Elizabeth and Essex

Elizabeth and Essex:  A Tragic History
by Lytton Strachey
New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1928
296 pages

This was a fast-paced read. It does not have a lot of detail nor does it give a ‘flavor’ of the time period so it moves along quickly.  It does more closely resemble a novel than an academic work in large part because of the lack of documentation and sourcing.  Oddly, there is a modern feel in its brevity but the flowery speech and dramatic descriptions clue the reader in to the fact it is an earlier publication. Just for grins, here is a quote close to the end of the book, “…some unexpected sands were still waiting for him in Time’s glass”–quaint, theatrical, and unexpected.

Strachey covered Francis and Anthony Bacon extensively, establishing the relationship between them and the Cecils (William and Robert); and them and Essex.  Francis seemed to have impressed Strachey as the passages dealing with the standoff for the appointment for Attorney General with Essex promoting Bacon and the rival Cecils championing Edward Coke.  Francis’ role during Essex’s trial was thoroughly explained although here Strachey’s prejudice for Essex emerges and Bacon is seen in a less favorable light.

Raleigh gets a small role, but what was interesting was Strachey’s surmise that Robert Cecil feared Raleigh’s position would be magnified after Essex’s execution. Strachey implies that Raleigh was a greater threat as he was more sinister and that Robert Cecil had to deal with him and deal with him he did—then neglects to tell that part of the story.

Oddly, Strachey does, after the first dozen pages, keep Elizabeth further in the background than one would imagine.  This could be to the good as she is a compelling figure and a reader does not need to have speculation about her.

Hard to decide how to rate this book as it is a good read, factual (though without sources) and entertaining.

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