We can’t get enough of the Tudors. Despite the centuries that have passed, the clan that began with Henry VII and ended with Elizabeth I continues to command legions of loyal subjects, from BBC watchers and biography buffs to fans of historical fiction.
Those whose fealty lies with Elizabeth I (1533–1603) should procure John Guy’s new book anon. The first substantial narrative to deeply explore the latter decades of her reign, Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years zooms in on a critical period in Tudor history, providing a fascinating close-up of an aging queen taking her final turn upon the world stage. During this crucial, conclusive epoch in Elizabeth’s 44-year rule, many of her most trusted advisors died, and she faced a protracted war with Spain. She also reckoned uneasily with her own mortality, as her physical charms and health both waned.
In researching the book, Guy had access to a trove of largely unexplored archival material, and his narrative corrects a number of inaccuracies circulated by the queen’s previous chroniclers. The conception of Elizabeth as accessible and merciful—as “Good Queen Bess”—is one such fiction Guy deflates, noting that she lived in splendor while plague and a poor economy crippled her country, a state of affairs that aroused in her subjects resentment rather than adoration. Toward the end, Guy writes, to her people, Elizabeth was “a distant image or just a name.”
In her majesty’s orbit during these years were dashing, impetuous adventurers Walter Raleigh and Robert Devereux, who sought their fortunes at sea and in war. Their romanctic exploits during a time of political instability, when the question of Elizabeth’s successor was unresolved, make the book a bit of a nail-biter.
Guy, winner of the Whitbread Award for Queen of Scots (2005), has produced a book in which Elizabeth’s royal presence is palpable. Tudorists, take heed: This fresh consideration of the queen—a woman by turns valiant and vulnerable, jealous and generous, unapproachable and compassionate—at the finis of her rule is a rousingly good read.