Elizabeth and Leicester

Written by Sarah Gristwood
Review by Ann Oughton

There have been so many books written about Elizabeth I and her relationship with childhood friend, Robert Dudley (later Earl of Leicester), that one wonders if there is a need for more. Sarah Gristwood’s detailed and engrossing biography certainly makes for an interesting return to the eternal question as to whether or not there was a sexual relationship between them.

Elizabeth seemed to enjoy toying with the emotions of the young men she singled out as her favourites and tantalising all with her cat-and-mouse machinations regarding marriage. Surrounded by intrigue and faction Elizabeth understood only too well that any marriage would undermine her status and, unsurprisingly, she chose spinsterhood ‘as a price she was prepared to pay for power.’

At the height of her flirtation with Dudley his wife, Amy Robsart, died, fuelling rumours that Robert might somehow be responsible. It would certainly free him to marry Elizabeth, but she wisely retreated into the background; for a while.

This well-written account is a joy to read although it offers nothing new. Although the man Elizabeth called her ‘Sweet Robin’ enjoyed the best rooms adjacent to the Queen, and was given estates in more than twenty counties, there is no hard evidence that Elizabeth allowed him into her bed. Gristwood maintains that Elizabeth saw the ‘games of courtship and foreplay as fulfilling ends in themselves.’ And that is all we need to know.