My rating: 5 of 5 stars
An exhaustive and brilliant examination of the political and personal climate surrounding the reign of Elizabeth I, filtering her decisions and the behaviours of those around her through the persons of those ladies most close to her. Whitelock draws these ladies-in-waiting right into the centre of the political intrigues that plagued Elizabeth’s court, and shows the parts they had to play– both positive and negative– in maintaining the careful balancing act Elizabeth strode between political alliances, religious claims, and the infighting factions as they all jockeyed for control over her person, her power, and the British realm.
Imbued with stunning detail and with a deft and genuine feeling for the age, Whitelock’s greatest achievement is in bringing the personalities of her protagonists to life, whether they be the acknowledge greats such as the Cecils and Walsingham, or such minor walk-ons as the procession of Jesuit priests who plotted her assassination. But the book revolves around Elizabeth in the way the court itself did, and it’s ultimately the portrayal of this complex, unknowable woman by which the narrative will stand or fall. And Whitelock does an amazing job of bringing her to life, providing a fulcrum around which to build the narrative as well as giving the reader a close insight into the changes in the twinning of the Queen’s body with the political fortunes of her realm, and showing the continued price that twinning played, not only on her but on those most intimately associated with her rule, and with her personal routines.
A genuinely stunning work of historical detection and philosophy.