Now close to death, Mary steps up her policy of Protestant repression. The country buzzes with conspiracy and terror. Even Princess Elizabeth, her younger (half-)sister and heir apparent, is in grave danger, but Mary's last-ditch attempt to execute her for treason fails.
Within days, Mary is dead and, in November 1558, Elizabeth is proclaimed Queen of England. The country rejoices, as does Elizabeth, who particularly relishes the return from exile of her childhood sweetheart, Lord Robert Dudley. But chief adviser Sir William Cecil urges the young Queen to forget personal matters and address the country's pressing problems. England is bankrupt, has no army, and is under serious threat from abroad. Elizabeth even has enemies within her own court, the most dangerous being The Duke of Norfolk. Cecil says she must marry - either the French Duc d'Anjou or her dead sister's husband, King Philip II of Spain - to secure the realm. Elizabeth agrees to meet their ambassadors, but her true feelings are revealed when she meets Dudley for a secret tryst.
The first crisis breaks when the French "warrior queen" Mary of Guise amasses troops on the Scottish border. The issue causes fierce arguments in Court. Elizabeth bows to the pro-War lobby led by Norfolk, despite protestations from her Master of Spies, Sir Francis Walsingham-a darkly enigmatic figure who is disliked at Court. But when the decision to fight leads to a humiliating rout, Elizabeth realizes that she has to exert her authority more forcefully if she is to survive.
A game of high political risk follows. Ignoring Cecil, Elizabeth boldly rejects France and Spain's marriage proposals, a move which almost costs Elizabeth her life. One night, as Elizabeth and Dudley enjoy a summer's evening on the Thames, an arrow narrowly misses her head. Her personal guard is killed. Elizabeth emerges shaken but unhurt.
She turns to Dudley for comfort, but at this pivotal moment in their relationship, she receives shocking news: he is secretly married. Her faith in him evaporates. Feeling humiliated and betrayed, she turns her back on him forever. Dudley defends himself, but the seeds of doubt are well and truly sown. With no one else to turn to, Elizabeth, more than ever, puts her trust in Walsingham.
Meanwhile, the French threat looms greater. Furious that Elizabeth has rejected marriage to her nephew Anjou, Mary of Guise vows revenge. When a French silk dress laced with poison kills her lady-in-waiting, Elizabeth strikes back, sending Walsingham to Scotland. He lures Mary to bed and murders her.
As conspiracies within her council abound, Walsingham tells Elizabeth to hit back: the day of reckoning has finally come. Drawing her threads in carefully, and putting her trust only in Walsingham, she retaliates in a counter-coup of immense ferocity, wiping out all opposition to her leadership. Her throne is finally secure.
When Elizabeth next appears in public, she has transformed herself into the legendary Virgin Queen. Formidable. Untouchable. Unbeatable ...blog comments powered by Disqus
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