[book review] Helen Castor, Elizabeth I: A Study in Insecurity

cover castorHelen Castor, Elizabeth I: A Study in Insecurity (Penguin Monarchs Series), (London:  Penguin, 2018)

Helen Castor is – perhaps despite the title – sensibly objective in this short (117 pages) but useful biography of Elizabeth. Early on, she admits that the queen was almost unknowable to her subjects and rivals, let alone to us from a distance of over 300 years.
She presents the facts of Elizabeth’s life fairly dispassionately, allowing us to develop our own ideas and theories about how her turbulent early years might have influenced her later policies as Queen. Similarly, the emotive is stripped out of her dealings with Mary, Queen of Scots and Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex. This is as dry as Lytton Strachey‘s equally enjoyable (for other reasons) Elizabeth and Essex is romantic. As a biography, there’s more about Dudley too, and less about the latter, or at least less depicting it as a great tragic love affair.

The focus is, as it should be, is on Elizabeth – HER life and times. Refreshingly, Shakespeare doesn’t get a mention. Instead, we get a solid primer on the religious tensions, societal assumptions, foreign policies and other factors which made her reign so remarkable in its longevity and relative success. It should be said that it is not a history book, inasmuch as you won’t find an overview of the country or the conditions ordinary people lived in.

What this IS, is a decent biography, written carefully and clearly, academically but not aloofly. An excellent introduction to the facts, and springboard for further reading about the human being wearing the crown.

Author: Boar's Head, Eastcheap

Hyperactive English Teacher and Tutor; Shakespeare-obsessed 'Villainous abominable misleader of youth'; 'old white-bearded Satan'; Friend of the Orangutan

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