The Marriage Game is an entertaining light choice for a travel day. Based on the life of the Virgin Queen Elizabeth, it’s the story of the endless shenanigans concerning her marriage, and of her love for Robert Dudley. For many of us it’s a well-worn story because the endless fascination with all the Tudors has led to so many fictionalisations and films, so it is all the more surprising that The Marriage Game is as entertaining as it is. After all, everyone already knows the plot!
Weir’s previous publications – 14 works of non-fiction – establish her expertise as an historian of this period, and the novel rarely departs from the historical record. What makes it an entertaining book is that Elizabeth’s love for Dudley is the cornerstone of her reign, but – like all the other marriage negotiations with assorted princes of Europe – it is characterised as a ‘game’. A game played by her rules which were constantly changing.
So over the course of 400-odd pages, Elizabeth promises to marry him, but won’t say when. She favours him, and withdraws her regard. She makes him believe she will marry her, but there always reasons of state which force delay. And while she won’t have him, she sabotages any chance of him taking any other woman as his wife, to have the children he so dearly wants to have. It seems a cruel way to treat a loved one, but Weir provides convincing reasons for this wayward behaviour, weaving certainty out of what has always been conjecture about Elizabeth’s reluctance to marry. It would spoil the novel to say much more about those personal reasons.
All this, of course, takes place in the context of the problem of succession. After all the trauma of her father’s succession woes, Elizabeth was always under pressure to marry, and for strategic reasons, not for love. She was always surrounded by enemies, her sister Mary Queen of Scots to the north, and the Catholic kingdoms of Europe all implacably opposed to Protestant rule. Marrying any one of them was liable to provoke new enmities from one of the others, but at different times and sometimes simultaneously she was engaged in negotiations to marry assorted suitors in pursuit of an alliance with this, that or the other one. Sometimes her advisers knew what she was up to, and at other times they did not.
The downside of this preoccupation with matters of the heart in this novel is that the Queen comes across as a wayward, silly, vain and capricious creature, rather than as the great ruler that she was. The Elizabethan Age was a glorious period of British history and it was Elizabeth and her prudent advisers who maintained stability throughout her reign. The Elizabeth of this novel is a soap opera character, not a great ruler.
But readers looking for a light-hearted read with an engaging heroine and a dashing lover will enjoy this book, as I did.
Author: Alison Weir
Title: The Marriage Game, a novel of Elizabeth I
Publisher : Hutchinson (Random House) 2014
Source: review copy courtesy of Random House Australia
Fishpond: The Marriage Game