Young Elizabeth: Elizabeth I and Her Perilous Path to the Crown

Image of Young Elizabeth: Elizabeth I and Her Perilous Path to the Crown
Release Date: 
February 29, 2024
Pegasus Books
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“The subject is handled well by an expert who produces a highly readable and intimate history.”

New works on old subjects are especially needed now because of the wonderful new internet tools at the researcher’s disposal. At the same time, archives are disposing of old card catalogs, clippings files, microfilms, and even manuscript collections as they overrate adequacy the new electronic wonders.

Too often those discarded materials had unique access to information. Scholars are also passing on, taking with them the secrets of such sources. Nicola Tallis presents an example of such a needed new work in Young Elizabeth: Elizabeth I and Her Perilous Path to the Crown.

One wonders why England bothered with a monarch after the bloody and dark reign of Henry VIII, Elizabeth’s infamous father, who proved divisive in so many ways. His Protestant son successor died young and was followed by a Roman Catholic half-sister married to the King of Spain. Elizabeth followed, once declared illegitimate.

Material exists, even for Elizabeth’s youth, for the determined, patient scholar to create an honest and real biography of those years. Important and personal letters survive from the subject but also the writings of those around her and some of her household accounts.

“Such survivals provide us with tangible glimpses into her emotions at the most vulnerable times in her life.”  Fortunately, the subject is handled by an expert who produces a highly readable and intimate history.

Young Elizabeth begins with the history of the future queen’s father’s upbringing, someone also not thought to one day rule but, with the death of his older brother, was at least prepared and safe guarded for that role, having no surviving younger brothers. Her mother also enjoyed a happy attenuative upbringing.

For the reader, knowledgeable of the future queen’s reign, much of this story of the princess seems prophetic, as when “she sought desperately to extract both herself and her servants from the taint of treason” in the Wyatt Rebellion. As a woman monarch, ruling alone in a divided, threatened nation, Elizabeth lived the issue of rebellion every day of her reign.

Despite the religious differences between her and her older sister Mary, they were close. The survival of the Tudor line meant that the 25-year-old childless Elizabeth had to become queen. That rise, and her reign that followed, was not certain and faced many different challenges.

So much survives of the Tudor Queen, including paintings and artifacts, that Tallis can find common ground for the likely truth between the conflicting accounts. That she was proud and strong surely helped her to survive while also threatening her life as well as her throne.

The view “was not always a pretty sight” however. “Elizabeth experienced instability and upheaval from her earliest childhood, enduring grief, suspicion and imprisonment.” She was born during her father’s controversy of declaring Elizabeth’s much older estranged half-sister Mary illegitimate and greatly diminishing the quality of her life. Mary tried to keep her claim to the throne, despite her parents’ controversial divorce and the birth of her half-sister.

Elizabeth, even as an infant, was affected by her mother Anne Boleyn’s inability to produce another heir and the famous sordid events that led to Anne’s beheading. This deadly malicious atmosphere in a “game of thrones” would continue to the end of Elizabeth’s later reign.

Henry VIII would go on to four more wives, one who died in childbirth, another whose marriage was annulled, and one was beheaded. “Elizabeth was inwardly, and later outwardly, scared by the way in which her father treated and disposed of his wives.” During her sister’s reign, she feared for her own life.

Despite her mother’s fate, Elizabeth was raised well and had great affection for her half siblings Mary and little brother Edward. “There is no evidence that Elizabeth was overlooked by her father or stepmother” Jane Seymour, Henry’s third of six wives. In 1544, King Henry placed by act Mary and Elizabeth in the line of Succession.

The child princess had a “household that would have been vibrant and full of color,” including fools, or a professional clown, now and then. Mary and Elizabeth were part of the Royal Court. The surviving materials paint a picture, sometimes literally, of an indulged precocious and strong-willed young woman, having inherited the best physical features of her parents.

Elizabeth would admit that her education was almost exclusively in divinity. Trained in dance and horseback riding, she loved books, learning, and music. With renowned scholar William Grindal as her tutor, the princess studied “arithmetic, philosophy, geography, astronomy and history.” She learned French, Greek, Latin, and Italian, and started Spanish.

The death of Henry ended the only period of stability that Elizabeth had known. Her last stepmother remarried (her fourth husband) and they had questionable antics involving the young princess. Charges were made that she plotted against her siblings as they became monarchs. Elizabeth survived and triumphed to become a great monarch in her own right.

The prose is easy and straightforward. Young Elizabeth helps the reader keep up with a list of illustrations, color images, a Tudor family chart, Dramatis Personae, a note on sources, a timeline, two appendices including places to visit, annotation, and a bibliography.