Mary married way way below her status and her kids would be almost worse than illegitimate: low class. Hopefully somebody will do the research and produce the book I'm interested in. with all of these incredibly well educated women all over the place, I can't believe that none besides Elizabeth were interested in the political world they lived in. The book that was written was an ok book. I think a lot of the conclusions were not really thought out since the author seemed fixated on love and Elizabeth's virginity. Oh well. If one wants romance, there's plenty of it in this book. It is a scholarly book, footnoted etc. but very definitely, romantic!

  4. 5 out of 5

    chucklesthescot

    The thing I hate most in history books is when the author can't be bothered to get her most simple facts right. This book is a prime example. 1)The author says that Katherine of Aragon was regent when Henry was on campaign in Scotland. WRONG. She was regent when Henry was in FRANCE and she fought a war against the Scots when the Scottish army invaded England as soon as Henry left for France. 2)She refers to Anne Boleyn's famous 'A' necklace. WRONG. The famous necklace she wore was the initial 'B' The thing I hate most in history books is when the author can't be bothered to get her most simple facts right. This book is a prime example. 1)The author says that Katherine of Aragon was regent when Henry was on campaign in Scotland. WRONG. She was regent when Henry was in FRANCE and she fought a war against the Scots when the Scottish army invaded England as soon as Henry left for France. 2)She refers to Anne Boleyn's famous 'A' necklace. WRONG. The famous necklace she wore was the initial 'B' around her neck as seen in many portraits of Anne. 3)Elizabeth's governess is continually called Kat Astley. WRONG. Every other historian I've read who has written about Elizabeth calls her Kat Ashley! Seems this author likes to change things and the truth be damned. In the first 100 pages of the book came these glaring errors. I dread to think how many other errors and distortions there are throughout the book. I'm sorry author, but if you can't get your basic facts right, I have no interest in reading your books!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Excellent nonfiction study of the important women in Elizabeth I's life, including her mother, her sister, her cousins, and her servants and ladies. I found the sections on Elizabeth's various cousins (with competing claims to the throne) and on her ladies, some devoted and not so devoted, to be the most interesting. Excellent nonfiction study of the important women in Elizabeth I's life, including her mother, her sister, her cousins, and her servants and ladies. I found the sections on Elizabeth's various cousins (with competing claims to the throne) and on her ladies, some devoted and not so devoted, to be the most interesting.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    As an avid reader of all things Tudor, I found Elizabeth’s Women to be very accessible despite some minor flaws. I was pleased with its good progression and chronology and anyone not as familiar with Elizabeth I’s life would enjoy Borman’s approach. It effectively demonstrates the influence of the women who surrounded Elizabeth I, whether in the role of surrogate mother, lady in waiting or contender to the throne. These were women who could spark her jealousy or benefit from her goodwill. I was As an avid reader of all things Tudor, I found Elizabeth’s Women to be very accessible despite some minor flaws. I was pleased with its good progression and chronology and anyone not as familiar with Elizabeth I’s life would enjoy Borman’s approach. It effectively demonstrates the influence of the women who surrounded Elizabeth I, whether in the role of surrogate mother, lady in waiting or contender to the throne. These were women who could spark her jealousy or benefit from her goodwill. I was exposed to a number of characters who were imperative to Elizabeth but scarcely mentioned in histories written about her. There were some names were familiar, but many were new to me. In the chapter titled “That She-Wolf,” I learned of Robert Dudley’s controversial courting of Lady Douglass Sheffield, the mother of his son Robert, and his second wife Lettice Knollys. However, I was surprised that there was no mention of the scandalous death of Amy Rosbart, his first wife, under mysterious circumstances. Obviously Amy was not as influential in Elizabeth’s life as her other rivals for Dudley’s affections, but omitting that significant even in a chapter addressing Dudley’s consorts seemed strange. Nevertheless, I was intrigued with the courtly drama that only women can instigate. There was some repetitiveness in the book that did not go unnoticed (I couldn’t keep track of how many times Elizabeth “precociousness” as a child was mentioned), but this did not detract from the overall solidity of the work as a whole. There was no question that Elizabeth was surrounded by both loyal servants, dangerous conspirators and everything in between, and they all come to life in this comprehensive look at the Queen and her women. I received a complimentary copy of this book via the Amazon Vine program.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Victoria

    I love the idea behind this book, Elizabeth is always portrayed as something of a 'man's woman', so it was interesting to consider her relationships with the women around her. However, there are a lot of little inaccuracies and claims that are not backed up by any evidence, and this ruined things a bit for me. Some examples of these are: Page 16 "Mary [Boleyn] had borne a son with mental disabilities whom Anne would not suffer to be at court." - This is not backed up by any reference and is very I love the idea behind this book, Elizabeth is always portrayed as something of a 'man's woman', so it was interesting to consider her relationships with the women around her. However, there are a lot of little inaccuracies and claims that are not backed up by any evidence, and this ruined things a bit for me. Some examples of these are: Page 16 "Mary [Boleyn] had borne a son with mental disabilities whom Anne would not suffer to be at court." - This is not backed up by any reference and is very unlikely to be true. There is no evidence that I'm aware of that Mary had a son with mental disabilities. A fuller discussion of this can be found at http://queryblog.tudorhistory.org/201... Page 167 "Although [Anne of Cleves] had been just short of forty-two years of age when she died, she had won the dubious honour of being the longest lived of all Henry's wives." - This is misleading. Although Anne of Cleves was the last of Henry's wives to dies, Katherine of Aragon had the longest life, dying at the age of 50 in 1536. Page 168 "No preparations were made for the birth... The Queen [Mary] entered her confinement shortly after her younger sister's departure." - Contradiction, preparations must have been made (even if few believed her to be pregnant) if the Queen then entered into confinement.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Huston

    Very well written, very interesting, look at the women in Elizabeth I's life, from ladies in waiting, servants, and rivals, among them Lettice Knollys, Mary Queen of Scots, the Grey sisters, and Bess of Hardwick. I was very taken by the story of Helena Snakenborg, it would be great material for a novel. A keeper. For the longer review, please go here: http://www.epinions.com/review/Tracy_... Very well written, very interesting, look at the women in Elizabeth I's life, from ladies in waiting, servants, and rivals, among them Lettice Knollys, Mary Queen of Scots, the Grey sisters, and Bess of Hardwick. I was very taken by the story of Helena Snakenborg, it would be great material for a novel. A keeper. For the longer review, please go here: http://www.epinions.com/review/Tracy_...

