Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Marriage Game by Alison Weir

The Marriage Game by Alison Weir is a novel by a Tudor historian who knows more about Elizabeth I than most people forget.  Drawing on her knowledge, she focuses this novel on one aspect of Elizabeth’s reign—the push to get the queen married and secure the Tudor line. Without bogging down the story with a lot of details that lead up to the events of the novel, the author is able to focus on the personal life of Elizabeth with the point-of-view being dominated by herself, occasionally shifting to other characters including, naturally enough, Robert Dudley and William Cecil as well as a few others. 

Weir chooses to focus particular on the romance between the queen and Dudley, leaving the political turmoil that followed the rapid fire reigns of two half-siblings as a backdrop.  However, political alliances made in a marriage bed often come to the forefront as Elizabeth’s counselors pressure her to make a choice between a variety of suitors.  Ultimately, Elizabeth’s emotional scars seem to be her impetus for not making a decision, playing one kingdom against another as various nations strive to bind England to a foreign power.

Arguably, to write a more rounded story would have resulted in a cumbersome novel that tried to include too much—the personal with the public, the political with the private.  If anyone could have done this, Weir, with her impressive knowledge of the many power-players, could have easily been inclusive.  Instead, in focusing on Elizabeth’s fears about marriage, and on her decades long flirtation with Dudley, creates an Elizabeth who is not only mostly vulnerable but often driven more by her fear and vanity than any true intelligent manipulation of both her circumstances and the people around her.

Having read several of Weir’s biographies and even a previous novel, I was somewhat disappointed in this novel.  There are several things that made it more difficult for me.  For one thing, Weir’s nonfiction is brilliantly written. It is easy to forget that one is supposedly reading “dry history.”  And therein lies another potential reason for my disappointment because, in narrowing down her story’s focus she may have kept the novel from evolving into a tome but also removed some of the drama that defined Elizabeth’s reign. And while I was put off by some of the anachronistic words (e.g. “tetch” was not introduced into the English language until 1590 but used decades earlier in the novel’s chronology), the editing itself seems to be flawed.  It is not unusual for historians to repeat details to reinforce to the reader how one event influences another.  While effective in a nonfiction book, it is tedious in the novel.  Throughout the book, one of the characters will say something and, a page or two later, will say the same thing verbatim. I don’t know if this is because Weir was drawing on primary sources for precise quotes (which would not surprise me in the least) or if she, and her editor, simply didn’t notice that these things were already said a page or more before.  Regardless, it is something that could and should be easily caught during revisions.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed the novel infinitely more than any other Tudor based novel I have read.  Unlike some of the other authors out there who seem to have gained unmerited popularity, Weir does not allow gossip or salacious stories to drive the drama of narrative.  Instead, she trusts the very real drama of the time to compel the reader to turn the page. While I may have preferred a more fully rounded fictional exploration of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, I appreciate the care that Weir puts into her work and hope that someday she will choose to put as much weight on a woman’s head as on her heart for, if any woman in history deserves to have her story told in all its glory, then surely it is Elizabeth Tudor, Queen of England.   


  1. Enjoyed the review! I see you are still in your English phase.

    1. Yes, I am. There are a few more Brit lit books coming up because I had the opportunity to choose a few for review. Then I'll be shifting gears and countries, along with the other reading I will be doing.


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