The Marriage Game

Written by Alison Weir
Review by Charlotte Wightwick

In this new novel, Alison Weir shows why she is the best-selling female historian in the UK, charting Elizabeth’s perilous, intricate passage through a landscape of cold-headed political machinations and her stormy love affair with the handsome, married Lord Robert Dudley. For more than twenty years, Elizabeth I was the greatest marriage prize in Europe. She wielded her unwed status as a diplomatic weapon, skilfully manipulating foreign princes and English lords alike in order to keep England at peace, both at home and abroad. Yet she was also a passionate, tempestuous woman who cared deeply about those she loved.

Elizabeth’s story is told with a depth of knowledge about the period that is second to none. Weir is at her best exploring Elizabeth’s conflicted desires and the mixture of political astuteness and personal fears which led her to draw back from marriage time and again. Weir uses Mary, Queen of Scots not only to explore Elizabeth’s well-documented reluctance to send anyone, least of all a fellow queen, to share her mother’s fate, but also to provide an effective mirror of how very badly wrong the ‘marriage game’ could go for a woman trying to rule in her own name. Elizabeth emerges as multifaceted and passionate, at times sympathetic and at others exasperating. However, Weir is less successful with Dudley, whose personality remains elusive. He is painted (no doubt accurately) as acting from a mixture of genuine love for the Queen and mercenary impulses that see her favour as a way to advancement – but these are never quite blended into a truly rounded and convincing character. Despite this, this is a highly entertaining and beautifully drawn portrait of a complex, dangerous time, and of the challenges faced by a woman ruler in a world where men were supposed to reign.