Tag Archives: Elizabeth I

The Sisters Tudor: An Evolution in Evaluating Mary I and Elizabeth I

Mary and Elizabeth TudorThe following post is from Natalie Sweet, research assistant to Susan Bordo. She is the creator of Semper Eadem: An Elizabeth I Blog, and is currently at work on a book project that focuses on life within Abraham Lincoln’s White House (you can read a sample of that project here). The following is taken from a piece Natalie wrote in 2008, Two Tudor Monarchs: Analyzing Queenship in Early Modern England.

Scholarly literature on the two Tudor queens regnant, Mary I and Elizabeth I, suggests a number of past themes about their reigns. Authors once obsessed over Mary’s “bloody” moniker and Catholic faith, while others analyzed Elizabeth’s Protestant policies and her “Glorianna” status.  In the late twentieth century, however, the development of fields in women’s history and gender analysis signaled new ways in which to conceptualize the two sisters.  Obviously, historians had always recognized the fact that Mary and Elizabeth were anomalies as female rulers, but there was little discussion about what being a female ruler in early modern England meant.  Therefore, historians wrote their biographies and political histories with little consideration of how female rule challenged and altered the political scene.[1]  Not until the prime of women’s history in the 1980s did authors consider in detail Mary’s and Elizabeth’s struggle in a patriarchal world.[2]

By 1997, the number of articles on Mary and Elizabeth in the women’s history tradition steadily increased. [3]  Eventually, work on Mary I incorporated a method that had already been utilized to study Elizabeth’s reign: gender analysis.[4]   Today, efforts to locate both Mary’s and Elizabeth’s role in formulating English queenship through gender analysis demonstrates how far the study of the two queens has come.[5]  Where mid-twentieth century histories once reflected both the misogynist viewpoints of the queens’ sixteenth century counterparts and the author writing about them, the advent of women’s history and gender studies allowed historians to discover how the queens’ sex substantially affected how they projected their image and participated politically. This evolution in historical methods likewise produced an evolving definition of “success” for the two queens.  While Elizabeth’s unmarried status condemned her in mid-twentieth century misogynist texts, Mary was rescued from her “bloody” image because she represented a good wife and aspiring mother.  However, as women’s history became more popular, Elizabeth gradually gained respect for managing her autonomy while Mary suffered for her perceived failure in marrying Phillip II.  It was not until after historians fully “rehabilitated” Elizabeth’s image through gender analysis that they in turn discovered the legitimate successes of Mary as a female monarch.

In 1943, Theodore Maynard released his simply titled Queen Elizabeth.  With World War II still raging and the London blitzkrieg excruciatingly fresh in everyone’s minds, a biography of Elizabeth I and England’s triumph over the “invincible” Spanish Armada would have been a welcomed read.  Instead, Maynard primarily focused on the problems of Elizabeth’s reign, especially her treatment of Catholics.  Maynard gave no consideration to the inherent problems of female rule in a patriarchal society, and, indeed, wrote about Elizabeth and prior queens consort and regnant in a misogynist tone.  He described Anne Boleyn as a “shrew,” and deemed Jane Grey “a little prig” because of “her refusal to having a parting with her husband, on the grounds that they were soon to meet in heaven.”[6]  But he saved his most demeaning analysis for Elizabeth.  He believed that any ordinary woman would have broken under the strain that Elizabeth was under as queen, and this indicated that she was “no ordinarily constituted woman.”[7]  Instead, he believed Elizabeth suffered from “a sexual abnormality aggravated by syphilis.”[8] For this reason, he held “compassion for a woman so tortured in her body and soul as often not to be held responsible,” for her actions and, to her credit, believed the “abnormality” was “an asset to Elizabeth as a politician.”[9]

