A few choice words can be used to describe “Death and the Virgin Queen”: dry, heavy, and not earth-shattering are a few of them. The first 200 pages of “Death and the Virgin Queen” focus on setting the scene and tone of the childhoods of Robert Dudley and Elizabeth. Although Skidmore seemingly does this from an investigational perspective in order to justify motive and character; he fails to do so. The text merely feels like a retelling of information which avid Tudor readers already know. Nothing new is ventured nor explored and can thus be skimmed.
Furthermore, Amy’s life is hardly mentioned during the large chunk of the book and much of the “facts” that are included are speculation and “would have” conjectures. Understandably, not much information exists regarding Amy’s private life but Skidmore should have perhaps just began “Death and the Virgin Queen” with Amy’s death, as the reader doesn’t feel like he/she knows Amy anyway.
With that being said, Skidmore’s research is extensive, heavily annotated, and impressive in its scope (it is perhaps too much for those new to the topic).Skidmore even features conclusions from household receipts and account books which are always interesting. Plus, supplemental color plates and photos of actual documents serve to round out the text.
Once Skidmore recalls Amy’s death, court trial (briefly), and burial; he begins to dissect the evidence using persuasive documentation (such as the Coroner’s Report found after 450 years), modern statistics, and criminal analysis. Much of Skidmore’s findings are indeed compelling, unique, and quite in-depth, certainly causing readers interested in Amy’s death to question previous studies. However, Skidmore doesn’t fully convince the reader of any one conclusion and hides his own hypothesis. Although bias can be unwelcome in most history cases, in such pretext I would have liked more firm provoking of Skidmore’s analysis/conclusion.
While Skidmore does present some investigation regarding the Amy scandal, he still reverts back to merely describing events. Skidmore’s tone and writing ability is simply better suited for bios/portraits. Therefore, fear not if you are a Dudley supporter, as Skidmore doesn’t take sides and put Dudley in any ill-light (but he doesn’t support Dudley, either). Skidmore does swing back to Amy but even with the compelling information, it was too little too late.
Missing was the popular possibility that Cecil was involved in Amy’s death. Skidmore only mentions this with one sentence and moves on saying it was impossible without offering ‘why’.
The appendices were especially gratifying as Skidmore presented Amy’s Coroner’s Report in full (in both Latin and translated), the Dudley-Blount letters, excerpts from Leicester’s Commonwealth, and the Journal of Matters of the State. Skidmore also uses sufficient primary and secondary sources giving credibility to his work.
To sum up: Skidmore focuses more on the effect of Amy’s death (on Elizabeth’s reign, on her relationship with Dudley, etc) versus trying to figure out the cause of Amy’s death. “Death and the Virgin Queen” is simply not what I expected and dare I say: even a little boring.
“Death and the Virgin Queen” is a good introduction to Amy and the impact of her death but is not sensational or conclusive in any way. Skidmore’s work isn’t terrible, but it is a disappointment (I do like his previous work, though, so I would still read another book from him).
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