Earlier this year, I was really excited to share more book reviews but then a lot of things happened. First, I started experiencing imposter syndrome, clustered with a month of bad stats, and I just felt like giving up on blogging. I took some time off from blogging to think and regroup and relax and I have a better idea of what I want to do going forward. So that’s one reason I wasn’t sharing book reviews. The other was…I’ve had a lousy start to the reading year. I have read some good books, but then I also had to DNF (did not finish) two others I was really excited about so that bummed me out big time.
But, book reviews are back and I’m starting with a review of a novel about Elizabeth I. Now, if you know me, you know that I’m obsessed with the Tudors. I have read a lot of historical fiction about the Tudors, I have watched television series and movies about the Tudors, I also re-watched them and am now re-reading said books as well, and I’m consuming a lot of historical documentaries about the Tudors. Because, you know. Obsessed. So this novel is one that I have been wanting to read for ages, but couldn’t get my hands on until I stumbled across it on Thrifbooks. Which is another story for another blog post, so more on that later.
Shall we dive in? I’m going to!
Synopsis, The Marriage Game by Alison Weir
Only twenty-five and newly crowned, Elizabeth vows to rule the country as both queen and king. But her counselors continually press her to form an advantageous marriage and produce an heir. Though none of the suitors have yet worked their way to her throne, the dashing–though married–Lord Robert lays claim to Elizabeth’s heart. Their flagrant flirting, their unescorted outings, and the appointment of Lord Robert to Master of Horse inspire whispers through the court, and even rumors that Elizabeth has secretly given birth to Lord Robert’s child. Events take a dark turn when Robert’s wife is found dead. Universal shock is followed by accusations of murder.
Despite the scandal, Elizabeth and Robert manage to navigate the choppy political, economic, and religious waters around them. But the greatest obstacle to marriage between the Queen and her true love may come not from outside forces, but from within. With intricate period detail and captivating prose, Alison Weir explores one of history’s most provocative “Did they or didn’t they?” debates. The Marriage Game maneuvers through the alliances, duplicities, intrigue, and emotions of a woman intent on sovereignty–over her country and herself.
The thing Queen Elizabeth I is most famous for is never marrying. In a time when marriage wasn’t an option, both men and women married for financial and political gain, the idea of a single woman was somewhat unheard of, and for a queen to be unmarried, to rule on her own, to leave behind no heir (no son) to inherit her throne, was unprecedented. And historians would all agree that Elizabeth used her status as a single queen to keep peace in her kingdom (and possibly Europe) for decades of her reign. Essentially, she played a game, which we is the marriage game, using her hand in marriage as a way of keeping all of Europe on its toes and help keep England at peace.
However, this novel doesn’t just explore how Elizabeth used her hand in marriage to broker alliances with other powerful realms such as France and Spain, it also explores her relationship with her favourite courtier, Robert Dudley. And it does so in a way that I think is much more true to what likely their relationship was like than other representations I’ve read. The question throughout this book is whether or not Elizabeth will marry and there are several times when she nearly allows Robert to put a ring on it, as we would say. And he certainly wanted to marry Elizabeth.
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In other novels, Elizabeth and Robert Dudley are lovers in the most physical sense of the word. And while there was a lot of speculation and rumour at the time, I have always thought it impossible that Elizabeth would have entered into a fully sexual relationship. I never thought she’d have the opportunity being always surrounded by her ladies in waiting, and I also thought that history (of her mother and father’s courtship and marriage) would have taught her to keep that final act out of reach. And also, Elizabeth was entirely her father’s daughter in determination and she was determined to rule England in her own right without the interference of a husband and the inconvenience of a pregnancy.
So I was entirely on board with the fact that The Marriage Game doesn’t portray a sexual relationship between Elizabeth and Dudley, but rather portrayed it as a relationship of true love and devotion that both wished could be sexual, but could not be as fully sexual as sex is due to Elizabeth’s fears about pregnancy and intercourse.
Do we know if Queen Elizabeth was really afraid of having sex? I suppose we can’t know that for a certainty, however, in her youth she was undoubtedly abused sexually by the husband of Katherine Parr, Thomas Seymour. He used to go into her bedroom early in the morning and essentially grope her before she had a chance to get up from bed or dress. Some historians have speculated that she was scarred from this and that the sexual act was therefore abhorrent for her. Rumors at the time were that Elizabeth had borne a child by Seymour, but we have no evidence of this; however, it’s possible she experienced PTSD and the idea of sex and marriage was just a no for her. Understandably.
Elizabeth likely had a plethora of reasons not to marry, many of them political, some personal, but she lived and died a virgin, as she proclaimed she would and I liked that this novel explored her relationship with Dudley as first one that was romantic and sexual (less doing the deed) and then one that more about loyalty and an unrequited love that cooled, but was ever present. Elizabeth was portrayed as a woman haunted by her past, in which many horrible events occurred–her imprisonment in the Tower being especially terrifying for her given her mother’s fate–and a queen determined to do what was best for her people and realm, and I think she did that, and that playing the marriage game was a large part that. Her reign was peaceful, her people loved her, and after decades of religious and political turmoil in England, it’s no wonder she was rendered in the minds of her people as a goddess.
I appreciate how true to history the events that unfold in the novel are, and I love the way Elizabeth is portrayed, and especially the way Robert Dudley is portrayed as well, as he truly is shown as a man who is loving and loyal to his queen first, but also to the woman who was queen.
Goodness, that turned into a bit of a history lesson, apologies. But The Marriage Game is so true to history, that it kinda of went hand in hand with my thoughts, so…that’s that I guess. If you enjoy historical fiction that isn’t too sensational, or just love the Tudors, then I suggest you read this novel. It’s one of the best I’ve read when it comes to Elizabeth and can stand on its own without a lot of frills and intrigues.