Elizabeth the Great is an intriguing and valuable study of a great woman who faced personal and political insecurities. Jenkins analyzes Elizabeth’s strengths and weaknesses as a ruler in the light of childhood trauma, focusing on the beheading of her mother, Ann Boleyn, of her beloved stepmother Catherine Howard, and of Lady Jane Grey as well as on Elizabeth’s own close brushes with execution because of Seymour’s scandalous seduction attempts and Sir Thomas Wyatt’s move to dethrone Queen Mary and crown Elizabeth instead. Jenkins argues that nervous disorders and hysteria dating from childhood affected Elizabeth throughout her lifetime and contends that her refusal to marry resulted from her association of sex with calamity.
At the same time, the author demonstrates how Elizabeth used and overcame these challenges to serve as a bold and courageous queen. She was loyal to those who gave her loyalty, subtle in her manipulation of people and events to serve the needs of her nation, and penny-pinching. She was difficult but never mean-spirited like her heir, James I, or profligate and careless like her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots. Young readers disturbed by their own family traumas and personal crises should find inspiration in this book about a woman, in an age of men, who overcame her difficult past by using good judgment, quick wit, and common sense to change a nation and a world, paving the way for future freedoms.
Indeed, Elizabeth’s reign led to the values of the English-speaking New World. Secular, skeptical, and tolerant, she distrusted dogma, deplored the excesses of religious...
(The entire section is 526 words.)