Tag Archives: 19th century literature

Anne and Elizabeth: “Playing Too Much the Queen” in the Victorian Era

By: Natalie Sweet

On the Victorian stage, playwright W.G. Hole’s Elizabeth I voiced her fear that she “play[ed] too much the queen,” and demanded of her suitor,  “do you still hold me a woman?”[1]  Indeed, her question was one that many Victorians grappled with in the late nineteenth century.  While their fondness for bestowing Elizabeth with majesty and imperial power undoubtedly arose from British eagerness to trace the history of its empire, the celebration of Elizabeth as the Virgin Queen presented problems for the Victorians who celebrated Queen Victoria’s motherhood.  Victorians questioned how Elizabeth reconciled herself to virginity while the nation’s survival depended on an heir.  In contrast to this, but in a similar vein, Victorians were also preoccupied with Elizabeth’s sexuality and the masculine qualities of her suitors.  The emergence of a “masculine” British empire also created questions about Elizabeth’s role in creating that empire.  Although a woman presided over their own enterprises, Victorians acknowledged that Elizabeth ruled over a much more dangerous world than their own, and thus she needed masculine qualities to survive.  All of these factors led to a paradox in how Elizabeth was portrayed in British popular culture.  She sometimes “play[ed] too much the queen” in a masculine manner, but at other times she played too much the naughty woman, too. For at least one Victorian author, the source of this problematic contradiction was her mother, Anne Boleyn.

Victorian authors overwhelmingly indicated their belief “that a strong modern England was rendered possible mainly by the boldness, astuteness, and activity of Elizabeth at the critical turning-point of European history.”[2]  As some modern scholars have suggested, Victorians were willing to portray a stronger image of Elizabeth in the late nineteenth century in order to rehabilitate Queen Victoria’s image.  The creation of “a strong modern England” could not have been possible without strong leadership, and luckily for the British, Elizabeth seemed to posses a sufficient amount of strength.  The complication of explaining how this extraordinary strength came from within a female who also possessed remarkable skills in coquetry, however, would take some effort on the part of (admittedly prudish) Victorian writers.

For example, Victorian author Michael Creighton reasoned that Elizabeth’s character was connected to her heredity.  He noted that her more cautionary and discreet qualities must have come from her grandfather, Henry VII, who for so long exercised prudence and weariness of others in order to keep the English throne.  From Henry VIII, he believed that Elizabeth “inherited the royal imperiousness and personal charm which always secured his popularity.”[3]  Creighton did not criticize these strong inherited qualities, and indeed equated them with masculine character.  However, he stated that Elizabeth’s bad qualities, “[h]er vanity, her unscrupulousness, her relentless and over bearing temper,” came from her mother, Anne Boleyn.[4]  This “coarse, ambitious and self-seeking woman” passed on all of her undesirable feminine traits to her daughter, “in whom they were modified by finer qualities and were curbed by a sense of duty.”[5]  In other words, Elizabeth’s feminine foibles were kept in check by the masculine command she inherited from her father and grandfather.

It is interesting that Creighton equated the poor qualities of Elizabeth with women, especially when one considers that her father, Henry VIII, could be described in much the same manner. However, although Creighton asserted that “Elizabeth always remained more truly the daughter of Anne Boleyn than of Henry VIII,” thus tying her identity more closely to a female identity rather than to a masculine, kingly one, Creighton believed that Elizabeth could not have been as great of a ruler if she had not inherited the qualities of “a coarse, ambitious and self-seeking woman.”[6]  Indeed, he asserted that there were “times when anyone, save Anne Boleyn’s daughter, would have been tempted to make terms” with the powers that threatened England’s security.[7]   Creighton’s consideration of Elizabeth’s heredity appears to be unique, but it is not a surprising explanation when one considers the late nineteenth-century Victorian fascination with heredity and eugenics.[8]  Yet, his argument is also a paradox.  While Creighton argued that her feminine traits interfered with strong, masculine leadership, he also asserted that her feminine cunning and stubbornness was what helped England to survive the turbulent sixteenth century.

[1] W.G. Hole, Queen Elizabeth: An Historical Drama in Four Acts (London: George Bell and Sons, 1904), 85.

[2] Hume, vi.

[3] Creighton, 4.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, 197.

[8] For more on this topic, see the essays in Philippa Levine, ed., Gender and Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

The above is taken from a paper titled “Sex, Masculinity, and the Virgin Queen: Victorian Views of Elizabeth I,” written by Natalie Sweet in 2009.

