Elizabeth & Leicester: Power, Passion and Politics by Sarah Gristwood

November 8, 2007
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Elizabeth & Leicester: Power, Passion and Politics
Sarah Gristwood

Viking
11/08/07
Hardcover/403 pages
ISBN: 978-0-670-01828-4
Buy This Book
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". . . a lush, intimate portrait of two people whose personalities transformed their age."

Few relationships continue to evoke interest as much as that of Elizabeth the First and the Earl of Leicester, Robert Dudley. Centuries later, authors are still writing about the attraction they had for each other. Did they or didn’t they? Why didn’t they marry when they could have?

Robert Dudley was clearly Elizabeth’s favorite.While she obviously returned Lord Robert’s devotion and loyalty, there were also times when she humiliated him, bidding him act as a go-between with her other suitors. She also tried to imprison him when he remarried.

They were child hood friends who came of age in the dubious and treacherous Tudor court. Interestingly, their similarities demanded each other’s loyalty and love. Both had parents executed as traitors. Both resided in the Tower of London, courtesy of Elizabeth’s half sister, Mary.

Elizabeth scandalized the court with her intimacy with the married Lord Robert soon after she ascended the throne. When Lord Robert’s wife dies mysteriously, rumors abound that it was murder.

Elizabeth and Dudley remained good friends and confidantes. He was placed in a powerful position in her court, advising her as counselor, unofficial consort and army commander. He guarded her furiously and even represented her on state occasions. Elizabeth bestowed upon him great titles and even greater lands. Fueled by scandal and intrigue, their royal relationship was never dull.

This is a history book packed with trivial detail, engaging insights into the truth about the Virgin Queen and the man who meant so much to her. “Sweet Robin,” as she called him, was a man with a prodigious ego who had to contend with a woman who trusted few, questioned all, and could not forget her early youth and castigation as a bastard child of a lustful King. Rumors abound about a supposed illegitimate child from this relationship, but nothing in history can prove the truth of this allegation. It is the author’s contention that we do not know if Elizabeth slept with any man, still less that she ever had a baby. We do know that she and those around her used agents provocateurs, and that the English were using black propaganda against the Spanish at this time. But this remains only the most speculative theory – one the author raises only as counterweight to that other claim that Arthur Dudley really was the child of Elizabeth and Robert Dudley.

In her afterword, the author suggests that perhaps the simple fact of sex itself would not have changed anything about their relationship. The knowledge of so potentially explosive a secret as an unacknowledged son might, however, be a different story. It was after all a secret Robert could have held over Elizabeth’s head, since she was more vulnerable than he. She believes to this day that the Virgin Queen was more than just mythology.

While others have depicted Lord Robert Dudley as being beheaded, here he dies at an old age, of symptoms of the stomach. Rumors abound here, too, that his wife poisoned him in order to marry a younger man.

Gristwood depicts this 400 year old love story in a lush, intimate portrait of two people whose personalities transformed their age. For lovers of anything Elizabethan, it is a work worthy of great praise and gives insight into an Elizabeth we cannot get enough of, while giving us understanding into how tempting Lord Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, could be.

Reviewer: Sandra McCart

 

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