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The Life of Elizabeth I Reader’s Guide

By Alison Weir

The Life of Elizabeth I by Alison Weir


Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Elizabeth, the future queen of England, endured a turbulent childhood. What role did her father, Henry VIII, play in her development? How did the beheading of her mother, Anne Boleyn, profoundly influence the young Elizabeth? How did her succession of stepmothers–and their various fates–affect her? Did the specter of her sister Mary’s reign haunt Elizabeth upon her accession to the throne?

2. How was Elizabeth’s stay in the Tower of London pivotal in her life and in her development? How did religious struggles and political intrigue land her there? How did her confinement forever influence her views about punishment, imprisonment, and death?

3. Which of Elizabeth’s traits made her so popular with her subjects from her accession onward? Why did she hold their opinion in such esteem? Was she afraid of making decisions that would make her an unpopular ruler?

4. Elizabeth had to face a public with a less-than-progressive view of women. How did she combat this bias? What were Elizabeth’s own views about women, and how did they reflect the mores of her time? How did Elizabeth use her sex to her advantage? In which ways was it a disadvantage? How did Elizabeth use the legend of the “Virgin Queen,” and later of “Eliza Triumphant,” to bolster her image in the eyes of her subjects?

5. From the outset, Queen Elizabeth surrounded herself with a bevy of learned courtiers. How did she choose the men who were to become her most trusted advisers, such as Cecil, Dudley, and Norfolk, among others? How did men fall in and out of her favor? How did rivalries and the formation of factions affect the reign and Elizabeth’s governance? How did her advisers’ viewpoints shape her thoughts on policy?

6. How did the intrigue and speculation over whom Elizabeth would marry shape her reign? Why did the government feel it integral that Elizabeth marry? Why did they believe that the public would turn against her if she did not? What reasons, both personal and diplomatic, did Elizabeth have against marriage? Why do you think that, as a child, Elizabeth allegedly declared, “I will never marry”?

7. Do you believe that Robert Dudley (subsequently the Earl of Leicester) was Elizabeth’s one great love? Which aspects of his personality most appealed to the queen? How did his ideals affect her reign? How did his status as a married man make him a more or less desirable prospect? Based on their actions, do you think that both Elizabeth and Dudley hoped they would someday marry? What were the arguments against Elizabeth marrying a subject? Were there any other suitors in the court who Elizabeth seemed to favor?

8. How did Elizabeth use the possibility of her hand in marriage as a bargaining chip with world leaders? What were the arguments for and against Elizabeth marrying another monarch? Did she have any genuine affection for her foreign suitors, such as Philip of Spain, Archduke Charles, Henry of Anjou, and Francis of Alencon (later Duke of Anjou)? How did she use the possibility of marriage to forge alliances both within and outside of England? Which of the country’s alliances were the most tenuous, and could have been solidified through the union of marriage?

9. How was the question of succession paramount in Elizabeth’s reign? Why did she deign to handpick a successor despite pressure to do so? What events made the succession question a more urgent one? For the good of the country, would Elizabeth have been better off marrying, having children, and taking the focus off the matter?

10. How did the threat of religious struggle shape Elizabeth’s reign? What did Elizabeth fear most about this potential unrest? Why was Elizabeth opposed to religious extremism in all its forms, including Puritanism? How was she tolerant of non-Anglican religions, and how did she seek to limit their reach? Why did she retain elements of the Catholic faith for the Church of England?

11. How did Elizabeth’s relationship with Mary, Queen of Scots evolve? How did the two women attempt to forge a friendship? Why did these efforts ultimately fail? In your opinion, did the two ever have true affection for one another? Why did Mary ultimately begin to conspire against Elizabeth? Why was Elizabeth reluctant to take action against Mary in any way, until she was forced to?

12. Elizabeth once said, “To be a king and wear a crown is more glorious to them that see it than it is a pleasure to them that bear it.” How did this statement illustrate her feelings about being the sovereign? How did she view herself as a link with God? How did this affect her dealings in government, particularly with Parliament? As a ruler, did Elizabeth share any similarities with her father, Henry VIII?

13. How did Elizabeth’s mercurial nature and indecisiveness affect her reign? Could she have halted any of England’s crises with more decisive and swift action? In which ways was she a careful and pensive ruler? Did she improve her tendencies toward procrastination as the years wore on?

14. Elizabeth died without ever specifically having named her successor. Based on her reign, what attributes do you believe she would most value in the ruler that followed her? How was the political, economic, and social climate different upon James I’s accession to the throne than when Elizabeth began her rule?

15. How did the problems England faced at the end of Elizabeth’s reign compare to those she battled at the beginning? How was it a more secure country? Less secure? Had the notion of the monarchy changed at all?

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