Book Review – ‘The Marriage Game’ by Alison Weir

Alison Weir 'The Marriage Game' (2014)
Alison Weir ‘The Marriage Game’ (2014)

Alison Weir, The Marriage Game (London: Hutchinson, 2014) 432 pages, Hardback, ISBN 978-0-0919-26250

Genre/s: = Historical / Drama / Romance

Setting: = London, Kenilworth and Hatfield (England)

Characters: = Elizabeth I of England / Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester / Mary, Queen of Scots / Lettice Dudley, Countess of Leicester / Katherine Knollys / Kat Astley / William Cecil, Baron Burghley / Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex / Christopher Hatton / Sir Francis Drake / Sir Walter Raleigh / Francis Walsingham

Alison Weir
Alison Weir

Storyline: = The book covers the reign of Elizabeth I. It picks up where Weir’s last book on Elizabeth, The Lady Elizabeth, ended, just as she is told that Queen Mary is dead. The novel focuses on the many suitors that Elizabeth had throughout her lifetime, and why she decided not to marry at all. It covers her relationship with the Archduke Charles, the Duke of Anjou and Robert Dudley, among others, though it is rather more focused on how Dudley impacted Elizabeth’s relationship with her other suitors. The ongoing question of Mary, Queen of Scots, is also a large factor in the story.

Point of View: = The story is written in the third person, but it does focus on Elizabeth’s thoughts and feelings, interspersed with those of Robert Dudley, so that we get a full sense of the relationship between the two of them, which is central to the novel.

Elizabeth I Darnley Portrait 1575
Elizabeth I Darnley Portrait 1575

Strengths: = What I see as being the main strength of this novel is the characterisation, because it really gives a sense of the torture that Elizabeth suffered (assuming she did) in her complicated relationship with Robert Dudley, and the question of whether or not she should marry at all, whether it would be to the detriment of her country. The use of the surviving historical evidence is also well-handled, making use of what we know was said, and what we can surmise. I also really liked the constant referral to Anne Boleyn and what she went through, when compared to Elizabeth’s treatment of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Weaknesses: = As much as I enjoyed the references to Anne Boleyn, I think that more could have been made of Elizabeth’s relationship with her mother, and how Anne influenced many of Elizabeth’s decisions. I think that it was because of Anne that Elizabeth was so reluctant to execute Mary, Queen of Scots, but this is only glossed over in the novel. I also thought that the novel tried to cover too much – it would possibly have been better to break it down into two books with more detail, as Weir doesn’t really cover the rebellion of the Earl of Essex at all, and nothing really after 1588, except the epilogue. Trying to cover 45 years of history in one go is a big ask for a novel.

Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester c.1560
Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester c.1560

Overall Rating: = 16/20

Recommend? = Yes, an excellent read, particularly to get an overview of the reign of Elizabeth without having to read a non-fiction study.

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