Few relationships fire our imagination like that of Elizabeth I and her 'bonnie sweet Robin' - the Earl of Leicester, Robert Dudley. But it has been almost half a century since any book set out specifically to examine and disentangle the emotive, often contradictory facts about their lifelong love. They both grew up amid the palaces and plots of Henry VIII's court; they were both imprisoned in the Tower of London by Elizabeth's sister, Mary. Soon after Elizabeth was queen came the scandalised letters from ambassadors of her infatuation with the married Robert Dudley - to be followed a mere two years later by the suspicious death of his wife Amy. Speculation ran for years that Elizabeth and Robert in their turn would marry. Instead, they developed a working partnership, and - an even more extraordinary intimacy - a bond of mutual dependence and affection. By the time Robert died he had been Elizabeth's councillor and commander of her army, sat by her bed in sickness and represented her on state occasions. But she had also humiliated him, made him dance attendance on her other suitors and tried to have him clapped in prison when finally he broke loose and married again.
"Elizabeth & Leicester" is a portrait - at times a startlingly intimate one - of two people who forged their age; of a relationship where, very unusually, a woman held all the power; of an edgy yet enduring love that still speaks to us today.
After leaving Oxford, Sarah Gristwood worked as a journalist specializing in the arts and women's issues. She is a regular contributor to The Times, Guardian, Independent and Evening Standard. Arbella, her historical biography of Arbella Stuart, the first cousin of Elizabeth I and heir to her throne, was widely acclaimed in hardcover and now available in Bantam paperback.