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ubiquitousbastard

    I would have liked more organization, maybe because of repeat titles and everyone having one of ten first names and one of like 5 surnames. I also wanted more information about more of her ladies, but I think too much of the book is taken up with Mary Queen of Scots and other large figures. I get that they're important in the scheme of things, but they're such large subjects that it's difficult to fit into someone else's life. I would have liked more organization, maybe because of repeat titles and everyone having one of ten first names and one of like 5 surnames. I also wanted more information about more of her ladies, but I think too much of the book is taken up with Mary Queen of Scots and other large figures. I get that they're important in the scheme of things, but they're such large subjects that it's difficult to fit into someone else's life.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Janet Wertman

    Sigh. There were a bunch of small errors that in the grand scheme of things shouldn't weigh that much - except that they make you wonder whether the author was as cavalier with her primary points. It was an important concept that had never been fully addressed - but didn't feel all that fully addressed here either (Elizabeth reigned for a long time and not all of it was well-represented...or was that just because it was unimportant?). I am assembling information for my upcoming trilogy on Elizab Sigh. There were a bunch of small errors that in the grand scheme of things shouldn't weigh that much - except that they make you wonder whether the author was as cavalier with her primary points. It was an important concept that had never been fully addressed - but didn't feel all that fully addressed here either (Elizabeth reigned for a long time and not all of it was well-represented...or was that just because it was unimportant?). I am assembling information for my upcoming trilogy on Elizabeth so it was a must-read - but I didn't come away with reams of notes as I'd expected. Still, I suspect I will be returning to it more than I expect right now....so I gave it the extra star.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Marie Z. Johansen

    I loved this book! I ordered it from Britain before it's US release because I did not want to wait (check out the Book Depository or Amazon UK when you simply can't wait for a US release of a book ). This cover is the British edition cover. I liked it better so I used it here - you can see the US cover now on any book seller’s site! I think this is just about my favorite book about Elizabeth I. It's jam packed with small details and information about Elizabeth that are most often overlooked by m I loved this book! I ordered it from Britain before it's US release because I did not want to wait (check out the Book Depository or Amazon UK when you simply can't wait for a US release of a book ). This cover is the British edition cover. I liked it better so I used it here - you can see the US cover now on any book seller’s site! I think this is just about my favorite book about Elizabeth I. It's jam packed with small details and information about Elizabeth that are most often overlooked by many authors who seem to concentrate on her relationships with men and her political acumen. This book is about Elizabeth I - the queen who has always captured my imagination and has held my interest. I wish I could time travel so that I could hear her voice - see her walk. No - not yet possible! I think that Elizabeth was so much more than we can ever know. I think she was, most likely rather officious and rude to many of her ladies and maids in waiting - but charming and gregarious when handsome men were involved! That being said said Elizabeth was an amazing female ruler in a time when it was anathema for a country to have such a strong, apt, female leader! This book is about the women in Elizabeth's close circle of trusted female confidants. It's an aspect of Elizabeth's life - a large aspect of her life, that is often overlooked in favor of the larger issues of Elizabeth's life. The book is broken into sections that cover, her mother, Anne Boleyn, her sister, Mary, her step-mothers, Jane, Catherine and Katherine, her governesses, ladies in waiting, cousins, men and the travails of being a female ruler in a country that believed no female could effective rule by herself. Although this edition was 392 pages of relatively small print it flashed by like a novel - I could not put it down! Ms. Borman's style is easy to read but she in no way "dumbs down" the information. I am off to order her first book now - if I can find one that I can afford that is! " Henrietta Howard: King's Mistress. Queen's Servant". If you love history I think you too will love this book! No disappointment here !

  12. 4 out of 5

    Oldroses

    I was so excited when this book arrived from Amazon.com. I couldn’t wait to dive into it. After all, it promised a brand new view of Elizabeth I, “…portrayed here as the product of women….” The reader is assured that it is “…a thrilling new angle by the brilliant young historian Tracy Borman.” The author herself guarantees that she has “…focused the story upon those women who help to reveal Elizabeth the woman, as well as Elizabeth the Queen.” 418 pages later, I am still waiting for a revelation I was so excited when this book arrived from Amazon.com. I couldn’t wait to dive into it. After all, it promised a brand new view of Elizabeth I, “…portrayed here as the product of women….” The reader is assured that it is “…a thrilling new angle by the brilliant young historian Tracy Borman.” The author herself guarantees that she has “…focused the story upon those women who help to reveal Elizabeth the woman, as well as Elizabeth the Queen.” 418 pages later, I am still waiting for a revelation. This book is only interesting to readers who know little or nothing about Elizabeth I. For the rest of us, it is just a tiresome rehashing of all the familiar stories. Elizabeth’s relationships with her half-sister, Mary and Mary, Queen of Scots. Her ladies in waiting, both those who served her selflessly and those who “betrayed” her with secret pregnancies and secret marriages, usually in that order. There are no new insights into any of these women, their lives nor their influence on Elizabeth. The only original thinking in the book is a few brief pages on Elizabeth’s similarity to her mother, Anne Boleyn. Most biographers point out her similarities to her father, Henry VIII. This biographer looks at her resemblance to her mother both in looks and personality and how she used both to manipulate the men around her, again like her mother. This single original thought could have fit comfortably into an article or academic paper. There was no reason to write a book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Siria

