A Crown For Elizabeth by Mary M. Luke

Most teenagers avoid biographies like the plague: including me, until I found this one. Part two of a three-book series on the Tudor dynasty of England, “A crown for Elizabeth,” is an exciting rendition of the famous monarch’s youth.

Plot: The history of the Tudor dynasty, from Henry VII’s battle for the crown to the crowning of his great-grand-daughter Elizabeth I as queen of England. The events at the beginning are given in less detail, but are overviewed (in case you haven’t read book 1). The bulk of the story starts just before the death of Henry VIII: yes, that was THE King Henry the 8th, of six-wives fame. His life seems boring compared to this stretch of Elizabeth I’s life . Plots and counter plots, imprisonments and spies, battles galore, not to mention the religious struggles of an England under changing monarcial leanings, all centered around the young lady who began as an ignored third child in line to the throne, and ended with the whole court rallying to her as her sister Mary dies (which, for reasons you’d have to read the book to understand, Elizabeth finds discouraging).

Pluses: The Reformation and the political and economical implications of it are gone into in depth (albeit from a non-Reform perspective, but the overall historical detail is incredible. Explains a lot of the wars and battles that followed). Also, many moral points are made by example as the consequences of Henry VIII’s famous infidelity play out in the lives of his children. The mechanical workings of the English government at the time also get some inadvertent screen time. I know this all sounds highly intellectual, but these details are explained as part of the understanding of what happened. And that makes the Tudor dynasty seem exciting. The glory of this biography, though, lies in the mini-biographies it present of the peripheral characters. Basically everyone connected to Elizabeth is given interesting details (one example: Phillip II of Spain, who tried to woo Elizabeth shortly after marrying her older sister. Yes, the same Phillip II who sent the famous Spanish Armada against England. History is so much more INTERESTING when you know the whole story, isn’t it?), and become 3-D characters in a play with more twists and turns than the most complex soap-opera.

Minuses: Some descriptions of torture and execution methods used back then, though not overt or graphic. Martial relations and infidelity are referenced, and bawdy humor mentioned though not explained in detail. Extreme religious bias is noted, though mostly in original documents that are reprinted in the book and as a way of explaining a particular person’s view of the situation at the time.

Overall: Highly recommended. The most fascinating book I have read in a long time. Becoming queen is harder than it looks: you have to survive to get the crown.

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