Critical Context

Although Jenkins’ book is only one of many studies of Elizabeth I, it is one of the few to provide a convincing psychoanalysis of this preternaturally vigilant queen. As the number of footnotes attests, Jenkins builds heavily on known facts and makes constant reference to records of Elizabeth’s statements and writings and to the com-ments of people of the age, both English and foreign, aristocrat and commoner. The book does not add to these known facts, but it does provide an intuitive analysis of Elizabeth’s psychology in order to make sense of her nervousness, her caution, her delaying tactics, her determination not to marry, her unwillingness to name an heir, and her dismay at the necessity of executing even a traitorous queen. Jenkins provides insights into Elizabeth’s passion for rich clothes, scents, jewels, and exotic toys; her love of pageantry and progresses; her Celtic mysticism; and her Italianate delight in art and music. The famous Shakespearean authority A. L. Rowse called this book “indispensable to our understanding of the woman” who was the queen and “quite the most perceptive book about Elizabeth” that he had ever read.

Jenkins does not shy away from the negative qualities of Elizabeth, and she is quick to label even Leicester, a man she clearly admires, a womanizer and schemer who was not to be trusted. Her careful balancing of good and bad qualities, however, fails in her unfair portraits of Bess of Hardwick and Sir Walter Ralegh, as well as in her justifiable disdain for Mary, Queen of Scots, and James I.