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Anne and Elizabeth: “Playing Too Much the Queen” in the Victorian Era

The following is taken from a paper titled “Sex, Masculinity, and the Virgin Queen: Victorian Views of Elizabeth I,” written by Natalie Sweet in 2009.

On the Victorian stage, playwright W.G. Hole’s Elizabeth I voiced her fear that she “play[ed] too much the queen,” and demanded of her suitor,  “do you still hold me a woman?”[1]  Indeed, her question was one that many Victorians grappled with in the late nineteenth century.  While their fondness for bestowing Elizabeth with majesty and imperial power undoubtedly arose from British eagerness to trace the history of its empire, the celebration of Elizabeth as the Virgin Queen presented problems for the Victorians who celebrated Queen Victoria’s motherhood.  Victorians questioned how Elizabeth reconciled herself to virginity while the nation’s survival depended on an heir.  In contrast to this, but in a similar vein, Victorians were also preoccupied with Elizabeth’s sexuality and the masculine qualities of her suitors.  The emergence of a “masculine” British empire also created questions about Elizabeth’s role in creating that empire.  Although a woman presided over their own enterprises, Victorians acknowledged that Elizabeth ruled over a much more dangerous world than their own, and thus she needed masculine qualities to survive.  All of these factors led to a paradox in how Elizabeth was portrayed in British popular culture.  She sometimes “play[ed] too much the queen” in a masculine manner, but at other times she played too much the naughty woman, too. For at least one Victorian author, the source of this problematic contradiction was her mother, Anne Boleyn.

 

Victorian authors overwhelmingly indicated their belief “that a strong modern England was rendered possible mainly by the boldness, astuteness, and activity of Elizabeth at the critical turning-point of European history.”[2]  As some modern scholars have suggested, Victorians were willing to portray a stronger image of Elizabeth in the late nineteenth century in order to rehabilitate Queen Victoria’s image.  The creation of “a strong modern England” could not have been possible without strong leadership, and luckily for the British, Elizabeth seemed to posses a sufficient amount of strength.  The complication of explaining how this extraordinary strength came from within a female who also possessed remarkable skills in coquetry, however, would take some effort on the part of (admittedly prudish) Victorian writers.

 

For example, Victorian author Michael Creighton reasoned that Elizabeth’s character was connected to her heredity.  He noted that her more cautionary and discreet qualities must have come from her grandfather, Henry VII, who for so long exercised prudence and weariness of others in order to keep the English throne.  From Henry VIII, he believed that Elizabeth “inherited the royal imperiousness and personal charm which always secured his popularity.”[3]  Creighton did not criticize these strong inherited qualities, and indeed equated them with masculine character.  However, he stated that Elizabeth’s bad qualities, “[h]er vanity, her unscrupulousness, her relentless and over bearing temper,” came from her mother, Anne Boleyn.[4]  This “coarse, ambitious and self-seeking woman” passed on all of her undesirable feminine traits to her daughter, “in whom they were modified by finer qualities and were curbed by a sense of duty.”[5]  In other words, Elizabeth’s feminine foibles were kept in check by the masculine command she inherited from her father and grandfather.

 

It is interesting that Creighton equated the poor qualities of Elizabeth with women, especially when one considers that her father, Henry VIII, could be described in much the same manner. However, although Creighton asserted that “Elizabeth always remained more truly the daughter of Anne Boleyn than of Henry VIII,” thus tying her identity more closely to a female identity rather than to a masculine, kingly one, Creighton believed that Elizabeth could not have been as great of a ruler if she had not inherited the qualities of “a coarse, ambitious and self-seeking woman.”[6]  Indeed, he asserted that there were “times when anyone, save Anne Boleyn’s daughter, would have been tempted to make terms” with the powers that threatened England’s security.[7]   Creighton’s consideration of Elizabeth’s heredity appears to be unique, but it is not a surprising explanation when one considers the late nineteenth-century Victorian fascination with heredity and eugenics.[8]  Yet, his argument is also a paradox.  While Creighton argued that her feminine traits interfered with strong, masculine leadership, he also asserted that her feminine cunning and stubbornness was what helped England to survive the turbulent sixteenth century.

[1] W.G. Hole, Queen Elizabeth: An Historical Drama in Four Acts (London: George Bell and Sons, 1904), 85

[2] Hume, vi.

[3] Creighton, 4.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, 197.

