An abused child, yet confident of her destiny, passionately sexual yet, she said, a virgin, famed as England's most successful ruler yet actually doing little, Elizabeth I is full of contradictions.
This biography, published to accompany a Channel 4 series presented by the author, aims to turn the paradox into a person.
Starting with Elizabeth's own speeches and writings, the author lays emphasis on two things: her faith made her see religion as a purely personal relationship between the individual conscience and God, yet her sophisticated education led her to a smoke-and-mirrors view of politics, in which clever image-making and speech-writing could solve or postpone real problems.
The result was a surprisingly contemporary approach to some very modern questions, like civil strife in Scotland and Ireland and the risk of England's absorption into a European super-state. This approach to the enigma of the Queen's character is presented in a retelling of her reign; her love for Robert Dudley, the tragi-comedy of her favourites and suitors, her struggles with Mary Queen of Scots and Philip II of Spain and the final, humiliating debacle of her relationship with Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.