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Mar 20, 2009

Review: "After Elizabeth: The Rise of James of Scotland" by Leanda De Lisle

"After Elizabeth: The Rise of James of Scotland and the Struggle for the Throne of England" by Leanda De Lisle ISBN: 0345450450 Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books (January 31, 2006)

Leanda De Lisle brings the reader to the time of Elizabeth's reign where all of her countrymen were wondering, "What happens, after Elizabeth?" in her debut book. Elizabeth was the daughter of the controversial Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII, famous for having six wives. Henry declared Elizabeth illegitimate during his reign, through and Act of Parliament no less, which undoubtedly gave Elizabeth a complex. Once Elizabeth gained her throne, she ruled for 44 years; which was 44 years of wondering who would rule after Elizabeth. Normally these things would naturally work themselves out, through marriage and procreation. Yet, Elizabeth refused to marry, thus earning the nickname "The Virgin Queen", which put a damper on the possibilities of offspring. And Elizabeth effectively eliminated most of the other contenders of the throne who had some royal lineage; she scoped out the plotters to her throne and made sure she was quite secure throughout those 44 years with the help of her Cecil's. Leanda De Lisle explains the rival factions, the religious difficulties, and the summaries of the people who would be in line to the throne with just enough information to offer the reader a sense of the later years of Elizabeth's reign. The first half of the book comprises of the author touching on all of these aspects, which to a Tudor fan is nothing new. But she writes it effortlessly, attempting to not bog down the reader down with mountains of hard to follow facts. Oh, there are plenty of facts and a lot of information here but it fortunately does not read like a textbook. Some of the names come and go, which as always, the titles of the nobility can get cumbersome to follow. Who was Lord Cobham? I had to look that up since he came back a few times. (I really wish these types of books would have a chart other than the genealogy charts that would say, 'Northumberland' is 'this person(real name)' so I can gather relationships easier.)

Leanda then moves on to James I of Scotland, who does eventually get the crown of England, quite easily it seems. There is no struggle here until England realizes perhaps having a man to rule is not so great after all. We learn a bit more about James and his personal life, his habits, and his intellect. We get a sense of what Scotland felt to essentially lose their King to England, and how the English felt to get a Scottish King after years of Border Wars and hostility towards one another. The book then details the various plots and the plotters, notably Walter Ralegh, and their effects on England that occurred after James took the throne. The book picks up its pace once getting through the first half and where it picks up after Tudor books have left off.

The criticisms I DO have of the book are that I felt when the author was trying to convey a certain point she was telling a quick synposis of an event, that related to another event, which brought us to another.. I felt I had to keep track of the dates because there was a bit of jumping around in the timeline. This happened a lot and always aggravated me. I wish it were a bit more straightforward.
Also, whereas I found this book to be an engaging read for the most part, most of the information may not be new to the British history buff, and could become a bore if looking for "new" insights especially regarding Elizabeth. The way that the author flings about the names of the effected people, it would be hard to keep up if you have not already read a few other books of the era. The author in no way "goes slow" with us as far as name dropping. And then there were some slow parts, like James' very expensive journey through England to ascend to the throne; the author comprised it of mini-stories weaving in and out.

Upon finishing the book I find myself more interested in doing some followup reading on some of the supporting characters that Leanda De Lisle touched upon. I have read several novels and biographies on Elizabeth and yet still enjoyed Leanda De Lisle's telling of it perhaps because of the enormous amount of details. Because of the differences in laws between Scotland and England, it was interesting to see how James changed things and how England's nobility reacted. I also enjoyed the color pictures, there were some that I had not seen before. This is not a light read, there is a ton of information here, so don't start this unless you are planning on devoting some time to it. This took me about two weeks to read.

I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars = Good, and Recommended for those interested in just the facts regarding the transition from Elizabeth I to James I, and England's journey to becoming part of the United Kingdom.