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Big Chief Elizabeth: How England's Adventurers Gambled and Won the New World

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9780340748824: Big Chief Elizabeth: How England's Adventurers Gambled and Won the New World
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In April 1586, Queen Elizabeth I acquired a new and exotic title. A tribe of North American Indians had made her their weroanza - 'big chief'.

The news was received with great joy, both by the Queen and her favourite, Sir Walter Ralegh. His first American expedition had brought back a captive, Manteo, whose tattooed face had enthralled Elizabethan London. Now Manteo was returned to his homeland as Lord and Governor. Ralegh's gamble would result in the first English settlement in the New World, but it would also lead to a riddle whose solution lay hidden in the forests of Virginia.

A tale of heroism and mystery, BIG CHIEF ELIZABETH is illuminated by first-hand accounts to reveal a remarkable and long-forgotten story.

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Review:

The follow up to his bestselling Nathaniel's Nutmeg, Giles Milton's Big Chief Elizabeth is a sprawling, ambitious tale of how the aristocrats and privateers of Elizabethan England reached and colonised the "wild and barbarous shores" of the New World. Milton's story ranges from John Cabot's voyage to America in 1497, to the painful but ultimately successful foundation of the English colony at Jamestown by 1611. However, the main focus of the book is Sir Walter Ralegh's elaborate and tortuous attempts to establish an English settlement in Roanoke, in present-day Carolina, following the first English voyage there in 1584. Scouring contemporary travel accounts of the period, Milton creates a colourful and entertaining account of the greed, confusion and misunderstanding that characterised English relations with the native Americans, and the often violent and tragic conflict that often ensued. Milton has a good eye for a surreal or comical story, such as the colony's first encounter with Big Chief--or Weroanza Wingina, whose exotic title "quickly captured the imagination of the English colonists, and they began referring to their own queen as Weroanza Elizabeth". The Elizabethan cast is also dazzling--the flamboyant and ambitious Walter Ralegh, who provided the money behind the Roanoke ventures, the "sober" ascetic scholar Thomas Hariot, who provided the brains, and hardened adventurers such as Arthur Barlowe and Ralph Lane, who provided the muscle. The myths and stories also come thick and fast, from John Smith and Pocahontas, to the importation of the fashion of "drinking tobacco", but the problem with Big Chief Elizabeth is that it lacks a central driving story. In the end it reads like an entertaining, but rather laboured jog through early Anglo-American history, something that has been done with greater skill and originality by writers such as Charles Nicholl in his fascinating book The Creature in the Map. Those who read Nathaniel's Nutmeg will probably enjoy Big Chief Elizabeth, but with some reservations. --Jerry Brotton

Review:

Like Giles Milton's previous book, ... Big Chief Elizabeth is a cracking read, a successful attempt at popular history (Evening Standard)

'It's almost impossible to summarise Milton's book, from which marvellous, vivid stories spill out like swagsack booty. ... Milton is a very contemporary historian' Guardian

'The story of the first Virginia colonies, now told in pacy style in Big Chief Elizabeth, is stirring and fitfully tragic...This is a marvellous story well retold' Sunday Times

Milton is a great storyteller ... he sets about filling in the historical gaps with relish, using his considerable imagination to conjure mood from dry parchment (Sunday Express)

Grippingly told true adventure story (Daily Mail)

Milton ... draws a vivid picture of the terrible hardships the settlers endured (The Times)

'Milton knits together the most vivid anecdotes and descriptions from a very colourful literature of exploration and colonization, and anyone wanting easy access to them has it here'. ( The Times Literary Supplement)

Milton has a terrific eye for the kind of detail that can bring the past vividly to life off the page (The Spectator)

Splendid stuff ... fascinatingly told ... An excellent book (Time Out)

A wonderfully colourful story told with pace and verve (Sunday Telegraph)

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9780340748817: Big Chief Elizabeth: How England's Adventurers Gambled and Won the New World

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ISBN 10: 0340748818 ISBN 13: 9780340748817
Publisher: Hodder And Stoughton, 2000
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