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!