Anna Whitelock

Machiavellian Queen?

Elizabeth I: Renaissance Prince – A Biography


Weidenfeld & Nicolson 370pp £25 order from our bookshop

Elizabeth I and Her Circle


Oxford University Press 397pp £25 order from our bookshop

A year never seems to go by when new books on Elizabeth I do not hit the bookshelves. These two works both seek to bring something new to this well-worn field of scholarship by offering Elizabeth from a different perspective. Lisa Hilton presents Elizabeth as a Machiavellian ‘Renaissance Prince’ who self-consciously fashioned herself as ‘male’, while Susan Doran considers the queen’s most important relationships.

Hilton’s main thesis is that historians have overstated the significance of gender in interpreting Elizabeth’s reign and in understanding the queen herself. Indeed, she maintains that those who have concentrated on this aspect are ‘simply wrong’. Instead, Hilton argues that Elizabeth’s ‘princely self-image’ was ‘not in the least circumscribed by femininity’ and that she should rather be seen as a new kind of ruler for England, a monarch who sought to refashion her realm towards modern nationhood. What follows, however, is rather less novel than the claims of its introduction. That said, attempting to move beyond ‘gender’ as the main lens through which to consider Elizabeth’s reign and placing England in a wider European perspective, leaving behind the Anglocentricity that continues to dominate many studies, are both commendable objectives. Discussion of trade and diplomatic links with Russia, Poland and the Ottoman Empire, and therefore of Elizabeth’s relations with Tsar Ivan the Terrible and his successor, Tsar Feodor (and the regent Boris Godunov), as well as Sultan Murad III, will doubtless be new and unfamiliar to many readers. 

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Since Dylan’s commercial and ideological heyday, the intrusion of sociology, semiology and post-structuralist thou… ,
    • 'One of the reasons for its longevity is that it has virtually nothing to say about science and technology at all,… ,
    • 'The characters in many of these stories are trapped in the obsessive present tense of their own thoughts; in the m… ,
    • 'Libraries, for much of their existence, have embodied in microcosm many of the characteristics of the totalitarian… ,
    • 'Moss and Cynthia buy several properties through which to launder their ill-gotten gains, take lots of drugs, have… ,
    • 'Never mind the imperial cult. This is the cult of Boris. What happened to Rome?' From the LR archive:… ,
    • Thirty-two years ago this month, we published Muriel Spark's short story, 'A Playhouse Called Remarkable' Read it… ,