Elizabeth: the forgotten years by John Guy
I was intrigued by this book, Elizabeth: the forgotten years by John Guy. After reading (mainly novels, but quite accurate historical fiction books) about the first part of her reign, I wanted to know more about the forgotten years, as John Guy describes them. I enjoyed the book, but I had to give it only 4 stars because it doesn’t read like a novel. With so many other historical non-fiction books that have a nice flow, this one was a bit harder to read. It certainly didn’t put me off reading more books by Guy, but I think this one was more for historians (or people very keen on history, as I am) than the general public.
If there is one thing I would have liked to read more in the book, is about Elizabeth. The second half of the book is so much about Essex. He was an important figure, and one who ended up being executed by her, but I think the focus should have been more on her.
The great thing about the book is that Elizabeth is presented as she is, without the “Gloriana” glow that seems to appear in many other books. I’ve seen recently a TV show about the Queens of England, and, of course, Mary was “Bloody” Mary because she ordered the execution of less than 300 Protestants. While Elizabeth was the Virgin Queen. Well, Elizabeth ordered that 600 rebels were to be sent to the gallows, leaving their bodies to rot, as a statement of what can happen. Catholics were persecuted and fled the country, just as it happened with Protestants during Mary’s reign.
Elizabeth rejected her friend, Mary Sidney because smallpox left marks on her face. Mary was the one who nursed Elizabeth during her illness. The Queen felt she had to distance herself, so she could deny her own scars, left by the disease. Besides, she would ask everybody around her for devotion and love, so much so that they were expected to ignore their own lives. Even Dudley would fall from her graces because he had the audacity to marry. After his death, the way she treated his widow shows again her pettiness and cruelty. Elizabeth sequestered the widow’s lands, including the ones that should have provided her with an income during widowhood. Elizabeth seized houses and auctioned them off. Some of the debts Dudley made were to finance the war in the Netherlands, when Elizabeth didn’t send him enough money to pay the troops. He was not the only one who had to do something like this.
She manipulated others. After she signed the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, she distanced herself enough to be able to say that she had no idea they will actually execute Mary. Davison was blamed, dragged to the Tower. He was fined approximately £6 million in modern value and sentenced to prison for as much as the Queen wanted. In the end, his fine was never collected, was released from the Tower after one year. Furthermore, his salary continued to be paid, despite him being suspended from his job. So much for someone who was “disobedient”.
Elizabeth went out hunting in the deer park on Berkeleys’ estate. Because his wife wanted some jewellery and convinced her husband to outbid the Queen, Elizabeth took revenge and slaughtered his entire herd of deer. They had to use the land for other purposes because it was too expensive to restock the herd. Also, hunting involved her waiting on a stand while the deer were herded into an paddock. With music playing in the background, she would begin her “hunt”, with a crossbow. The singers had to sing something that would flatter the Queen, of course.
Elizabeth agreed with torture, even when she knew the details. She didn’t act better towards her soldiers. The mariners that fought in the 1588 Armada campaign were left to die in the gutters. The aristocratic officers were compensated, but the foot soldiers were left to starve and to find their way home.
She did good things too, but I felt I had to emphasize the bad things because she is portrayed so glorious and immaculate, when, in reality, she was acting as most people would have had in the 16th century.
Elizabeth: the forgotten years by John Guy
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My rating: 4/5 Stars.
Would I recommend it: Yes.
Published by: Penguin Random House
Year it was published: 2016
Genre(s): Non-fiction. History
About the author: John Guy was born in Australia, in 1949. He grew up in England, deciding to pursue a career as a historian as a teenager. He has presented five documentaries for BBC 2 and he appeared Radio shows too. So far he has published 16 books. I have a couple of books by him in my to-read list.
Now John Guy lives in North London. He is a Fellow of Clare College, University of Cambridge. He teaches there part-time because he wants to have time for his writing and for his broadcasting career too.
He is married to author Julia Fox. I’ve already read her two books, here are the reviews of: Sister Queens and Jane Boleyn.
Website & Social Media Links: www.johnguy.co.uk