    The hook of this biography of Elizabeth I is that it sets out to do something new—to create the queen and her society by examining the network of women who surrounded Elizabeth and who influenced her, from the memory of her mother's execution through to faithful female courtiers who attended her in her final days. Sadly, Borman fails to deliver on the promise of that hook. What could have been a very intriguing study of female networks of friendship, co-operation, education, and enmity; of the c The hook of this biography of Elizabeth I is that it sets out to do something new—to create the queen and her society by examining the network of women who surrounded Elizabeth and who influenced her, from the memory of her mother's execution through to faithful female courtiers who attended her in her final days. Sadly, Borman fails to deliver on the promise of that hook. What could have been a very intriguing study of female networks of friendship, co-operation, education, and enmity; of the centrality of the female body and its display and its (mis)behaviours to Tudor politics; is instead largely a rehashing of earlier biographies, which says nothing new and frequently repeats as truth things which have previously been shown to be at best unreliable. There are also some weird factual slips—with titles; I think one or two other things as well—and some hints of depressingly familiar attitudes towards female sexuality and sexual expression. The best I can say about this is that it's not the worst biography of Elizabeth that I've read—and yes, I am aware that I'm damning with faint praise.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Girl with her Head in a Book

    For my full review: https://girlwithherheadinabook.co.uk/... The concept behind this book was intriguing; Borman argues that Elizabeth I worked hard to be treated as a man in the public sphere and that therefore her female private circle has been neglected in biography.  This reminded me of how Hilary Clinton described how herself and other female Secretaries of State would travel to countries such as Saudi Arabia and be treated by government officials as men, since acknowledging their womanhood For my full review: https://girlwithherheadinabook.co.uk/... The concept behind this book was intriguing; Borman argues that Elizabeth I worked hard to be treated as a man in the public sphere and that therefore her female private circle has been neglected in biography.  This reminded me of how Hilary Clinton described how herself and other female Secretaries of State would travel to countries such as Saudi Arabia and be treated by government officials as men, since acknowledging their womanhood would make it too complicated for them to work together.  Elizabeth famously told her armies before the Spanish Armada that she had the 'heart and stomach' of a King despite having the body of a 'weak and feeble woman', she refused to take a husband and described herself as married to her country.  She rejected the contemporary norms for how a woman should be, so how did she relate to the women in her life? Much of the book is fairly well-trodden territory, going over Elizabeth's early life and her mother's sudden and savage downfall.  Borman is an engaging writer however with an eye for picking up on under-reported details, such as the similarities with how Anne Boleyn ran her household and the manner in which Elizabeth later ran her own, implying a stronger feeling towards her mother than is typically depicted.  Borman traces carefully through the various female care-givers who were significant in Elizabeth's young life, from Lady Margaret Bryan to the infamous Kat Ashley (strangely referred to as Astley in Borman's book) and also Elizabeth's various stepmothers. I was interested by the way that Borman covered the infamous episode around Thomas Seymour.  The blind eye which Katherine Parr seemed to turn for the first while always seemed puzzling, but Borman places it convincingly as part of a wider tension between Katherine Parr and Kat Ashley over Elizabeth's affections.  I have read a number of Elizabeth-related biographies and I never can take to Kat Ashley.  No matter how sympathetic the writer, there is no hiding the woman's consistent negligence and indiscretion.  Elizabeth must have truly loved her as there is no other explanation for why she kept such a liability on the payroll for so many decades. Another point which Borman raises was around the practical challenges of having a female sovereign.  Previously with male monarchs, roles within the royal household and council could overlap and function relatively interchangeably.  With the advent of Mary and Elizabeth, suddenly there were household functionary roles too intimate for a man to carry out.  It also led women into positions of confidence and potential influence in an unprecedented way.  The strangest thing though was how many of these women had such key positions so close to the throne and yet remain so utterly unknown to history.  Even as a long-term Tudor fan, much of the biographical detail provided around Blanche Parry and Helena Snakenborg was new to me. Borman analyses Elizabeth's fears around marriage with even-handedness.  She seems to discount Elizabeth's alleged closeness to Katherine Howard as an explanation but does point out the lessons that Elizabeth seems to have drawn from the example of Mary I.  The public humiliation suffered by Elizabeth's sister over her repeated phantom pregnancies damaged Mary's stock both as a woman but also as a monarch.  While discounting the more outlandish theories around whether Elizabeth was a normally functioning woman, Borman does consider whether Elizabeth herself had concerns about her own biology.  Having suffered similar menstrual problems to Mary since adolescence, Elizabeth may have concluded that the risks around publicly displayed infertility did not outweigh the uncertain benefits of producing a legitimate heir of her own. Of course, even if Elizabeth did choose the virgin state for health reasons, it did seem to lead her into conflict with other fertile women.  Borman suggests that part of her fury towards her cousin Katherine Grey was founded upon her jealousy at the ease with which the latter brought forth healthy sons.  Mary Queen of Scots also represented a threat not only as a fellow monarch but as a fertile one at that.  We talk so much in the modern era about the sensitivities around women who are unable to become mothers, it was fascinating to consider these uneasy dynamics existed even so many centuries ago. That being said, there are certain areas where Elizabeth's Women does seem to skim over the finer detail.  There are a few points of minor inaccuracy which seem more like typos (e.g. Kat Ashley/Astley) but which should have been avoidable.  Puzzlingly, Borman also refers to Mary Boleyn's son Henry Carey as being mentally handicapped, even citing this as a possible genetic fear around why Elizabeth chose not to procreate.  Strangely, she then refers to Henry Carey's later court career without seeming to note the conflict.  This would appear to be related to a misconception in an earlier biography which Borman had failed to examine more closely.  Additionally, having read Leanda De Lisle's The Sisters Who Would Be Queen on the Grey sisters and Alison Weir's The Lost Tudor Princess concerning Lady Margaret Douglas, I felt that those books provided far greater nuance on their subjects than Borman was able to.  While it will never be possible to say for certain, particularly in the case of Lady Margaret Douglas, it felt that Borman was providing broad brush strokes only. The over-arching impression from Elizabeth's Women however was that Elizabeth I did not particularly like other women.  In the modern era we look distrustfully upon women who are unable to maintain female friendships and this does seem to be something that Elizabeth struggled with.  Her demands of blind obedience and utter loyalty lead to fury when any of her ladies in waiting had the temerity to get married, still worse if they happened to wed any of her favourites.  Few of Elizabeth's described interactions with her ladies paint her in a particularly positive light, even if some of the sources cited by Borman do appear a little speculative. Elizabeth was not seeking a sisterhood, she did not want to fit in with other women, she wanted it be clear that she was above them, more than, better than - she wanted to be a man.  Unlike her cousin Mary Queen of Scots, she refused to sit and sew during the council meetings while the men did all the big thinking - she wanted it to be clear that she was in charge.  This determination for mastery translated to all areas of her life.  Like her father before her, she wanted to believe herself loved and desired by all.  This does not necessarily translate to being an easy person to have around.  Despite some of my doubts about Borman's referencing, this was an enjoyable piece of popular history which shone a light on Elizabeth's domestic sphere, a side of her that she was very keen to minimise.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    I enjoyed reading about the women in Elizabeth’s life and their influence on her. She was clearly a demanding employer, expecting her women to put her first in all things and, preferably, to forgo any life of their own so as not to impinge on their attention to her. A couple of people have mentioned the historical errors, two of which I picked up on myself, namely that Catherine of Aragon was regent while Henry was in France and that the woman I have always read of as Kat Ashley is referred to t I enjoyed reading about the women in Elizabeth’s life and their influence on her. She was clearly a demanding employer, expecting her women to put her first in all things and, preferably, to forgo any life of their own so as not to impinge on their attention to her. A couple of people have mentioned the historical errors, two of which I picked up on myself, namely that Catherine of Aragon was regent while Henry was in France and that the woman I have always read of as Kat Ashley is referred to throughout as Kat Astley. I wonder where that came from as the notes in the appendix say that she spelt her own name as Aschely? It would be interesting to know why the author uses Astley. I haven’t read much about any of these women individually, so the book was a good introduction to all of them and a base for further reading. Despite the couple of historical anomalies it was a good read and I enjoyed it.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Julia

