Elizabeth I and Her Circle

Written by Susan Doran
Review by Tracey Warr

Susan Doran’s meticulously researched book on Elizabeth I takes an unusual and effective approach to its subject. Rather than a chronological account, Doran focuses, one at a time, on Elizabeth’s relationships with her kin, her courtiers and her councillors. She sheds new light on this enigmatic monarch, creating a highly readable and plausible account of her personality and actions. Doran discusses Elizabeth’s attitude to her mother, Anne Boleyn, who died when she was three years old, but whose memory she had to negotiate, and her interactions with her sister, Mary, and her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots. She focuses on Elizabeth’s political relationships with her courtiers – Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester; Christopher Hatton and Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex, – arguing “it is highly unlikely that she had a sexual relationship with anyone”. Discussing the Queen’s dealings with William Cecil, Francis Walsingham and Robert Cecil, Doran clarifies the daily workings of her government. This is a balanced, well-argued picture of Elizabeth, clarifying how the traumas of her youth coloured her attitudes and actions as queen, along with the tensions between Protestantism and Catholicism in European politics, her gender, fears of assassination, and the increasing controversy of the succession.