Elizabeth I and Her Circle by Susan Doran
Elizabeth I and Her Circle by Susan Doran. The book aims to show the inside story of Elizabeth I’s inner circle, including her dealings with her Stewart and Suffolk cousins. I was surprised that the book was so pro-Elizabeth instead of being neutral. I’m going to give a couple of examples.
At page 64, the Chapter on the Suffolk cousins ends with “Elizabeth may have been wary of her Suffolk cousins, but she did not tyrannize them; and in this she showed herself very different from her father, who destroyed so many of his Yorkist kin”. I can’t disagree more with this statement, Katherine Grey was imprisoned (including in the Tower) for years for marrying someone (most likely out of love); she was separated from both her husband and her children; the children were declared illegitimate by Elizabeth even though at least the second one should have been considered legitimate (according to the law at the time). Katherine died at 27, after suffering from both mental and physical health issues, as a result of being in detention for 7 years. Her younger sister, Mary, made the same mistake, marrying Thomas Keyes, most likely for love as well, considering he was a sergeant porter and she was a Princess of Royal blood with a claim to the throne (not very strong though, as Katherine and her two children were next in line and they were descendants of Mary Tudor, younger sister of Margaret Tudor, whom had descendants as well). Unsurprisingly for Elizabeth, she imprisoned both of them. Her husband was locked up in Fleet street prison for 3 years. After he got out, he was not allowed to see his wife, despite asking for this for next 3 years, before he died. Mary remained in custody even after her husband’s death, “only” for a few more months though. I would fully agree with the statement that Elizabeth didn’t “tyrannize” her cousins if imprisonment for years for getting married was the standard in the 16th century, but it was not.
While Doran is right and Elizabeth didn’t execute the Grey sisters as Henry VIII did with his Yorkist kin, she would reserve that for real contenders to the throne like Mary Queen of Scots and Essex (had a connection going back to John of Gaunt and Edward III through his father side). But, if we don’t compare Margaret and Henry de la Pole with the Grey sisters and instead we compare them to what happened with the duke of Suffolk when he married Mary Tudor… Elizabeth doesn’t look as well in this light, does she?
Following that, at page 78, Doran wrotes: “Mary [Queen of Scots]… remained a virtual captive in England far away from Elizabeth’s court. To ensure that she did not escape…” That surely makes Mary a very real captive, not a virtual one.
Besides biased, pro-Elizabeth mentions, I discovered something I didn’t expect. At page 130, Doran says: “Elizabeth’s visits to Kenilworth Castle in the summers of 1566, 1568, and 1572 were only for a few days and relatively low-key affairs; they were also somewhat impromptu and not the centrepiece of the royal progresses.” I visited Kenilworth, it is a gorgeous castle with a fascinating history and I remembered that Elizabeth visits were discussed at length in the audio guide. For the 1572 visit, Dudley built a four storeys high tower. I wouldn’t class that as suitable for an “improptu” visit. Doran continues on the next page, saying that she did stay longer in 1575 at Kenilworth. Well, her visit to Kenilworth was “the longest she made to any courtier during her reign” according to the historians at English Heritage. The tower built in 1572 was remodelled and a stunning garden made for her. If you have the chance, do visit the castle because is worth it.
Elizabeth I and Her Circle by Susan Doran
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My rating: 3.5/5 Stars
Would I recommend it: Yes. In the end I couldn’t give more than 3.5 stars for this book because it was so biased.
Published by: Oxford University Press
Year it was published: 2015
About the author: Dr Susan Doran is a British historian whose primary studies surround the reign of Elizabeth I, in particular the theme of marriage and succession. She has published and edited sixteen books.
Presently, she is a tutor at Christ Church, Oxford University, where her specific area of interest is Early Modern British and European history. Previously, Doran was a reader in history, Senior Lecturer in History and Teaching Studies and Director of the History Programme at St Mary’s College, Strawberry Hill, part of the University of Surrey.
She is also a Director of Studies for history at Regent’s Park College and Senior Research Fellow for History at Jesus College.
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