    Although this book is highly readable, at times that seems to come at the expense of sound historical methodology, and occasionally even at the expense of continuity. Borman too often says that one thing [definitely] led to another, or that a certain event in Elizabeth's life made - not "contributed to," but "made" - her act in a certain way later in life. Additionally, there were times that the author contradicted herself. For instance, when discussing Mary, Queen of Scots' marriage to the Earl Although this book is highly readable, at times that seems to come at the expense of sound historical methodology, and occasionally even at the expense of continuity. Borman too often says that one thing [definitely] led to another, or that a certain event in Elizabeth's life made - not "contributed to," but "made" - her act in a certain way later in life. Additionally, there were times that the author contradicted herself. For instance, when discussing Mary, Queen of Scots' marriage to the Earl of Bothwell, in one paragraph, Borman says that it is likely that Mary only married Bothwell because he had raped her and she had no other choice. In the very next paragraph, though, Borman goes on to say that actually this marriage shows how deeply conventional Mary's views on gender roles were, and that she married Bothwell because she needed a man to do the leading, etc. If that's not a direct contradiction, it is at least a discontinuity of argument, and it was not the only such one. In all, it was these little - but frequent - hitches in Borman's arguments that made me rank it as low as I did. There are equally-readable books out there on this time period, ones which have a sounder grounding.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Colleen

    This is the second Tudor history book I've read this month, and this was by far the more enjoyable. I've read a lot of books (fiction and non-fiction) about Elizabeth but never one like this that focused on the women who surrounded the Virgin Queen and helped shape her views on life and leadership. Though the cast of characters is huge, and many of them share names, Borman did a good job of helping the reader keep track and differentiating between the Janes and Katherines that populated Elizabet This is the second Tudor history book I've read this month, and this was by far the more enjoyable. I've read a lot of books (fiction and non-fiction) about Elizabeth but never one like this that focused on the women who surrounded the Virgin Queen and helped shape her views on life and leadership. Though the cast of characters is huge, and many of them share names, Borman did a good job of helping the reader keep track and differentiating between the Janes and Katherines that populated Elizabeth's world. One weakness that I see is that Borman assumes a level of knowledge about the history of the time that makes it clear this book is not for the uninitiated. That said, anyone who has read a couple of books about Elizabeth will have no problem following the action. All in all, an interesting and innovative treatment of a much analyzed figure in history.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Janet Flora Corso

    Wonderful history of Queen Elizabeth I and her relationships with women, family, friends and foes. A lot has been written about how she worked with men, in a "man's world" and how she loved men, yet shunned marriage. This book focuses on the women who helped her in life and in her regency as well as some historical figures we know little about. I learned a lot and it is written so well it is easy to follow. Anyone who knows Tudor and Elizabethan history knows there is plenty of intrigue and scan Wonderful history of Queen Elizabeth I and her relationships with women, family, friends and foes. A lot has been written about how she worked with men, in a "man's world" and how she loved men, yet shunned marriage. This book focuses on the women who helped her in life and in her regency as well as some historical figures we know little about. I learned a lot and it is written so well it is easy to follow. Anyone who knows Tudor and Elizabethan history knows there is plenty of intrigue and scandal; to keep the story going. Well worth it for history buffs or even fans of historical fiction who may want to learn more about the minor and major historical figures who star in many recent novels.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Melissa McCauley

