With the Heart of a King: Elizabeth I of England, Philip II of Spain, and the Fight for a Nation's Soul and Crown Hardcover – Feb 6 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
He was the dour Catholic despot bent on stamping out the Reformation; she was the plucky ruler of Europe's leading Protestant power. He was the widower who proposed marriage to his sister-in-law; she was the coy virgin queen who kept him off-balance by flirting with other potentates. As they move from dalliance to open war during the expedition of the Spanish Armada, Philip II of Spain and Elizabeth I of England shape the 16th century into a romance saga. Well, not really; a similar book could be written about many duos among Europe's incestuous ruling class, where power marriages were treated as the gravest matters of state. Journalist Patterson writes an enjoyable narrative of the intensely personal politics of the era, with plenty of intrigue and colorful characters, including the tragic Mary Queen of Scots and the dashing Francis Drake. The author sets it all against a backdrop of Renaissance pageantry and ritualistic burnings and beheadings of heretics and papists. The Elizabeth-Philip relationship is not an unduly cogent framework for a history of the age, but it makes for diverting true-life soap opera on an epic scale. 8 pages of b&w photos. (Feb.)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This is a terrific historical account of how personal alliances were amongst the sixteenth century European monarchies. In some ways the tome feels like a romance novel as the widower pursues his former sister-in-law who rejects his advances. However, their dysfunctional relationship represents the war between Catholic and Protestant domination of Europe and the New World. Well written and fun to read, Elizabethan aficionados (sorry Philip but history is written by the winner) will appreciate this insightful look at the latter half of the sixteenth century when national conflict was personalized.
The author has an engaging writing style and has obviously done his research. The book starts out on track; several chapters are devoted to the upbringing of Philip and Elizabeth, six years apart in age; one born the Prince of Spain, the other Princess of England and later bastardized and disinherited. Elizabeth's chaotic and frightening childhood is contrasted with Philip's stately and somewhat stifling upbringing. These chapters are illuminating, especially with regard to the personality of the future King of Spain. The book follows the action until Philip sacrificially marries Elizabeth's elder half-sister, Mary I.
And then things start to fall off the rails. When the author abandons his "side by side" approach to telling the story of Elizabeth and Philip (i.e. a chapter for Elizabeth, one for Philip, etc.) the narrative loses it's framework. Elizabeth and Philip or both might disappear for several chapters, robbing the story of its designated protagonists. The timeline is confusing; in one particularly jarring example, a chapter suddenly shifts the action to the early 1500s. The book goes off on tangents, detailing everything from the Turkish wars to Philip's rebellious subjects in the Netherlands. Not that these sections aren't interesting; they are. But the tangents feel arbitrary.
Really, the biggest problem with this book is the lack of Elizabeth and Philip themselves. Politics were personal in the sixteenth century, but this book overloaded on the politics and neglected the personal. The arc of their relationship, from rumored sexual chemistry during Mary's reign to matrimonial proposals to bitter religious, economic, and political conflict, is the human narrative that this book claims to focus on. I certainly didn't expect a lot of pop psychology or soap-opera theatrics, but I did want new insights into who Elizabeth and Philip were as people and how they related to each other. This the book didn't deliver. Without the framework of their relationship, the book seems disjointed, and for any serious student of sixteenth century politics there isn't a whole lot new here.
I did enjoy the book. However, I am a bit frustrated, as if there was a really good story in here that didn't get told.
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