Elevate Difference

Elizabeth's Women: Friends, Rivals, and Foes who Shaped the Virgin Queen

Tracy Borman’s book, Elizabeth’s Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen, is an account of the women in the court of Queen Elizabeth I, and her relationship with them. As an avid reader of historical accounts of royals, I found this particular book to be notable for a number of reasons. It was well written, honest, and reflected Borman’s passion for the life of Queen Elizabeth I. It also draws upon issues in female leadership that are still relevant today.

First and foremost, what makes this a powerful read is Bowman’s ability to convey her passion for Elizabeth’s life, without painting a romanticized account of her leadership style and relationship with the women around her. She paints her not as a sanctified royal, but rather in a very human light. However, this humanization is not meant to make the reader pity or love Elizabeth more. For example, I remember reading Lady Antoina Fraser’s biographical work, Marie Antoinette: The Journey . Despite being an interesting and historical read, the sympathetic tone interfered with the authenticity of the book. In contrast, Borman does not try to apologise for any of the inequalities that Elizabeth perpetuated. Instead, she tries to show the roles played by the various female courtiers and relatives around her, and ultimately, Elizabeth’s role as a woman in a man’s world, and how the other women around her played into that. Rather than showing her as a revolutionary feminist figure, as others may try to paint her, Bowman’s account is very sober. It was refreshing to read about women I had not heard about before. Through the discussion of women in Elizabeth’s court, Borman also explores the influence of the private sphere on Elizabeth’s public life, and it was very interesting to learn about.

While many accounts have romanticized Elizabeth’s life in the bedroom, Borman steers clear of the topic. What was most profound for me was learning about the influence of women on Elizabeth’s leadership style. I have read a number of articles and accounts commenting on the relationship of Elizabeth with the men in court, but only vague references to her relationship to the women around her. Rather than holding her on a pedestal, Borman is able to convey the conflicts Elizabeth had with her own sex. I was reminded of debates surrounding more contemporary female leaders, and their relationships to “femininity.”

Elizabeth’s Women is rich in historical accounts, easy to read and enthralling. Beautifully written and thought-provoking, Elizabeth’s Women is one of the most impressive books I have read this year.

Written by: Sara Yasin, November 7th 2010