    I was excited to pick up a book which looks at Elizabeth I’s life from a different perspective. All the histories I have read (sorry Alison Weir – you too) seem to only treat her as a powerful monarch (which she was). Borman explores what she might have felt as a precocious girl, a teen, a young woman – and how her life experiences shaped her psyche and her character - almost all the people in her life were women. Strong, smart women. Unfortunately, the narrative bogged down in the second half (as I was excited to pick up a book which looks at Elizabeth I’s life from a different perspective. All the histories I have read (sorry Alison Weir – you too) seem to only treat her as a powerful monarch (which she was). Borman explores what she might have felt as a precocious girl, a teen, a young woman – and how her life experiences shaped her psyche and her character - almost all the people in her life were women. Strong, smart women. Unfortunately, the narrative bogged down in the second half (as does every other book about Gloriana I have read), when her life became consumed by the great high school lunchroom that was the British royal court.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. [image error] Abridged - Emma Fielding reads from Tracy Borman's biography of Elizabeth I, which explores the relationships she had with the women in her life. These women brought out the best and the worst of Elizabeth, who could be loyal and kind but also cruel and vindictive. They all influenced Elizabeth's carefully-cultivated image as Gloriana, The Virgin Queen. [image error] Abridged - Emma Fielding reads from Tracy Borman's biography of Elizabeth I, which explores the relationships she had with the women in her life. These women brought out the best and the worst of Elizabeth, who could be loyal and kind but also cruel and vindictive. They all influenced Elizabeth's carefully-cultivated image as Gloriana, The Virgin Queen.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    This book took me forever to finish, but I believe that is because Elizabeth I didn't interest me that much. My only two complaints about the book, which are more nitpicks, are that Borman uses the word "precocious" too often, especially in the beginning of the book, and I'd rather all the quotes be written in modern English rather than medieval English as it slowed me down trying to decipher them. This book took me forever to finish, but I believe that is because Elizabeth I didn't interest me that much. My only two complaints about the book, which are more nitpicks, are that Borman uses the word "precocious" too often, especially in the beginning of the book, and I'd rather all the quotes be written in modern English rather than medieval English as it slowed me down trying to decipher them.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jodi

    Disappointing to say the least. Had very high hopes for this book and besides not presenting any new interpretations, Borman made mistakes and would make some very sweeping statements. Guess I am a very tough audience for Elizabethan materials. This was a gentle enough read for most people but I did get a bit impatient with it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Patty Abrams

    This turns out not to specifically be about the women in Elizabeth I's life, but a generalized biography of her, from birth to death. There are a few women spoken of as you go along, but be prepared to learn all about Elizabeth, more than you ever wanted to know. This turns out not to specifically be about the women in Elizabeth I's life, but a generalized biography of her, from birth to death. There are a few women spoken of as you go along, but be prepared to learn all about Elizabeth, more than you ever wanted to know.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Meg

    I don't exactly know what I was expecting from this book. Elizabeth was a brilliant stateswoman, but apparently, if you were prettier than her she would lose it. I don't exactly know what I was expecting from this book. Elizabeth was a brilliant stateswoman, but apparently, if you were prettier than her she would lose it.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Brittany Wouters

    Slutshamed Anne Boleyn, and it went downhill from there. It wasn't gripping, interesting, or revelatory. Slutshamed Anne Boleyn, and it went downhill from there. It wasn't gripping, interesting, or revelatory.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Marie Burton

