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‘The period was extraordinarily complex but the author here makes sense of it and communicates it in an engaging way. I highly recommend.’
NetGalley, Rebecca B
Elizabeth I’s Final Years – Her Favourites & Her Fighting men
Elizabeth I’s Final Years outlines the interwoven relationships and rivalries between politicians and courtiers surrounding England’s omnipotent queen in the years following the death in 1588 of the Earl of Leicester. Elizabeth now surrounded herself with magnetically attractive younger men with the courtly graces to provide her with what Anna Beer has called ‘an eroticised political relationship’.
With these ‘favourites’ holding sway at court, they saw personal bravery in the tiltyard or on military exploits as their means to political authority. They failed to appreciate that the parsimonious queen would always resist military aggression and resolutely backed her meticulously cautious advisors, William Cecil, Lord Burghley, and later his son Robert.
With its access to New World treasure, it was Spain who threatened the fragile balance of power in Continental Europe. With English military intervention becoming inevitable, the Cecils diverted the likes of Walter Raleigh and the Earl of Essex, despite their lack of military experience, away from the limelight at court into colonial and military expeditions, leaving them just short of the resources needed for success. The favourites’ promotions caused friction when seasoned soldiers, like Sir Francis Vere with his unparalleled military record in the Low Countries, were left in subordinate roles.
When Spanish support for rebellion in Ireland threatened English security, Robert Cecil encouraged Elizabeth to send Essex, knowing that high command was beyond his capabilities. Essex retorted by rebelling against Cecil’s government, for which he lost his head.
Both Elizabeth and Cecil realised that only the bookish Lord Mountjoy, another favourite, had the military acumen to resolve the Irish crisis, but his mistress, Essex’s sister, the incomparable Penelope Rich, was mired by involvement in her brother’s conspiracy. Despite this, Cecil gave Mountjoy unstinting support, biding his time to tarnish his name with James I, as he did against Raleigh and his other political foes.
Marketing and sales highlights
- Explores the later years of Elizabeth I’s reign through the lives of her key ‘favourites’, with whom she surrounded herself at court and elsewhere in a refined game of courtly love.
- These were ambitious men who operated on the uncomfortable ground of eroticised political standing and were played off against one another with haf promises of financial or political preferment.
- Walter Raleigh, Charles Blount, Robert Devereux and Francis Vere played crucial roles in the twilight years of the Virgin Queen’s reign.
- By following these and other notable figures – spies, explorers and military leaders – we can see how they interacted and operated with Elizabeth and her political advisers.
- As many of them aspired to military glory as their rought to political authority, one or other of them became involved in almost all the campaigns making up an almost continuous period of war with Spain in many arenas following on from the Spanish Armada.
- This book stands on its own, but can be read as a sequel to Elizabeth I’s Secret Lover, covering the period from the death of Elizabeth’s great ‘favourite’ Lord Robert Dudley, until the early part of the reign of James I.
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Pen & Sword Books
Publish date: 11 May 2022
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What people are saying
‘This is a fascinating book about the end of life and times of Elizabeth I. The information in this book has been very thoroughly researched and is presented in a clear and readable manner. I really enjoyed reading about Elizabeth I's history. I was always fascinated about the life of the amazing women who lived a long time ago, and this book didn't disappoint. I recommend this book for all of you history lovers, especially the ones fascinated with strong women who live long ago.’
NetGalley, Adna Fazlibasic
'I have to ask myself a question. Did I learn anything new from this book? The answer for this one is a big yes.'
NetGalley, Catherine Harrold
‘Elizabeth I famously remarked, “we princes, I tell you, are set on stages”. This was as true of her later life as her early one. Then, of course, she had been the undisputed heroine. In Elizabeth I’s Final Years, Robert Stedall turns his forensic eye on the 1590s and early 1600s, when the cult of Gloriana was at its apex but the figure behind it was crumbling. His Elizabeth is no longer the protagonist but a faded, mercurial Miss Havisham, jostled by younger, swaggering players, whilst, offstage, James VI of Scotland is waiting to ring the curtain down. Stedall is a master of this era, having written a magisterial study of Elizabeth’s favourite, Leicester. Final Years acts as a sequel-in-spirit (though it functions as a stand-alone book). Rather than taking the approach of strict biographical study, he focuses on tracing the gripping sagas of those who brought the late Elizabethan court to life. In doing so, he develops a kind of historical pointillism: a glittering picture of the court made up of individual human stories. Here, readers will encounter the aged Elizabeth through the eyes of a cast of dozens. In less skilled hands, this structure could be confusing. As Stedall is as comfortable writing about the Privy Chamber as about a storm-tossed ship in Guiana or the marshy battlefields of Ireland, his light touch produces a tour-de-force - the scholarly equivalent of a “Who’s Who” of England’s most famous royal court. Readers will be enthralled by the variety of figures assessed, from the Queen’s favourites and politicians (Essex and Cecil), to fighting men (Vere and Mountjoy), to enterprising courtiers (Raleigh and Sidney), to cunning court ladies (Lettice Knollys and her daughter, Penelope Devereux, Lady Rich). As Stedall demonstrates, these were not mere satellites of an authoritarian Queen; they were rich, vibrant figures who stood toe to toe with her, and who were at the same time peeking over her shoulder with a view to their futures. Many of their futures were, of course, bound up with the Stuart succession. Robert Stedall’s experience of Scottish history ensures that Final Years is not simply a book about England. In tracing the succession crisis, the author’s previous work on the history of King James shines. Here, we see the gradual shift in attention from the fading sun of Elizabeth to the dawn of James; but James, as we see, was a nervous man, busily cultivating European contacts to smooth his path to the English throne. What’s commendable here is that the stories do not end in 1603; instead, we are treated to the years of fallout from the scheming which brought the new dynasty south. In addition to being a wide-ranging chronicle history of English personalities, Final Years thus offers a first-rate political thriller. Stedall has produced that rare thing: a text which can serve as an introduction to a complex period. but which will also appeal to seasoned history fans who have grown weary of biographies focused only on Elizabeth and are hoping for something ambitious and wide ranging. This is a book which will delight anyone who enjoys meticulously researched history told with flair, wit, and enthusiasm.’
Steven Veerapen; Professor of History at Strathclyde University – as featured in Aspects of History
'A fascinating look at the end of the life and times of Elizabeth I. We read about her decline in her latter years although she is still able and one step ahead. She faces decisions about the Armada, Irish problems, and unrest at home with the succession. At the time of her demise, she is alone without her favourites and courtly love. The information has been thoroughly researched and is presented in a clear and readable manner.'
NetGalley, LOIS ELIYAHU