[8] For more on this topic, see the essays in Philippa Levine, ed., Gender and Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

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What Victorian Kids Were Taught About Anne Boleyn

Oliver Goldsmith, History of England (1771–but widely used through 19th century)

“”It happened, that among the maid of honor then attending the queen, there was one Anna Bullen, the daughter of Sir Thomas Bullen, a gentleman of distinction, and related to most of the nobility.  The beauty of Anna surpassed whatever had hitherto appeared at this voluptuous court; and her education, which had been at Paris, tended to set off her personal charms.  Her features were regular, mild, and attractive; her stature elegant, though below the middling size; while her wit and vivacity exceeded even her other allurements.  Henry, who had never learned the art of restraining any passion that he desired to gratify, saw and loved her.  As his own queen was now become hateful to him, in order to procure a divorce, he alleged that his conscience rebuked him for having so long lived in incest with the wife of his brother…

….Anna Bullen, his queen, had always been a favourer of the reformation, and consequently had many enemies on that account, who only waited some fit occasion to destroy her credit with the king; and that occasion presented itself but too soon.  The king’s passion was by this time quite palled with satiety; he was now fallen in love with another, and languished for the possession of Jane Seymour, who had for some time been maid of honour to the queen….

….The queen was tried by a jury of peers.  Part of the charge against her was, that she had declared to her attendants that the king never had her heart; which was considered a slander upon the throne, and strained into a breach of a law-statute, by which it was declared criminal to throw any slander upon the king, queen, or their issue.  The unhappy queen, although unassisted by counsel, defended herself with great judgement and presence of mind…but the king’s authority was not to be controlled; she was declared guilty…

…She was beheaded by the executioner of Calais, who was brought over, as much more expert than any in England. The very next day after her execution, Henry married the lady Jane Seymour, his cruel heart being no way softened by the wretched fate of one that had been so lately the object of his warmest affections.”

 

Charles Dickens, A Child’s History of England (1853)

“We now come to King Henry the Eighth whom it has been so much the fashion to call ‘Bluff King Hal” or ‘Burly King Henry’ and other fine neames but whom I shall take the liberty of calling plainly, one of the most detestable villains that ever drew breath.”

While Henry was trying to divorce Catherine, “All this time, the king and Anne Boleyn were writing letters to each other almost daily, full of impatience to have the case settled; and Anne Boleyn was showing herself (as I think) very worthy of the fate which afterward befell her.”

 

Little Arthur’s England (1856; widely used in home schooling):

“I told you Anne Boleyn was very young and beautiful.  She was also clever and pleasant and I believe really good.   But the king and some of his wicked friends pretended that she had done several bad things; and, as Henry had become very cruel as well as changeable, he ordered poor Anne’s head cut off.  On the day she was to suffer death she sent to beg the king to be kind to her little daughter Elizabeth.  She said to the last moment that she was innocent; she prayed God to bless the king and the people, and then she knelt down, and her head was cut off. “

Edward Moulton, A Manual of English History, for The Use of Schools (1877)

“Henry, in 1509, married Catherine of Arragon who was divorced in 1533, having had a daughter, Mary.  The same year he married Anne Boleyn, who was beheaded, in 1536, on a charge of being faithless to him, leaving a daughter Elizabeth. The next day he married Jane Seymour, who died, in 1537, after giving birth to a son, Edward.  In 1540, Cromwell arranged a match with Anne of Cleves, a German princess.  But she was plain and awkward, and in a little over six months, Henry was divorced from her, and married to Catherine Howard.  She, too, was beheaded, in about a year and a half, on a charge of unchastity before marriage, and the next year, 1543, he married Catherine Parr, who survived him.”

Samuel Gardiner, English History for Schools (1881)

“After Henry had been married for some time he grew tired of his wife, Queen Catherine, and wanted to marry a sparkling beauty named Anne Boleyn.  He suddenly discovered that he had done wrong in marrying his brother’s widow.  Anne brought him a daughter Elizabeth, who was to be more famous than any son could be…Her mother was suddenly accused of the vilest misconduct to the king her husband.  Whether she was guilty or innocent cannot be known.”

 

Lydia Hoyt Farmer, The Girl’s Book of Famous Queens (1887)

“Nor did Catherine display any enmity to the boastful Anne Boleyn, who did indecently declare her growing power over the fickle fancies of the cruel king. On the day of Catherine’s burial, King Henry wore mourning, but Anne Boleyn clothed herself and all her ladies in yellow, exclaiming ‘Now am I queen!’  Neither King Henry’s arrogant power nor Anne Boleyn’s pernicious influence could prevent the widespread and lasting effect of the Christian death-bed of Catherine…And Anne herself was to suffer the penalty of her wicked ambition.”

 

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