If you ever want to write a novel of noble politics, or run or play in a game of the same, you should read this book. For my own part, I’m tempted to pick up other titles from the Profiles in Power series, to see if they’re as good.
This book isn’t about Elizabeth’s policies during her reign; it’s about how she made those policies happen (or not happen, as was sometimes the case). It’s about the realities of governance in the late sixteenth century, tracking chapter by chapter how Elizabeth related to and dealt with her position as queen, the church, the peerage, the Privy Council, the court, Parliament, the military, and the common people.
It isn’t the most flattering look in the world, either, which makes it a good antidote to the idolatry that often surrounds her; in fact, by the end I was feeling a little bit down, since Haigh covered in detail how Elizabeth’s government was petrifying and falling apart by the time she died. I was glad for the conclusion, where he pointed out that when all’s said and done, she survived on the throne for nearly forty-five years under some of the most adverse conditions imaginable, and that right there is a remarkable feat of politics. It helped restore some of my admiration for her, but it’s tempered now with some knowledge of her failures as well as her successes.
Reading this book, I understand much better how political factions operate: where their power comes from, how one can (and cannot) maneuver around them, what the consequences are of ignoring them, and so on. It makes me realize, too, how much work would go into setting up a political LARP and doing it right. I don’t know that I would ever have the energy to run something like that, or even to play in it, any more than I would have the energy to play politics for real. (I frankly wonder how Cecil didn’t keel over dead of stress decades sooner.)
But this will be useful information, not just for Midnight Never Come, but for Future Novel TIR, whenever it is that I get around to writing that one.