The third book in Deary’s Dangerous Days series takes a quick jaunt around the Elizabethan era, peeking behind the jewelled skirts of the Queen to see the smallpox scars and filth-encrusted streets underneath.
Given what a huge influence Elizabeth’s family and upbringing would have had on her psychology, the first half of the book focuses on them from her birth on – her psychopath father declaring her a bastard and having her mother beheaded, her sickly brother dying soon into his rule, her bloodthirsty sister and the many thousands of religious executions, and the diplomatic dancing that Liz had to perform simply to stay alive – before turning its eyes to the shenanigans of Liz as queen and those she ruled over.
Lousy with spies, torturers, political plots and assassination attempts, and with ongoing religious tensions leading to the brutal executions of thousands, there was certainly no shortage of the mutilated corpses that seemed to decorate most of the city walls. Theatres doubled up as bear-fighting pits, sanitation wasn’t even a thing, and the lead-based make-up applied to cover smallpox scars could kill you.
Living in Plymouth (the English version), Liz and her favourites loomed large in my early education thanks to my hometown’s starring role against the Armada (the Hoe, where Drake famously finished playing a game of boules before facing the fleet, is one of the most popular spots in the city, and every primary school child troops through the well-preserved Elizabethan house on the Barbican at least once), so it was especially good to get to hear some of the stuff that our teachers really wouldn’t have wanted to teach us.
This series has been tremendous fun – I’m a little gutted that there’s now only one left.