29 Following


Currently reading

The Theory of the Leisure Class (Modern Library Classics)
Thorstein Veblen, Alan Wolfe
My Just Desire: The Life of Bess Raleigh, Wife to Sir Walter - Anna Beer Elizabeth Throckmorton was lady-in-waiting to Elizabeth I when she and Walter Raleigh secretly conceived a child and married. Elizabeth (or Bess) delivered her baby in secret, then returned to court as though nothing had happened. She kept up her facade of perfect virginal loyalty toward her queen, and Raleigh kept up his courtly promises of devotion to the queen, until abruptly they were banished from court and thrown in the Tower of London. Eventually they were released. Raleigh continued to lead men against the Spanish in search of treasure, while Bess worked to improve his reputation and political connections in the English court. Unfortunately, Raleigh's missions were largely unsuccessful (in fact, he managed to not only nearly start a war with Spain, but also got his second son, Wat, killed), and he had acquired many powerful enemies. Robert Cecil had once been his ally, but he turned James I against him, and Raleigh was thrown in the Tower on trumped up charges of Treason. Bess, meanwhile, petitioned, released propaganda, and began legal battles in the hope of freeing her husband--or at least, saving his life. Despite her efforts, he was executed, leaving Bess the widowed mother of a young boy.

All legal and financial matters had to be handled by men, so in order to do any little thing Bess had to petition her brothers or male friends to do it for her. Despite this sizable handicap, she won a good many of her legal battles (she was quite litigiuous!) and was probably a prime reason her husband's reputation was revitalized and gilded after his death.

Beer is fiercely partisan to Bess Raleigh, and is loud in her frustation that Walter Raleigh scholars so often discount or misjudge her. And to her credit, it seems that many of their mistaken impressions are due to laziness on their part--she has managed to dig up a great many tiny clues that, taken together, paint a much more detailed picture of Bess than ever before. But in her zeal to reveal Bess's character and life, I think Beer also overstates her case, and other historians' biases, a few times. Regardless, her sarcastic asides add zing to a book that might otherwise be too dense with quotations and citations.