VictorianSistersIn this way, Maynard made Elizabeth into no woman at all.  He explained her successes as a result of her unfeminine anatomy while still blaming her failures on the “feminine spite” that “stifled her decent impulses.”[10]  Mary received no better treatment from Maynard in 1943 or in his 1955 biography, Bloody Mary. In Queen Elizabeth, Maynard found Mary to be “surely the best woman who ever sat upon the English throne, one absolutely devoted to what she believed to be right.”[11]  However, he also found her feminine virtue to be what made her “a poor politician.”[12]  By the release of Bloody Mary, Maynard continued to regard Mary’s reign in a misogynist context.  Mary received his sympathy because she- “not only as a woman…but…a very inexperienced woman”- correctly believed that she needed a husband to advise her.[13]  Because of her sex, Maynard asserted that readers should save their “reprehension” “for the men upon whom she relied and who failed her.”[14]

In brief instances, Maynard seemed close to addressing the problems of female rule.  However, like other books written both before and during the time, he ascribed the “real” problem to something other than Mary’s sex.  For example, Maynard noted that many of Edward VI’s councilors objected to Mary becoming her brother’s regent because she was a woman.  Maynard completely tossed the argument aside, however, in favor of his belief that “the real argument was that Mary…was a Papist at heart.”[15]  While Maynard’s assessment had validity, he missed the opportunity to review why the councilors could make such a statement.  Twenty-four years later, David Loades likewise missed the significance of sex in his 1979 Reign of Mary Tudor.  The political biography sought to recapture the dynamics of Mary’s overlooked reign, and Loades showed little interest in the social, let alone gendered, aspects of her rule.  Therefore, his chapter on “The Spanish Marriage,” a topic of obsession for later historians of women’s history and gender, paid little attention to why Mary felt the need to marry or what the consequences of a queen regnant’s marriage might entail.  Instead, Loades puzzled over the point that “[l]ess than twenty years previously Catherine of Aragon had been a popular queen and it is not very easy to understand why Englishmen should have conceived a particular dislike for Spaniards by 1553.”[16]

The development of women’s studies in the 1970s helped to halt the misogynist texts generated about Mary and Elizabeth.  However, it was not until the 1980s that historians of women’s history began to view either Mary or Elizabeth as a viable topic. Allison Heisch attributed this to their belief that “exceptional women are not representative women.”[17] In her 1980 article “Queen Elizabeth I and the Persistence of Patriarchy,” Heisch described Elizabeth’s struggle with patriarchal society in order to understand “those systems which oppress and exclude women” even at the “exceptional” level.[18]  Elizabeth’s councilors viewed her primarily as a bridge between “Henry VIII to some unnamed, but certainly male heir,” and spoke to her as if they were “lecturing a daughter on her duty.”[19] Comparing her to Gertrude Stein, Heisch claimed Elizabeth fought such treatment by becoming “an honorary male,” a woman who legitimized her rule by running with “the boys” and styling herself as different from other females.[20]

Constance Jordan’s in-depth examination of women’s rule in sixteenth century literature went beyond Heisch’s to examine the sex-related problems that both sisters faced in her 1987 article “Women’s Rule in Sixteenth-Century Thought.”  Noting that “[t]he prospect of [a queen’s] government could hardly have been regarded with anything but concern,” Jordan examined how male writers used Mary’s sex to attack her legitimacy but formulated excuses about queenship to defend Elizabeth’s ascension and more “abnormal” reign.[21] Mary’s religion was the primary concern of Protestants like John Knox, Thomas Becon, and Christopher Goodman, but they principally referenced her sex to denounce her. They firmly stated that God made woman inferior to man and submissive to her husband, and Mary’s ascension was thus “the principal mark of a tyrant” because she “step[ped] out of her place.”[22] More seriously, they charged that Mary’s marriage to the foreign, Catholic Phillip II placed England in danger since he could claim his rights as a husband at any time.[23]  Jordan noted that although Elizabeth sidestepped Mary’s problem by refusing to marry, her decision made her more of an anomaly in England’s now Protestant, marriage valuing culture.  However, since Elizabeth was viewed as a defender of Protestantism, there was a reluctance to make misogynist attacks.  Instead, defenders like John Calvin and John Aylmer explained that, like Deborah in the Bible, the “exceptional woman may be ‘raised up by divine authority.’”[24]

