Serving QEI …Intimate Details from Whitelock’s “The Queen’s Bed”

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THE last Tudor bed in existence, made to mark Henry VII’s accession to the throne. This 527-year-old Paradise State Bed of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York was rediscovered in 2010. Henry Tudor, who became Henry VII, defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field to take the English throne and found the Tudor dynasty. The Paradise State Bed is an unrivalled masterpiece of 15th Century oak carving which was commissioned almost immediately after Henry VII was crowned to celebrate his marriage to Elizabeth of York and the end of the War of the Roses.

Once she finally ascended to the English throne in 1558, Elizabeth I’s opulent lifestyle was in stark contrast to most of her early life.  “The Queen’s Bed: An Intimate History of Elizabeth’s Court” by Anna Whitelock details what it really took to be “Queen Elizabeth” on a material, and perhaps on an emotional level.  Elizabeth was never alone, even asleep there was always someone in her room, even sharing those fantastic beds described in the book:

“... At Richmond Palace, Elizabeth might sleep in an elaborate boat-shaped bed with curtains of ‘sea-water green’ and quilted with light brown tinsel.  At Whitehall her bed was made from an intricate blend of different colored woods and hung with Indian-painted silk.  Her best bed, which was taken with her when the court moved from place to place, had a carved wooden frame which was elaborately painted and gilded, a valance of silver and velvet, tapestry curtains trimmed with precious buttons and gold and silver lace, and a crimson satin headboard topped with ostrich feathers.”

So much has been written about the life and times, love affairs and political maneuvers of Elizabeth I. Yet only a few books have approached Gloriana’s life from the behind the façade she presented to the world. Anna Whitelock succeeds in giving us Elizabeth with her best friends and confidantes. These women surrounded her and applied the make-up, gowns, and jewels each day to take her from mere mortal to dazzling queen. They served her well, kept her secrets, and did what good friends do: work on our behalf. There were even a few, like Kat Ashley and Dorothy Bradbelt, who politicked to help marry the queen. And others, who loaned Elizabeth their maid’s clothing or had private dinners so she could be with Lord Robert Dudley.  Whitelock reveals an Elizabeth who is in turns vulnerable, loving, inconstant, and even quite spiteful.

Elizabeth did a better job than anyone before her, and arguably after her, in creating a brand that even in her day became iconic and magical – which was of course the point. Against the backdrop of assassination attempts, marriage suitors, court scandals, favorites and power politics, Whitelock’s details of Elizabeth’s life do not get lost in the larger themes of Elizabeth’s reign but rather enhance our understanding this great queen and her Court.

A quick visit to the author’s website tells me that the BBC has optioned this book for a possible TV series, which would if done well would be terrific.  And let’s agree that the BBC does this type of program really well.  Bring it!

History Lady Review of Margaret George’s Elizabeth I 

In the midst of winter, The Olive Farm took me away to hot sunny France

Olive FarmReading Carol Drinkwater‘s The Olive Farm was like taking a holiday in the sun, which I desperately needed in the middle of a long, cold Midwestern winter. I could feel the heat of the sun, smell the earth, the flowers and see the magnificent vistas of the South of France and pretend I was there sipping wine instead of slipping on ice.

This was a great read, in the vein of Frances MayesUnder the Tuscan Sun or Peter Mayles’ A Year in Provence.

Like the authors of those excellent, engaging books, Carol Drinkwater and her husband Michel buy a run-down property in a sunny southern climate as a retreat from their usual lives. Theirs is an olive farm in the south of France, near Cannes. The main house has a moldy pool, a leaky roof, broken windows and no kitchen. The olive trees themselves are neglected. But the bones of the place are solid.

The book spans the first several years of their live at the farm—years in which they marry and Carol adjusts to being a step-mother, pet owner, home owner. Renovations go slowly, and problems abound. Contractors fleece them and/or do sub-standard work. Finances are tight and they risk losing the farm several times. They get burgled. But they endure, the vision they had for the house and farm begins to materialize. The last stage in the process is the reinvigoration of the olive farm and the pressing of their own olive oil.

Drinkwater is not funny and dry like Peter Mayles, or food-focused like Frances Mayles.  But she is an honest writer and I loved her candor about her life, its difficulties, joys and sorrows of which she has plenty.  Although she is a well-known British actress, there was very little in the book about her acting, which I thought was appropriate and again, kept the tone “real.”

I had this book on my shelf for several years and pulled it out just at the right time. It is still winter in Wisconsin, but Carol Drinkwater gave me a taste of the hot summer to come. Just maybe I’ll dust off my passport for sunny France.