    In a world inundated with modern biographies on Elizabeth I, historian Tracy Borman sets out to explore the world of women surrounding Elizabeth I in hopes of shedding light on Elizabeth's character and personality. Who helped shaped Elizabeth into such a formidable female ruler, something that was an anomaly in itself? This is a proficient account of the story behind the stories of Elizabeth's peers, elders and family members that helps the reader to better understand the nuts and bolts of Eliz In a world inundated with modern biographies on Elizabeth I, historian Tracy Borman sets out to explore the world of women surrounding Elizabeth I in hopes of shedding light on Elizabeth's character and personality. Who helped shaped Elizabeth into such a formidable female ruler, something that was an anomaly in itself? This is a proficient account of the story behind the stories of Elizabeth's peers, elders and family members that helps the reader to better understand the nuts and bolts of Elizabeth's mind, which was always skillfully at work. Despite the bevy of information at our fingertips regarding Elizabeth, she is still one of the most intriguing figures of the Tudor era. Born to Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn, she was at first a disappointment to her parents and a kingdom by being a girl. Losing her mother at the age of 3, she was brought up in her own household under the tutelage of preferred women. It is with these women that Elizabeth begins cultivating her personality and understanding the way of the tumultuous world around her. Although we regularly hear of the men or the favorites in Elizabeth's life, rarely do we obtain as much information about the women who constantly attended her and were with her behind the scenes.. until now. Borman begins the story of Elizabeth with her mother, Anne Boleyn, and gives the standard biography of Anne. Although at first she praises Anne's intellect, she soon writes of her haughtiness and the swift fall from Henry's graces once they were finally married. Seemingly it was once they were married that Anne's and Henry's marriage fell apart. Elizabeth seems to have not had much of a relationship with Anne or Henry as a child, except for Anne sending gifts to Elizabeth. Borman explains how Elizabeth interacted with a few of the children and caretakers, such as Blanche Parry (who ended up serving Elizabeth for over fifty years), and she goes into small biographies of these secondary women as she introduces them to us. Another woman who also stayed with Elizabeth a lengthy amount and therefore gets more attention is the governess, Kat Astley or Ashley, who joined Elizabeth's household when Elizabeth was 3 and Kat was probably in her late twenties. Elizabeth was very close to her as Kat was one of the few people in her life that stayed with her in her younger years. I had not realized the extent of Kat's own learning because of the ridicule she receives by historians due to the Thomas Seymour affair. After Lady Bryan it was Kat who had continued to instill a love for learning, which was further enhanced by her last stepmother, Katherine Parr and the tutors she chose for Elizabeth. For some thirty, forty and fifty years these few women such as Kat Ashley, Blanche Parry and Anne Dudley stayed nearby with Elizabeth and were close confidantes and friends to the Queen. Borman details the relationships of the women with Elizabeth in a way that has not been done before, when before we had always heard of merely Cecil influencing Elizabeth's political decisions. We now get a look on the inside, the female perspective of jealousy, vanity and courtly appearance. One of the most interesting continuing relationships in Borman's book deals with the sisterhood of Elizabeth and Mary. Borman tells of how Elizabeth interacted with her half siblings, and I was surprised to learn that her sister Mary had eventually grown fond of Elizabeth, probably out of pity, once Anne Boleyn was executed. Knowing of the strained relationship Mary and Elizabeth had once their brother King Edward had died, I had never assumed that they were in reality ever close, yet Borman portrays Mary as once being maternal to Elizabeth. They were 17 years apart, and with Elizabeth being 3 when she lost her mother, Mary may have felt sorry for her. But soon enough for Mary's reign, Mary was calling Elizabeth the bastard, the daughter of the little whore, etc. A swift turn around for Mary's feelings towards Elizabeth, but one wonders all the different mechanisms at play, such as Mary's jealousy towards Elizabeth as Elizabeth grew into a pleasant looking young lady and Mary was soon eclipsed by Elizabeth's sharp mind and looks. Anne of Cleves favored Elizabeth over Mary, and Katherine Parr did as well. Did Mary resent this? Once Mary was queen, she did not trust Elizabeth, and denounced her right to the succession. There was a long look at Mary Tudor here, but was appreciated for the fact that we were able to glean what Elizabeth learned from Mary's reign. One of the many people who helped shaped the progress of Elizabeth's reign was her cousin, Mary the Queen of Scots. Most people know of the outcome that happened after Mary had been a burr in Elizabeth's side for nearly thirty years, and the author devotes an entire 50 page chapter to this conflict. This is where the allure of the book started to lose its luster, but it picked up its interesting pace as soon as the Queen of Scots was dealt with. I had already read enough accounts of these two Queen's relationships and there was not any new insight for me regarding the effects of their animosity towards each other. Those who are not acquainted with that story may not be as disappointed as I was to see so much time devoted to this, however. Of some of the influencers and courtiers that we read about are the Seymour family, the Sidneys, and Lettice Knollys (who married Elizabeth's favorite, Leicester, much to Elizabeth's chagrin). We also are treated to accounts regarding Bess of Hardwick, married to George Talbot, both as she was a gaoler for Mary Queen of Scots and later when Arbella was growing up into an eccentric young lady. Other characters include Bess Throckmorton who shocked Elizabeth by becoming pregnant by Sir Walter Ralegh, and the cousins Katherine and Mary Grey who posed a threat to Elizabeth's throne. Those who are looking for more insight into the characters surrounding Elizabeth during her life will not be disappointed. Beginning with Anne Boleyn and continuing with the two Queen Mary's, we are privy to the causes and effects that made Elizabeth who she was, Gloriana. This is thoroughly researched, with the footnotes to prove it, and it is put together effectively. Through the reign of Mary I, we are made to understand how Elizabeth learned from Mary's mistakes and held fast to her beliefs on how to rule exclusively without a husband or even an heir, as opposed to the hard and unbending rule of her sister. We begin to understand Elizabeth's decisions on the refusal of marriage when Elizabeth witnesses the catastrophic effects of most marriages of those in power, from her father to her sister. We learn that Elizabeth had a strict expectation of the women in her chambers and wished for them to not marry at all, and was hard on those that strayed from the virginal status. This is not just another biography of Elizabeth I or the history of Elizabethan England. In fact, Borman successfully dodges that bullet by not repeating many of the historical events that happened during Elizabeth's life, and even skips those that greatly effected her. For instance, the author does not discuss the fatal period of Lady Jane Grey's reign, nor does she go into the Dudley plot which scared Elizabeth half out of her mind as she was imprisoned when her sister was Queen and there is no mention of the burning of heretics. This is a fulfilling account of the women who definitely instilled Elizabeth's characteristics and beliefs into her heart and mind. Moreover, I would recommend reading a biography on Elizabeth I before reading this one due to the nature that this is more of a study and commentary on those surrounding her who helped to shape the character of Elizabeth. It would be hard to understand the ramifications of some of the things that Elizabeth encountered in her relationships that are discussed here without knowing any of the political and biographical history of Elizabeth I. If you do not feel intrigued by the persona of Elizabeth I, this is not the book for you. I had hoped for more of a finishing commentary as a summary on Elizabeth from the author's opinion; but overall I was sad that I had completed this book because I was enjoying my enlightened status of understanding Elizabeth as a woman, as the Virgin Queen, and why she chose that status for herself. There was the blurb about George and Jane Boleyn having a son which I disagree with, and the excessive information on the Queen of Scots negated a star for me. I enjoyed 95% of this book, being a Tudor fanatic that I am, and I definitely recommend this book for anyone who has an interest in the workings of Elizabeth's mind, and of the many supporting or bothersome women in her life.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    Tracy Borman's "Elizabeth's Women" is an incredibly misogynistic text that demonizes women's sexualities in order to explain why Elizabeth herself chose to remain a virgin. Compare this: “Anne [of Cleves] could neither dance nor play a musical instrument, and her ignorance and shyness rendered her an embarrassment in the sophisticated world of the Tudor court” (Borman 75). Thus, Borman argues that dance is a sophisticated, queenly activity. But in Katherine Howard’s case: “Katherine…preferred the Tracy Borman's "Elizabeth's Women" is an incredibly misogynistic text that demonizes women's sexualities in order to explain why Elizabeth herself chose to remain a virgin. Compare this: “Anne [of Cleves] could neither dance nor play a musical instrument, and her ignorance and shyness rendered her an embarrassment in the sophisticated world of the Tudor court” (Borman 75). Thus, Borman argues that dance is a sophisticated, queenly activity. But in Katherine Howard’s case: “Katherine…preferred the frivolous pastimes of dancing and gossiping” (Borman 79). So dancing is now frivolous when just four pages before the Tudors viewed it as an expected activity for their queens? This kind of bias has no place in a historical text. More appalling is this next argument. Borman writes: “She was then fourteen years old at most and had little sense of morality, for she regularly welcomed Dereham into her bedchamber, and before long they became sexually involved. Katherine was far from the corrupted innocent she is often portrayed as. The evidence suggests that she was as much a sexual predator as Dereham and knew exactly what she was doing” (Borman 79). This is horrific. A girl, “fourteen years old at most” is a sexual predator? Perhaps a girl so young doesn’t know how to refuse a man likely ten years her senior. Dereham's age was not mentioned in this passage at all, I might add. Or perhaps there was no one to protect her from such abuse. How dare Borman act as though Katherine Howard- a child- abused a man who likely raped her. And how patriarchal her argument, that a fourteen year old girl had “little sense of morality.” This passage was so sickening. I cannot believe it was published. And, excuse me, but Katherine Howard is never portrayed as a “corrupted innocent.” More often than not, Katherine Howard suffers the same slut-shaming and victim-shaming that Borman subjects her to. This is absolutely appalling “scholarship.” And finally, as if Borman hadn’t disgusted me enough, she writes this, when Henry VIII was told of her alleged affairs: “To be told that she was an arch-deceiver with the morals of a whore was too much for him to bear” (Borman 83). An "arch-deceiver?" "Morals of a whore?" How dare she write those words. Katherine Howard was a nineteen year old girl. Borman’s “morality” argument is hideously patriarchal, as if women and girls ought to ascribe to socially constructed “morals” to earn Borman’s respect. Did she read her own writing? Did she consider how patriarchal her “feminist” account actually is? This text is revolting. If you’d like to read it, read it with caution. Borman is profoundly sexist. I’ve rarely been so disappointed with a book in my life.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Karen Brooks

