Yeah, here's a shocker: I'm more interested than ever in reading books about British history.
I also thought it might be fun to combine the side of my personality that responds to chick flicks (yeah, that would be the "big sap" side) with the side that demands British history details, so I picked up Sarah Gristwood's Elizabeth & Leicester: Power, Passion, Politics, about Queen Elizabeth I and her longtime friend and counselor Robert Dudley (the later Earl of Leicester).
All in all, it should come as no surprise that I found this one a satisfying read. There's a bit too much "did they or didn't they?" speculation, but in all fairness, I suppose that's the question a lot of people have about the Virgin Queen and, by all accounts, a man she honestly loved. It's not the thing I find most interesting about their relationship, though, particularly not when you consider the speculation about how Dudley's first wife died (did he or didn't he have a hand in her death, so he had a better shot at marrying Elizabeth), and the overall question of Elizabeth's personality. Why didn't she--and, as the author points out, the best evidence that Elizabeth really didn't want to marry is that she never did--want to get married? That is the crux of the matter that I find the most fascinating. Was she afraid a marriage would be the end of her power? Was she afraid of the risks of childbirth? Did watching her father's treatment of his many wives, you know, sour her on the whole idea?
This is an interesting book, but it may not be the best place to start if you're looking for a full biography of Elizabeth; it really does focus on the relationship. It is, however, a librarian's dream: it's got lovely source notes in the back about related reading, a short appendix on film versions of Elizabeth's life, and a very comprehensive index. Kudos to the author and publisher for all those things.
Incidentally: I included pictures of two different covers for this book, neither of which I am particularly fond. By all accounts, Elizabeth ruled just as much with her head as with her torso. So why don't we get to see it? For some reason these beheaded women portraits on any covers--fiction included--creep me out.