FamilyPortraitJordan’s and Heisch’s articles paved the way for Susan Bassnett to pen her 1988 Elizabeth I: A Feminist Perspective.  Bassnett believed it was time to confront “the strain running through the work of even the most eminent historians that reveal[ed] an uneasiness about Elizabeth’s sex” in a full-length book.[25]  Tackling misogynist texts head-on, Bassnett reiterated the problems of female rule discussed by Jordan and Heisch while simultaneously confronting the aspects of Elizabeth’s reign that could not be blamed on her sex.  For example, Bassnett believed that grumbles about Elizabeth’s feminine “whimsical and capricious” nature were contradicted by her passionate faithfulness to those who she truly cared about.[26]  Likewise, Bassnett did not, as Maynard did, blame Elizabeth’s “feminine nature” on her tendency to demand flattery or banish those who had married without her permission.  Bassnett believed such views were anachronistic “in a world where formal behaviour [sic] played a very important role,” and insisted that “the elaborate sequence of flattery and obsequies that surrounded her [reflected] ritual rather than…realistic demonstrations of feeling.”[27]

Bassnett, along with Heisch and Jordan, demonstrated that being female forced Mary and Elizabeth to deal with problems that no king had ever had to contend with.  Carole Levin’s The Heart and Stomach of a King: Elizabeth I and the Politics of Sex and Power enhanced their studies by placing Elizabeth’s reign under gender analysis “to understand the intersection of politics with gender, of sexuality with power.”[28]  Rather than simply describing the problems or results that Elizabeth faced as a female monarch, as Heisch, Jordan, and Bassnett did, Levin explored gender constructions and role expectations to determine exactly how Elizabeth surpassed her gender and unmarried status.  More importantly, Levin used the technique on Elizabeth’s subjects to determine how they responded to the queen’s manipulation of her sexual image as well.  In the process, she determined that although the problems Elizabeth faced during her reign – difficulties with nobles, quarrels with Parliament, and unpopular wars – were universal for monarchs, “[t]he way these problems manifested themselves in Elizabeth’s reign had to do with her sex.”[29]  For example, in order to evoke love from her subjects, Elizabeth utilized male and female imagery to secure her status.  She portrayed herself as a wife, a mother, and a female saint while simultaneously taking on the king’s mantle as a magical healer and warrior to maintain her tenuous position.   However, while Levin acknowledged, “Elizabeth was far more successful than Mary and the other women rulers of her time,” she also acknowledged that her refusal to wed, and thus not provide an heir, caused “serious problems” as well.[30]  Her subjects feared civil war, and they voiced their uneasiness about their female monarch in a variety of ways.  In popular literature, poems, and even recorded dreams, Levin discovered that Elizabeth’s subjects variously viewed her as a “sacred monarch” and a “wanton and whore “ at different points in her reign.[31]

Levin’s book marked an important point in scholarship about Elizabeth.  No longer could serious-minded scholars portray the younger Tudor queen as Thomas Maynard had, as a sexually deformed dissembler whose feminine nature made her a vain and capricious ruler.  Instead, historians of women’s history and gender analysis brought her into her own.  They acknowledged that Elizabeth’s sex was a legitimate handicap that, in personal instances, she handled surprisingly well.  As Heisch pointed out, her sex made her susceptible to the bullying of her advisors, but Elizabeth largely avoided the problem by making herself an honorary male.  Heisch may have unhappily noted that Elizabeth’s management of her “sexual problem” “did nothing to upset or interfere with male notions of how the world was or should be organized,” but Basset asserted that Elizabeth’s “feminist attitude” marked a triumph for all early modern women.[32]  Because Elizabeth had never allowed her sex to “diminish her prestige” but had utilized it to increase her esteem instead, Bassnett described Elizabeth’s reign as “a unique and extraordinary achievement” “in an age when the social value of women was in retreat.”[33]  Without these revisions to historical scholarship in the 1980s, it is unlikely that Levin could have argued in 1994 that Elizabeth blurred gender lines to be “more than a man and more than a woman too” in an admiring tone.[34]

