Elizabeth’s Women: Friends, Rivals, and Foes Who Shaped the Virgin Queen
by Tracy Borman
Jonathan Cape: London, 2009
I was interested to see this angle—the women who surrounded Elizabeth I as opposed to the men (who have had numerous materials written about them).
The women who impacted Elizabeth included Anne Boleyn, Kat Ashley, Mary Tudor (her half-sister), Mary, Queen of Scots, as well as notable women at Court and the waiting women. This book was disappointing to say the least. I began it with very high hopes but, besides not presenting any new interpretations, Borman made mistakes and would make some very sweeping statements. Those sweeping statements were so plentiful; I simply opened the book in three places and scanned the pages for examples to illustrate my point.
Page 122: Referring to Elizabeth’s relationship with Anne of Cleves, Borman states that while at Hever Anne “kept abreast of events at court, and solicited invitations to visit it herself. But her favorite guest by far was Elizabeth. Anne provided the young girl with a much-needed mother figure away from the confines of her household. She may not have rivaled Kat Atsley’s place in Elizabeth’s heart, but she was a more sensible and level-headed role model. Through her visits to Hever, Elizabeth also became better acquainted with her own mother’s history. There would certainly have been mementos of Anne Boleyn at the castle.”
Okay, besides Borman declaring that Elizabeth was Anne’s favorite guest, I have never seen any evidence that Anne was a mother figure. They never spent that much time together. To declare Elizabeth learned about her mom at Hever because there could have been mementos there borders on the silly.
Page 206: After a scolding from Kat Atsley about her behavior we are told in the beginning sentence of the paragraph “For all her defiance, Elizabeth had clearly been shaken by her old governess’s words. Although she chose not to follow Kat’s advice to marry, the evidence suggests she did heed her words about Dudley.” Borman then informs the reader that after Amy Dudley, Robert’s wife, was found dead under mysterious circumstances, Elizabeth distanced herself from him. “How much this was due to Kat’s advice and how much to her own shrewdness is not clear, but she must certainly have recalled the warning that had so shocked her before.”
This warning was well over a year prior to Amy’s death and we had just been told in the beginning of the paragraph how deeply affected Elizabeth was by Kat’s warning. Yet the reader is given the impression that the warning really was not necessary because Elizabeth was so astute.
Page 329: Concerning the burial of Mary, Queen of Scots, Borman tells us that although Elizabeth “failed in the most basic duty towards her cousin,” Elizabeth did order “a lavish funeral, with full royal honours and great pomp”.
Borman criticizes the Queen for appointing the chief mourner a person, “not even the highest-ranking member of her entourage.” The author does not mention who the chief mourner was. It was Bridget Hussey, Countess of Bedford. Bridget’s husband had represented the Queen at the christening of James, the son of Mary, Queen of Scots. In all likelihood, the Countess accompanied her husband to Scotland and even if she was not of high-rank in the entourage, there seemed to be a reason for her appointment.
I realize I am a very tough audience for Elizabethan materials and, although this is a gentle enough read for most people; I did get a bit impatient with it.