    This is a brave book. Brave because it dares to tackle one of the most popular subjects available to historians and try and breath new life or at least create a different context for understanding the remarkable, mercurial and difficult Elizabeth I, “Gloriana.” The key to the book lies in the title – the ways in which female friendship, enemies and rivalry influenced Elizabeth’s personality, upbringing, loves, and ultimately her reign. Commencing, as many histories of Elizabeth do, with her mother This is a brave book. Brave because it dares to tackle one of the most popular subjects available to historians and try and breath new life or at least create a different context for understanding the remarkable, mercurial and difficult Elizabeth I, “Gloriana.” The key to the book lies in the title – the ways in which female friendship, enemies and rivalry influenced Elizabeth’s personality, upbringing, loves, and ultimately her reign. Commencing, as many histories of Elizabeth do, with her mother, Anne Boleyn, and father, Henry VIII’s relationship, Borman tries to explain how Elizabeth would have understood the mistakes and triumphs of the significant women in her life, the manner in which they handled themselves, found a place in such a patriarchal society, and learned from that. Starting with Anne, who was executed when Elizabeth was so young, and examining how her mother would have been represented to and thus remembered by Elizabeth is apt. In her childhood and adolescence, Elizabeth's fortunes were contingent on those of other women - from her mother’s rise in her father’s court, to the overturning of the Catholic Church before she was even born, to her execution. Henry's marriage to Jane Seymour and the birth of the royal prince and heir Edward, the quiet and dignified withdrawal of Anne of Cleaves after her father Henry VIII rejected her, Katherine Howard’s flightiness and deadly flirtatiousness, to the independence quiet Catherine Parr achieved as a widow would have all helped to shape the person young Elizabeth was to become. Then there were her governesses and Ladies of the Bedchamber – many who stood by Elizabeth during the fraught times when her older half-sister, Mary, reigned (and Elizabeth stood accused of plotting against the throne and worse) and again, when her brother Edward became king. These women, such as Blanche Parry, Kat Ashley and many more besides took care of Elizabeth’s emotional and psychological needs as much as her physical ones, performing the role of mother, sister and family among others. Variously wise and silly, they steered Elizabeth through and sometimes into dangerous waters, but she never forgot their loyalty and trusted many of them implicitly, rewarding them and their families when she came to power. These were her “real” friends, one senses from Borman’s words, in ways that many other women were not. In fact, historian Alison Weir (who praises Borman’s scholarliness), in her biography of Elizabeth argues that the Queen saw most women as “threat”. Borman’s book would counter that claim as well as support it – Elizabeth either adored or loathed you – and not just women either. Understanding the subservient role demanded by her sex, Elizabeth nonetheless tried to find ways to exert her authority once she came to the throne – sometimes that involved demeaning her own sex or highlighting her masculine qualities such as she did in her famous speeches – at Tilbury and, at the end of her reign, to parliament. As Borman writes, “Sixteenth-century society was shaped by the Church, which taught the misogynistic lessons of St Paul. Women were the authors of original sin; instruments of the devil. Their only hope for salvation was to accept the natural inferiority to men…” This was not to be disputed but taken as a fact that underpinned contemporary attitudes, including those towards Elizabeth for whom it was thought only a husband could provide the necessary qualities to govern England. Elizabeth’s elevation to the throne was regarded as simply the first stage in gaining England a male ruler - this she would accomplish through an auspicious marriage which would later produce an heir. The way Elizabeth staved off this compromising of her power is explored as well as some reasons for this proffered. Even the men who appreciated her intellect and cunning and were fiercely loyal to her such as William Cecil, Francis Walsingham and Robert Cecil, were also frustrated by her "weak" womanliness, her prevaricating, overt favouritism of certain men; what was regarded as the “problem” of her sex, and urged her to wed and resolve the accession issue. It wasn’t only the men of Elizabeth’s council and court such as William Cecil (later, Lord Burghley), who believed that a male ruler was essential, there were even those who sought to use Elizabeth as leverage for their own climb to power and take her as a bride such as Thomas Seymour (a scandal that nearly destroyed a teen Elizabeth and has given source to countless fictive (and factual) speculations about what really went on between them) and, later, Robert Dudley (the same can be said for his relationship with her – something the infamous Leycester’s Commonwealth – published in 1584 - fuelled with its dreadful claims). For the first twenty years of her reign, Elizabeth appeared to taunt her Privy Council by considering very respectable offers (and some not so desirable) of marriage from foreign rulers (and even the local boy, Earl of Arran) before discarding them and remaining a spinster – the Virgin Queen, a title that, twenty years after she took the throne no-one dared dispute but instead, began to embrace. When it came to husbands, the error in judgement of other women around her (in this case, her sister “Bloody Mary” and her unhappy marriage to the despised Spanish and Catholic Philip and the problems that wrought for England as well as Mary Stuart’s poor choices of men), would have been apparent to her. Borman also speculates a fear of childbirth, though that’s to be understood in this period when mortality rates for mothers and infants were high. Taking the reader through all the major stages of Elizabeth’s reign, focussing on politics, relationships, scandals, triumphs, dress and pageantry but explaining the importance of the latter to the maintenance of both a royal persona and a façade of control, Borman explores many of the queen’s intimate and not so close relationships, including the complex love/hate, friend/rival, threat/promise of Mary, Queen of Scots, Bess Hardwick, the Greys, the Knollys, making it clear that though Elizabeth was whip-smart and a politician par excellence, she was also capable of great loyalty, jealousy, pettiness and cruelty when it came to women – events surrounding her upbringing could not have her any other way. What was also interesting in terms of modern concerns was Elizabeth’s paranoia around ageing and her attempts to conceal what’s a fact of life from her courtiers and foreign dignitaries – with the exception of the women of her chamber. Wigs, heavy make-up and a rigorous exercise regime were upheld almost to the last, even when small-mindedness and in-fighting was rife throughout the court in the last couple of years of Elizabeth’s rule. Determined to demonstrate her capabilities, Elizabeth appeared to understand that for a female particularly, appearances counted as much as performance (plus ca change!). While a woman was not to be trusted and was seen as inconvenient and incapable, an old woman was worse. In the end, age was a great foe that not even Elizabeth could defeat. An interesting book that is very easy to read and highly accessible – even for those who do not know too much about Elizabeth’s reign – though a basic if not sound knowledge does enrich the book and allows the reader to critique some of the claims – which is always a fascinating exercise. It’s terrific to be offered challenges to “facts” and think about what might have been and different ways about what was. Thoroughly enjoyed this as a welcome addition to the El

