In researching the intriguing politics of the Elizabethan Era, it would be a major mistake not to include in one’s research the plethora of marriage proposals and resulting negotiations matching the Queen of England with an assortment of highly placed European royalty and nobility. Still, many historians gloss right by it. After all, the majority of these men were staunch Roman Catholics and ultimately the excommunicated Elizabeth, Regina never married. So many complications existed in negotiating such a marriage in the midst of the Protestant Reformation and its aftermath, it is very difficult to imagine that anyone at the time would take the possibility seriously at all, and yet Elizabeth, her Privy Council and the monarchs of several European nations did just that.
Just how does a 16th century woman rule a nation, maintaining true power and ultimate autonomy? How does a women reign with authority and credibility in a nation where no woman had done so successfully before? Given Elizabeth, Regina’s steadfast determination to reign and not defer her authority to any man, what were her options given the need for a legitimate heir? Marry a commoner for love? Marry foreign nobility for alliance and security? Play one nation off another to gain advantage? Build alliances by holding up the potential prize of winning over the Queen of England? Marry no one, and let the need for a heir sort itself out, hopefully avoiding civil war in the process? These were the quandaries that faced Elizabeth, Regina upon her ascension and throughout her reign — and these quandaries, along with Elizabeth’s previous life experiences, real and fictional, drive the plot of Alison Weir’s The Marriage Game, a Novel of Queen Elizabeth I.
Over the years, I enjoyed several of Alison Weir’s non-fiction works. The Six Wives of Henry VIII was the first book focusing on Tudor Era history I ever read, highly influencing my future interest in the reign of King Henry VIII specifically and Tudor history in general. Still, I never took the opportunity to read one of Alison Weir’s novels. Given Alison’s exhaustive non-fiction work and research, I was completely expecting her to write biographical historical fiction based heavily on known facts. To a large degree Alison did just that, but I need to say she did surprise me repeatedly. Alison went in directions I was completely unprepared for, exploring Elizabeth’s desire and need for intimacy, her emotional struggles and deep rooted fears, and a few highly unexpected and completely fictional surprises I will leave for the reader to explore.
Let’s just say this. The Marriage Game is a highly appropriate title for Weir’s latest novel, as Elizabeth’s ongoing marriage negotiations throughout her reign dominate the highly engaging and fast paced plot. The greatest catch in Christendom, Elizabeth and her Privy Council entertain proposals from what seem like nearly every eligible royal and noble man in Europe. Let’s take a peek at some of the cast of characters laid before the Queen: the Prince of Denmark, the Duke of Savoy, Prince (and later King) Eric of Sweden, Don Carlos, King Philip II, the Duke of Saxony, King Charles IX, Archduke Charles, and two Dukes of Anjou — and these are just the foreigners. Poor William Cecil. He really does try hard to coax his Queen to make an advantageous match. After all, the stability of a nation and the succession are at stake. Why doesn’t Elizabeth settle on one of these men? Well history tells us she loved an Englishman, but her reasons are far more deep seeded then that. No hints, but Alison’s plot moves or educated theories — and both may apply — are intriguing and plausible.
Enter Robert Dudley, Elizabeth’s childhood friend, elevated incrementally to higher positions within Elizabeth’s court, ultimately appointed to the Privy Council and awarded the Earldom of Leicester. Now here definitely is the man your mother warned you about. Son of the hated and convicted treasoner, the Duke of Northumberland, grandson of yet another convicted treasoner — a tax collector yet, this man was tossed in the Tower himself, knee-high deep with his father and the Archbishop of Canterbury in placing the crown on the head of his sister-in-law, the tragic Jane Grey. Worse yet, the man was married — and worse yet still, his wife died under mysterious circumstances, laying dead at the foot of a flight of stairs while she was alone.
Regardless of the reality of the man, his intelligence, loyalty to the crown, multiple talents and exhaustive work ethic, Robert Dudley was not a popular public figure in 16th century England. Yet, the Queen loved him and showered him with favor just the same, despite the wise counsel of her “spirit” William Cecil. The Marriage Game explores the deep love and complex relationship of Elizabeth and her “Eyes” Robin, and does so quite poignantly. In fact, Robert Dudley is not just a major character in this novel, he is literally a co-protagonist. Without giving too much away, I will admit liking him far better than his significant other so far as their relationship is concerned.
The Marriage Game is a fun novel for anyone who enjoys Tudor History, particularly the Elizabethan Era. Packed with history, politics, queenship and romance — and then more history, politics, queenship and romance, the reader is drawn straight into Elizabeth, Regina’s inner circle. The Marriage Game is a great summer beach read for Tudor enthusiasts. Pick up your copy today.
Alison Weir is the United Kingdom’s most popular and best selling female historian. Alison’s first published work, Britain’s Royal Families, introduced the world to the now recognized genre of “popular history”, and her sales tell the story. Readers purchased more than 2.3 million books, over 1,000,000 in the United Kingdom, and more than 1,300,000 books in the United States. Rich in detailed research, Alison’s engaging prose captured the interest and imaginations of countless people, instilling a love of history that influenced the career paths of historical fiction writers, historians and teachers, while also greatly increasing knowledge of medieval and early modern English and Welsh history among people throughout the world. For more information on Alison Weir, visit her website at http://alisonweir.org.uk/
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