Non-Fiction Review: Queen Elizabeth I: Life and Legacy of the Virgin Queen, by Paul Kendall


book cover

The forty-four-year reign of Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII and the last Tudor monarch, was considered a golden age. It saw the emergence of the great playwrights such as William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe, while the exploits of Sir Francis Drake and other ‘sea-dogs’ helped establish England’s position among the great maritime powers.

This book looks at Elizabeth’s life through some of the many artifacts, buildings, documents and institutions that survive to this day. From the execution of her mother, Ann Boleyn, when she was just two-and-a-half-years-old, to her imprisonment on suspicion of supporting Protestant rebels, Elizabeth’s early life was a turbulent one, but her accession to the throne ushered in a period of stability.

During her reign, England’s wealth and prestige grew through her patronage of seafaring privateers such as Drake, John Hawkins and Walter Raleigh. She encouraged the exploration and colonization of North America, marking the birth of the British Empire and the establishment of British trade routes. Elizabeth was responsible for expanding the English Navy, its defeat of the Spanish Armada being considered one of England’s greatest military victories.

In this magnificently illustrated book we see her birthplace at Greenwich Palace, her childhood homes, her prison in the Tower of London, the palaces she lived in, ruins of stately homes she visited, such as Gorhambury House, Kenilworth House, Upnor Castle and the Elizabethan town walls at Berwick, the many fortifications built during her reign to defend her realm, through to her final resting place in Westminster Abbey.

Also found in this fascinating volume are books that she presented to her father and step-mother, Katherine Parr, with the binding embroidered by Elizabeth, her clothes, letters she wrote in her own hand, her coronation chair, her coat of arms asserting her title as Governor of the Church of England and her signature signing the death warrant of her cousin, the 4th Duke of Norfolk. This book is not just a journey back in time to the reign of Elizabeth I, but also a tour across the country to visit the sites which still evoke that golden era of the Virgin Queen.


Disclaimer: Although I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, the opinions below are my own.

Just north of London is the town of Hatfield. Located there, and seen from the East Coast Mainline is Hatfield House. It’s where Queen Elizabeth I was told she was queen following the death of her half-sister, Mary. I wanted to know what other locations had a connection to the “Virgin Queen” so I sought this book with a view of discovering those places I could visit on my frequent trips to England.

Paul Kendall introduces his book with a discussion about the impact Her Majesty had on her country. What was it like when she ascended to the throne, and what was the state of it when she died? We know she never married and, therefore, didn’t leave an apparent heir. What she did leave, however, was a vast legacy and a lasting impact not only on the country but on the known world at the time.

One hundred locations and objects are included here, many of which I didn’t know about prior to reading. They are listed in roughly chronological order, including people connected to Elizabeth and/or the Armada. Surprisingly, an abolition of slavery memorial in Puerto Rico is included. I say surprising because I learned here that the Queen supported a privateer involved in the trading of slaves. The Elizabethan era was when the slave trade took off in England. But is the only monument on the subject? Are there not any in England? There are also statues of Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh. Whatever we think of them now, they are – for good or bad – part of Elizabeth’s life story.

Not every entry in the book is connected to a place, however. There are many works of art and pieces of jewelry included, and their locations are seldom included. If they’re on public display I’d have been interested in knowing where we could see them. The object entries also reminded me of the Travel Channel series Mysteries at the Museum. in that the narrative wasn’t necessarily about the actual object.

Queen Elizabeth I: Life and Legacy of the Virgin Queen is an interesting book you can easily read and digest in small bites. Got ten minutes? That’s plenty of time to read one or more of the entries. I added 18 places to my to-visit list, although that could’ve easily been more given that I already had some listed and the objects didn’t always have a location attached.


Rating: 4 out of 5.


Publisher: Frontline Books (an imprint of Pen and Sword)

Publication Date: 28 October 2022 (Hardcover)

Book Information


Educated at Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London, where he also served as an Honorary Midshipman with the University of London Royal Naval Unit, Paul Kendall is a military historian and author from Kent specializing in the First World War.

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