Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Elizabeth's Women by Tracy Borman

Sitting in the waiting room of the hospital ICU and at home by the phone waiting for news of my nephew (who ultimately died of injuries suffered in an auto accident) , I did a lot of reading in October and November. However, I didn't have the concentration necessary to post any reviews during that time. 

Much of the reading was pure escapist stuff: re-reading of some old favorites and reading of medieval mystery stories. 

However one of the books I read was Elizabeth's Women by Tracy Borman. I have always had a keen interest in British history of the Tudor period and particularly the great Gloriana--Queen Elizabeth I. 

Elizabeth's Women is a well-researched history of the women who influenced and surrounded the queen. This is an unusual approach to writing about Elizabeth I because most historians and authors emphasize her relationships with the men around her whether they were her advisors, relatives, friends or "favorites" (presumed lovers).

The author writes about these women in chronological order, beginning with Elizabeth's mother, Anne Boleyn, executed by order of her father King Henry VIII, and ending with her life-long friend the Countess of Warwick who was with her on her deathbed.

Elizabeth lived her personal life surrounded by female attendants who literally were with her every waking and sleeping hour, as was the custom of the time. The most influential woman in her life was her governess, Katherine ("Kat") Champernowne Astley, who was her surrogate mother.

Borman covers Elizabeth's complicated relationships with her older sister Mary and her cousin (whom she never met!) Mary Stuart of Scotland. The experiences of  her stepmothers Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard reinforced Elizabeth's fear of loosing power and control through marriage while her close relationship with her father's last wife and widow, Katherine Parr, was fractured by the inappropriate attentions of Parr's husband the roue' Thomas Seymour.

One of the many interesting themes of the book is the evolution of Elizabeth's attitude toward the marriages of her ladies-in-waiting which became quite hostile by the end of her life. Another major theme is the conflict with her female relatives, the surviving Gray sisters and later, Arabella Stuart, who had competing claims to her throne which sometimes threatened her.

Tracy Borman's book is a great addition to any Tudorphile's library. Highly recommended!

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