Review of ‘Elizabeth’s Rival: The Tumultuous Tale of Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester’ by Nicola Tallis

I’d never heard of Lettice Knollys before. This is the first proper biography of her, from the author of Crown of Blood and Uncrowned Queen, which are about Lady Jane Grey and Margaret Beaufort respectively. Unfortunately I didn’t enjoy the book about Lettice as much, partly because the material seemed padded out and partly because she didn’t wasn’t so compelling a character. I did like that she was a strong woman who dared to defy Queen Elizabeth by marrying Robert Dudley, the Queen’s favourite. She also lived to the age of 91, which for that era was an extraordinary lifespan. She did indeed have a turbulent life, with various family members getting into trouble, most notably her eldest son, the Earl of Essex, who led a rebellion and was executed for treason, as was her third husband Christopher Blount. So she was widowed three times and outlived all of her children.

The title of the book, Elizabeth’s Rival, refers not to a rival for the throne (Lettice is said to be the illegitimate granddaughter of Henry VIII) but a personal rivalry. If you already know Tudor history, then this book won’t add much to your knowledge, as it goes over much familiar ground. I appreciate all the research that has gone into it, but there wasn’t very much about Lettice herself. There was a lot of guessing, because we simply don’t have any evidence. It wasn’t what I’d expect from a history book. Moreover, I had issues with the writing style, which had many inflated sentences and grammatical errors. I often encountered phrases I would have rewritten.

There is a selection of images, copious footnotes, an index and a description of places you can visit if you wish to trace Lettice’s life.

First published in 2017.

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