Thursday, October 6, 2016

Elizabeth's Bedfellows (An Intimate Story of the Queen's Court) - Anna Whitelock

To my mind, Elizabeth I is one of the most intriguing royalties; her Tudor House is the second most captivating (after Gryffindor) and her period the one which bred Shakespeare

More probably needn't be said about this fairly detailed biography, except that I found the title rather disgraceful. I do realize selling books about well-studied historical figures is probably no picknick, but to make it sound as though she slept with lots of men - which she most likely did not - is a cheap trick. Although Whitelock does go into Elizabeth's long-standing affair with Robert Dudley, the Queen's most frequent "bedfellows" were her chamber ladies, who shared her bed every night, as was common at the time.

The book focuses on court life, and I took great pleasure in learning about :

- The numerous conspiracies to her life. 
Being an unmarried Protestant queen in a recently converted country, surrounded by Catholic neighbours and bearing no offspring certainly was an unsheltered position. 
The Pope was not the only one - nor necessarily the most powerful - to want her dead.

- Her Advisors' desperate and feverish marriage plots
Preferably with a royal neighbour, of course, but as time passed, they would have gladly accepted nearly anyone. Anyone with a penis, capable of producing offspring! 
It sounds laughable now, of course, but as previously stated : A country without an apparent heir was extremely fragile. Why she so stubbornly refused remains a mystery.

- Her diseases; the collective panic they caused - a panic reinforced by the fact that she (at the risk of repeating myself) had no heir apparent - and the attempts at curing her. 
A true miracle how anyone at all survived medical care in the 16th century.

- How her enemies persistently resorted to her sexuality to undermine her legitimacy and authority as a ruler, depicting her as lewd and over-sexual. 
Renaissance slutshaming, no less.

- The desperation she felt about aging (for reasons stated above) and the ingenious means she resorted to in order to look young. 
Good thing for her plastic surgery was not yet available, though I wonder whether a decent nip/tuck would not have been preferable to using toxic mercury powder?


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