Cambridge historian David Starkey, author of several other works concerning the Tudor period in England, informs the Virgin Queen's formative years with exquisite color in the new biography Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne. Rather than canvassing the singular monarch's long and legendary reign, Starkey focuses tightly on Elizabeth's life prior to her ascent to the throne. In so doing, he illuminates Elizabeth's relationships with her siblings, especially Mary; with the fledgling Protestant movement; and with her grandly successful, larger-than-life father, Henry VIII.
The only child born out of the spectacularly ill-fated marriage between Henry and Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth was only three years old when her mother was executed, and still a child when she herself was disinherited and bastardized. Despite the political gymnastics her father performed as he galloped his way through wives, Elizabeth remained devoted to Henry as a father. She also respected and learned precociously from his role as monarch; she would cast herself as much as she could in his mold.
Not so her sister Mary. Piously Catholic, Elizabeth's older sister determined to return England to the fold of the Church after her father and young brother's declaring Protestantism the state religion. But Elizabeth, whose devotion to the Protestant faith she inherited mostly from her stepmother Catherine Parr, steeped her own religious bent in a pragmatism that Mary lacked. Indeed, the difference between the two sisters was greater than opposing spiritual tastes. Their personalities and senses of styles were poles apart. Elizabeth learned as much from Mary about how not to win loyalty and rule successfully as she learned from Henry VIII about achieving those very things.
The Tudors were hardly an hermetically sealed dynasty living in a vacuum. Starkey sets Elizabeth's story squarely in context, gauging the political and religious winds that blew both at home and on the Continent. Meticulously researched details of Elizabeth's early sensuality, her mastery of a challenging classical curriculum, her familial dysfunction and her involvement -- both tacit and otherwise -- in plots to take the throne from Mary make for a racy and instructive (early) biography of one of history's most beloved monarchs.