Elizabeth's Women : The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen, Hardback

Elizabeth's Women : The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen Hardback

4 out of 5 (1 rating)


Elizabeth I was born into a world of women.As a child, she was served by a predominantly female household of servants and governesses, with occasional visits from her mother, Anne Bolyen, and the wives who later took her place.As Queen, Elizabeth was constantly attended by ladies of the bedchamber and maids of honour who clothed her, bathed her and watched her while she ate.Among her family, it was her female relations who had the greatest influence: from her sister Mary, who distrusted and later imprisoned her, to her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, who posed a constant and dangerous threat to her crown for almost thirty years.

Despite the importance of women in Elizabeth's life, most historians and biographers have focused on her relationships with men.She has been portrayed as a 'man's woman' who loved to flirt with the many ambitious young men who frequented her court.Yet it is the women in her life who provide the most fascinating insight into the character of this remarkable monarch.With them she was jealous, spiteful and cruel, as well as loyal, kind and protective.She showed her frailties and her insecurities, but also her considerable shrewdness and strength.In short, she was more human than the public persona she presented to the rest of the court. It is her relationships with women that hold the key to the private Elizabeth.

In this original chronicling of the life of one of England's greatest monarchs, historian Tracy Borman explores Elizabeth's relationships with the key women in her life.

Beginning with her mother and the governesses and stepmothers who cared for the young princess, including her beloved Kat Astley and the inspirational Katherine Parr, Elizabeth's Women sheds new light on her formative years.Elizabeth's turbulent relationships with her rivals are examined: from her sister, 'Bloody' Mary, to the sisters of Lady Jane Grey, and finally the most deadly of all her rivals, Mary, Queen of Scots who would give birth to the man Elizabeth would finally, inevitably have to recognise as heir to her throne.

It is a chronicle of the servants, friends and 'flouting wenches' who brought out the best - and the worst - of Elizabeth's carefully cultivated image as Gloriana, the Virgin Queen, in the glittering world of her court.




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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.