This is a deftly written and intelligently argued biography of Elizabeth I. Jasper Ridley is keenly aware of the biographies that have preceded his, and he has taken care to do primary research in manuscript collections and to set out a distinctive interpretation of his subject. The narrative pace never flags, and Ridley shows real flair for summarizing difficult issues--such as the conflicts between Protestants and Catholics in sixteenth century Europe.
While Ridley is not in awe of his subject, he gives Elizabeth I credit for courage and for her stalwart commitment to policies once her propensity for wavering between alternatives was overcome. He sees grave flaws in her character and in her state decisions. Indeed, he suggests that she made mistakes no modern government could survive. Yet there was an integrity in her character that even severe critics in her own time had to acknowledge and which contemporary historians (with some significant exceptions) have confirmed.
Ridley takes modern biographers to task for their excessive psychologizing of Elizabeth’s character. His view of her is much more within the spirit of the age, which he admirably delineates in the course of limning her personality. Handsome illustrations-- portraits of the principal personages during Elizabeth’s long reign--and an excellent bibliography and index make this biography a superb scholarly and popular study.