  29. 5 out of 5

    Library of Dreaming (Bookstagram)

    I'm genuinely struggling with what to rate this book. Parts of the book were totally fascinating and well-written. Other parts were based on such shoddy conclusions and tired stereotypes that I had to force myself to keep reading. The entire book is filled with an undercurrent of venom that I find hard to explain. Anne Boleyn gets the worst treatment, in my opinion. Tracy Borman portrays her as a conniving, seductive, and cruel bitch. I was especially unnerved by the suggestion that Anne hated M I'm genuinely struggling with what to rate this book. Parts of the book were totally fascinating and well-written. Other parts were based on such shoddy conclusions and tired stereotypes that I had to force myself to keep reading. The entire book is filled with an undercurrent of venom that I find hard to explain. Anne Boleyn gets the worst treatment, in my opinion. Tracy Borman portrays her as a conniving, seductive, and cruel bitch. I was especially unnerved by the suggestion that Anne hated Mary Tudor and even had her beaten. I don't deny that Anne must have felt threatened, but Borman gives her too much credit with regards to Mary and does not provide any kind of reliable evidence. I felt like she was just rehashing the same stereotype of Anne that has existed over the centuries without bringing anything new to the table. Many of the other women in Elizabeth's life are given the same questionable treatment. Mary is a "born martyr". Katherine Howard is a sexually experienced airhead with no possible claim to innocence. Elizabeth herself is alternately lauded and criticized. Borman is not afraid to paint her with a broad brush. I agree that Elizabeth must have been extremely intelligent, but Borman's portrayal of her even at the tender age of six defies even the description "precocious". I rolled my eyes a lot while reading this book. I was downright uncomfortable at times, especially during Borman's description of the 14 year old Elizabeth's sexual maturity. Considering she immediately started discussing the Seymour affair, I felt decidedly creeped out. I really don't know much about it, but I think Thomas Seymour's actions can certainly be considered child abuse. I think a more nuanced appreciation of Elizabeth's feelings and the situation itself would definitely be worthy to explore, but I don't particularly trust anything Borman has to say on the subject. I guess that could summarize my main problem with this book: I just don't trust Tracy Borman. She makes claims without backing them up, broadly assigns emotions and inferences, and uses biased sources without any kind of qualification. I found her depictions of Elizabeth, her confidents, and her ladies-in-waiting really fascinating, but I don't know if I can really trust her conclusions. I know enough about Anne Boleyn to know for sure that Borman is basing her claims on extremely shaky ground, but I don't know enough about the Elizabethan era to be able to judge for sure. If anything, this book has inspired me to look elsewhere to learn about the women in Elizabeth's life. I just don't have enough faith that Borman is giving us the real story...

  30. 5 out of 5

    James

    This book delves into the personal and private life of one of histories most successful and popular rulers - Queen Elizabeth I of England. So often depicted as a 'mans woman', Elizabeth even described herself as having "the heart and stomach of a King". But this book presents another side to the story of Elizabeth, how the women around her impacted her life. From the mother she hardly had time to get to know, to the succession of stepmothers, her sister who imprisoned her in the Tower and the va This book delves into the personal and private life of one of histories most successful and popular rulers - Queen Elizabeth I of England. So often depicted as a 'mans woman', Elizabeth even described herself as having "the heart and stomach of a King". But this book presents another side to the story of Elizabeth, how the women around her impacted her life. From the mother she hardly had time to get to know, to the succession of stepmothers, her sister who imprisoned her in the Tower and the various cousins who she viewed with suspicion (in some cases rightly so) for their close proximity to the throne. But this book also discusses the other ladies who - while not being related by blood - were equally as important - if not more so - to the Queen. From her governesses who were pretty much her mother figures, to the ladies of her bedchamber who were her closest companions throughout her reign. These women were pretty much the only ones who saw the real Elizabeth, behind the mask of youth as she got older, without her wigs or elaborate clothing. They were her true companions whom she could discuss her private thoughts. As this book shows, Elizabeth could often be cruel to these women, and there are many accounts of her loosing her temper with them. But she was also extremely kind, treating them with much favour and even caring for some when they were ill. What I really liked about this book was how it portrayed Elizabeth as human. It shows her flaws and weaknesses as well as her strengths and achievements. You come away with a far greater understanding and respect for Elizabeth (well I did at least) seeing her as a complex figure, who could be insecure, bad tempered and selfish, but also kind, loving, and funny. I particularly enjoyed the sections discussing Elizabeth's wardrobe, the palaces and stately homes and the secret ways in which Elizabeth paid tribute her mother Anne Boleyn.

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