I have to say this is one of the more interesting biographies of Elizabeth I that I have read. Jenkins makes a good argument that Elizabeth’s determination to remain unmarried stemmed not just from the abuse she suffered in her teens from her stepmother, Catherine Parr, and Parr’s new husband Seymour, but also from the childhood echoes of her own mother’s execution – an event she could barely remember, but which was echoed in the beheading of another stepmother when she was eight. Apparently she told Leicester at one point that she had been determined never to marry since the age of eight; as Jenkins more or less puts it, join the dots.
Armed with this assumption, Jenkins has Elizabeth enjoying the thrills of the romantic chase but consciously or subconsciously determined never to reach the point that her male suitors desired to reach – she almost got caught out by the Duc d’Alençon, but I think she always knew that Parliament would never approve the marriage. She flaunted her body to her suitors (and indeed to others) but evaded physical contact. I found Jenkins’ analysis very convincing.
Jenkins also offered further insights into a number of other Elizabethan questions. First, she is very good at analysing Mary Queen of Scots – there is an interesting study to be done comparing and contrasting how she and her grandson ended up losing their heads for rather similar reasons. Second, I now understand rather better one of the ways in which the Irish question shifted during Elizabeth’s reign – once her cousin and prisoner Mary had been acknowledged as potentially legitimate by the Pope and the French and Spanish, a wholly new basis emerged for continental intervention in Irish affairs. Third, Jenkins is rather positive on English Catholics, most of whom remained loyal to Elizabeth except in extremis; the students at the English College in Rome cheered when they heard the Armada had failed in 1588.
And fourth, dancing at court masques and balls is frequently mentioned by Jenkins as an essential part of the political equation. There’s lots of exciting interdisciplinary research to be done there. I’ll bluntly assert that it’s difficult to imagine dancing being an important factor while either of Elizabeth’s siblings was on the throne. (NB that Shakespeare’s Henry VIII has her father gatecrashing a dance incognito, in order to seduce her mother.) But again, I don’t recall a single mention of dancing among the distractions available for government officials in Ireland in Elizabeth’s day; it looks like this was an activity driven by the queen’s personal preferences. (And my namesake and ancestor gets two brief mentions in the book, both favourable!)
Anyway, this was well worth searching out. The book is fifty years old, but stands up well in comparison with more recent works on the same subject.