BOOK REVIEW: 'The Marriage Game': Queen Elizabeth I Really Kept Her Subjects Guessing About Marriage

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

It doesn't surprise me in the least that Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) was conflicted in the extreme about the idea of marriage. All she had to do was reflect on the fate of her mother, Anne Boleyn, as well as other wives of her father, King Henry VIII.

BOOK REVIEW: 'The Marriage Game': Queen Elizabeth I Really Kept Her Subjects Guessing About Marriage

In an entrancing novel, "The Marriage Game: A Novel of Queen Elizabeth I" (Ballantine Books, 416 pages, $26.00, also available in a $10.99 Kindle edition from, Alison Weir shows how from her coronation in 1558 and for many years after, Elizabeth promised to marry and provide an heir to the throne.

She discussed marriage with her counselors and parliamentary leaders, often going so far as to sign marriage contracts with several European royals. All the while she maintained a not-so-secret relationship with Robert Dudley (1532-1588), a handsome married man, whom she named Master of Horse and later created the title Earl of Leicester for him.

Weir shows how the young monarch -- she was only 25 when she was crowned -- realized that given the custom of the time -- when husbands were absolute bosses of their wives -- she would be under the rule of her husband should she marry. She wanted to be the sole ruler, with England as her "husband", and feared the complications of childbirth at a time when many women died giving birth.

When Robert's wife, Amy, is found dead after a fall on the stairs, marriage to Robert -- if that was Elizabeth's desire -- is permanently sidetracked. Amy was suffering from breast cancer and modern medical experts tell how it weakens bones, making falls almost inevitable.  Weir provides this information in a helpful author's note at the end of the book.

Despite the scandal, and accusations that Robert had his wife murdered, Elizabeth and Robert manage to navigate the choppy political, economic, and religious waters around them. But the greatest obstacle to marriage between the Queen and her true love may come not from outside forces, but from within: The Virgin Queen's well founded fear and doubt about marriage.

If you're fascinated by a period of English history when the country was threatened by Mary Queen of Scots, who wanted the throne of England,  and Spain -- the book includes the year of the defeat of the Spanish Armada, 1588 -- you'll find "The Marriage Game" a delight. Weir manages to weave actual history and the imagined kind together seamlessly.

Alison Weir
Alison Weir

About the Author

Alison Weir, born in London in 1951,  is the New York Times bestselling author of several historical biographies, including Mary Boleyn, The Lady in the Tower, Mistress of the Monarchy, Henry VIII, Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Life of Elizabeth I, and The Six Wives of Henry VIII, and the novels A Dangerous Inheritance, Captive Queen, The Lady Elizabeth, and Innocent Traitor. She lives in Surrey, England, with her husband. Her websites:  and

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