Modern history books are no longer the often dull tomes of yesteryear and this book on Elizabeth I is no exception. David Starkey writes with a vibrancy that makes this life of the most famous of England's queens as enthralling as a fictional thriller. His subject, from her birth in 1533 to her ascension to the throne in 1558, ably assists him as this was no ordinary life by any standards. The book reveals an extremely well-educated, clever, quick-witted princess, but also a vulnerable one who, as David Starkey writes, suffered an abused childhood and then had to fight, not only for the throne, but for survival.


Throughout, David Starkey provides an insight into this charismatic, fascinating woman, her manoeuvres to outwit her enemies, including her own sister, and her shrewd and skilful handling of her interrogators.  She dealt with the beheading of her mother, Anne Boleyn, when Elizabeth was only two years old; potentially ruinous scandal involving Thomas Seymour, the husband of her stepmother Catherine Parr; demands for her marriage; and pressure to change her religion from her own Protestantism to her sister Mary's Catholicism. And she handled the resistance to a woman ruler from a court, parliament, religious establishment and society in general, the majority of whom found the very idea intolerable.


Elizabeth was born a princess of the highest family in the land, was disinherited and bastardized, excluded from court, closely investigated for conspiracies against Mary I and even imprisoned in the Tower, before she gained the highest position in the land, that of queen in her own right. One very important lesson she seems to have learned in life was not to make the mistakes of her sister Mary. As in her early life, when dealing with the very real hazards surrounding her, Elizabeth as queen showed remarkable constraint when necessary and great daring at other times. She learned from Mary's mistake of alienating her people through force, and although executions certainly occurred during Elizabeth's reign, she was, in contrast to Mary, moderate and humanitarian. 


We are introduced to Elizabeth's family and close circle, both of which included vivid and complicated personalities, all of whom had an influence in the shaping of her character. An executed mother, a lager-than-life father, a troubled sister, a pious brother and a ruthless stepfather, all set against the turbulent religious, political and dynastic climate of the times, which Starkey describes in a way that is both understandable and informative. While these passages could be described as slightly slow and tedious, they do provide a valuable insight into an understanding of the life and times of the Tudors, and of Elizabeth in particular.


As the full title Elizabeth: Apprenticeship promises, the bulk of the book deals with the pre-ascension years, while the final pages briefly outline her reign. It can be read as a prequel to the promised account of Queen Elizabeth I's life. When the sequel does appear, her reign as queen will become all the more understandable and accessible, as this first book deals with the formative, character-shaping years of the princess who went on to become the enduringly successful monarch of the so-called 'Golden Age'.



Other Reviews:

"I found myself compelled by David Starkey's vivid recreation of the hazardous uncertainty of Elizabeth's early life" -  Times Literary Supplement

"Starkey is an engaging and readable writer," - Robert Finn. 

"Starkey knows all his facts backwards, so can choose his evidence carefully and never overloads the reader." - Waterstones

"David Starkey's Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne explores the terra incognita of Elizabeth's early years, and the result is nothing short of captivating."- Barnes & Noble