Published by Ballantine Books
Publication date: February 10th 2015
Genres: Fiction, Historical
There is no shortage of books written about the Tudors and Elizabeth I in particular, but Alison Weir takes the Queen’s life in a very specific direction in her new novel The Marriage Game: A Novel of Queen Elizabeth I. There is so much of Elizabeth’s life that can be covered but in this novel Weir begins with the year Elizabeth is crowned queen and covers the 45 years of her reign from the singular perspective of marriage. Or the lack thereof. Because even at age 25 Elizabeth has already decided she has no wish to be married or to give birth, to the great dismay of her chief advisor Sir William Cecil, all of her council, and the many royal houses of Europe.
When she ascends the throne Elizabeth does so with the knowledge that she will treat the men in her life, those who woo her and those who advise her in the same way her mother, Anne Boleyn, dealt with her father, King Henry VIII, before they were married. She will flatter and tease, obscure and avoid, yet dole out enough of what these men want to keep them at bay. Where her skill lies is in her willingness to pretend that she is open to offers of marriage in order to promulgate better relations with the European community, specifically Spain and France.
She realized that, as a woman, it would take all her skill to manipulate them to her will; but there were ways of handling that. She smiled to herself. She would ration her favors so they would be all the more prized, make her servants work hard for their rewards, and lead them on to live in hope.
And while the men around her certainly believed they could force her to capitulate she never did. Instead, one of her first acts as Queen was to name an old friend and companion, Robert Dudley, to a prestigious post in her household largely so they could pursue their budding romantic relationship. At some point, Dudley did believe she would marry him and elevate him but she never did. The Marriage Game makes it clear through the details of events that this was not an easy thing for Elizabeth. She loved Dudley dearly and they spent a great deal of passionate private time together but they never fully consummated their relationship. Weir makes Dudley both Elizabeth’s romantic partner and her confidante. Through their conversations we learn of the psychology behind Elizabeth’s fear of both marriage and childbirth, namely that, given what she saw in the household of her father, neither state was one that promoted security and a long life. She was determined to never subjugate herself to any man and lose her power.
It could be said that Elizabeth leads these men and their countries on an exhausting dance but what The Marriage Game shows is the effect that such machinations had on Elizabeth herself. A certain part of her nature was prone to procrastination and indecision but it becomes clear as she enters her thirties that it is an onerous task for her and one that takes its toll. What she really wanted was to be able to focus on her kingdom and bringing it back together after the bloody years of religious intolerance imposed by her sister Mary and yet, she had to spend an inordinate amount of time personally wooing ambassadors and their sovereigns. As prince of the realm she is held captive by this demand and through Weir’s intimate prose we see that the marriage game was no game at all but a battle.
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