So often viewed in her relationships with men, the Virgin Queen is portrayed here as the product of women—the mother she lost so tragically, the female subjects who worshipped her, and the peers and intimates who loved, raised, challenged, and sometimes opposed her.
Borman presents Elizabeth’s bewitching mother, Anne Boleyn, eager to nurture her new child, only to see her taken away and her own life destroyed by damning allegations—which taught Elizabeth never to mix politics and love. Kat Astley, the governess who attended and taught Elizabeth for almost thirty years, invited disaster by encouraging her charge into a dangerous liaison after Henry VIII’s death. Mary Tudor—“Bloody Mary”—envied her younger sister’s popularity and threatened to destroy her altogether. And animosity drove Elizabeth and her cousin Mary Queen of Scots into an intense thirty-year rivalry that could end only in death.
Elizabeth’s Women contains more than an indelible cast of characters. It is an unprecedented account of how the public posture of femininity figured into the English court, the meaning of costume and display, the power of fecundity and flirtation, and how Elizabeth herself—long viewed as the embodiment of feminism—shared popular views of female inferiority and scorned and schemed against her underlings’ marriages and pregnancies.
This is the second Tudor history book I've read this month, and this was by far the more enjoyable. I've read a lot of books (fiction and non-fiction) about Elizabeth but never one like this that focused on the women who surrounded the Virgin Queen and helped shape her views on life and leadership. Though the cast of characters is huge, and many of them share names, Borman did a good job of helping the reader keep track and differentiating between the Janes and Katherines that populated Elizabeth's world. One weakness that I see is that Borman assumes a level of knowledge about the history of the time that makes it clear this book is not for the uninitiated. That said, anyone who has read a couple of books about Elizabeth will have no problem following the action. All in all, an interesting and innovative treatment of a much analyzed figure in history.