Elizabeth and Essex: Power, Passion, and Politics

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Elizabeth I is England’s most iconic queen. Born to Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn and declared illegitimate at two, she was also one of its unlikeliest monarchs. Though she never married, her relationships have been the stuff of Hollywood movies, biographical studies, and historical fiction.

Famously a Virgin Queen, Elizabeth faced rumour, innuendo, and scandal both during her life and in the centuries since. Her relationship with her last courtly lover, however, remains mystifying. The glamorous Earl of Essex, thirty years her junior, became her inseparable companion, wrote loving letters and poetry to her, and dominated the last decade of her reign. But did he love her, or was he simply taking advantage of a vain, ageing woman?

As the fabric of her reign unravelled, Elizabeth fought to keep her court under control. Using a curious system of power, patronage, and politics that had served her for decades, she struggled to maintain her hard-won sovereignty against the incursions of idealistic and factious young men.

But the story of Elizabeth and Essex is not one of cynicism, and nor is it one of vanity or ambition. It is the tale of a younger man’s possessive love for a woman who had to refashion herself as a new queen in an old kingdom.

Theirs was a tragic game of passion, jealousy, resentment, and division.

He shone in the light of the Elizabethan age, and she was its fading sun.

Drawing on letters, legal records, poetry, and scholarly debates, Steven Veerapen reveals a saga of courtly love, political machination, and simmering power struggles. In doing so, he recovers Elizabeth and Essex from the mists of rumour and speculation and reveals them as they were. Essex was neither fool nor cynical manipulator, but the era’s last folk hero. She was not a white-painted harridan, but an astute and beguiling woman whom time was leaving behind.

The story of Elizabeth I’s last years requires reassessment. By re-framing her as a woman forced into the role of history’s Virgin Queen and Essex as the loving and beloved star which threatened her eclipse, Elizabeth and Essex provides a new perspective on England’s most famous queen.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages272
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • English history
  • Elizabeth I


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