At the same time that historians in women’s studies positively revised and rehabilitated Elizabeth’s image, however, they also steadily injured the already poor image of Mary.  Prior to the 1980s, “Bloody” Mary’s reign was popularly remembered for the number of Protestants she burned at the stake and the loss of Calais to France.  After the women’s histories of the 1980s were published, she also became the sister whose disastrous political marriage became an example for her successful sister not to follow.  While Heisch only briefly mentioned Mary’s example, Jordan’s article expounded on the issue, blatantly noting that “[b]y refusing to marry, Elizabeth could avoid risking the loss of control that Mary had experienced.”[35] Likewise, Bassnett viewed Mary’s reign as a lesson in what to avoid as a female ruler, commenting that, “Elizabeth must have seen that in order to stay in control,” she had to avoid the fate of her sister, whose “capacity to govern [was] impaired by the depth of…personal misery” her marriage caused her.[36]  Maynard may have made Mary into a Stepford wife in his chauvinistic biography and Loades may have considered her sex as an afterthought, but at least their treatments of the eldest Tudor queen attributed a few positive qualities to her.

The increasing commentary on the “successful” Elizabeth at least reminded historians of women’s history that there was another Tudor queen.  Since Mary was the “unsuccessful one,” however, the one that patriarchal society had seemingly dominated, historians portrayed her in a sympathetic light.  After all, not much could be expected from the unexceptional sister who had lost her autonomy when she married.  In the tradition of women’s history, Glyn Redworth’s 1997 article “’Matters Impertinent to Women’: Male and Female Monarchy under Phillip and Mary” focused on the Spanish marriage.  More specifically, Redworth zeroed in on Phillip’s influence over Mary.  She contradicted Loades’s assessment of the Hapsburg monarch’s influence, noting that he truly involved himself in Mary’s government to “’make up for other matters which are impertinent to women.’”[37]  As a result, Mary, as the “the first female in English history effectively to rule,” found that “the kingly images she could appropriate were few and far between.”[38]  Redworth noted that when the queen married, she lost both those few images and her will to oversee “kingly” issues altogether. Mary as a wife “would nearly always be obliged to surrender her command in the field,” although she had once “take[n] up arms to put down rebellion” after her brother’s death.[39]  As her subjects suspected, Mary’s sex outweighed any “constitutional attempt to cuckold Phillip [and] restrict his political influence” because “[h]is position as Mary’s husband belied all limitations.”[40]

M&ETombRedworth’s Mary seemed to contribute nothing more to the formulation of English queenship than an example of what could happen when a queen lost her autonomy.  In contrast, Judith M. Richards, through a combination of women’s history and gender analysis, suggested, “Mary’s reign is important in its own right, as well as a necessary introduction for any wider study of English female monarchy.”[41]  Instead of focusing solely on the Spanish marriage in her 1997 article “Mary Tudor as ‘Sole Quene’? Gendering Tudor Monarchy,” Richards examined Mary’s use of gendered symbolism and authority both before and after she wed Phillip.  She discovered that, like Elizabeth, Mary incorporated a number of female and male symbolisms into her coronation ceremony to remind her subjects of both her political and physical body.  Indeed, Richards asserted that Mary’s approaches to queenship “subsequently defined [the] central symbolic forms of Elizabeth’s reign and shaped their readings.”[42]  Additionally, although “how far a married queen could be a king remained a problematic question” at the end of her reign, Mary “produced some ingenious constitutional propositions” by marrying Phillip.[43]  Redworth asserted that the most important constitutional issue, “the ultimate political question…of whether the realm belonged to the monarch or the people” was raised because of the Spanish marriage.[44]

Richards’s article marked the resurrection of Mary’s image and the incorporation of gender analysis to study the eldest Tudor queen.  Suddenly, instead of being the queen whose mistakes Elizabeth avoided at all costs, Mary became the sister whose advantageous use of male and female symbolism provided Elizabeth with an example to emulate.  Likewise, as Richards had hoped, another scholar took up the challenge of incorporating Mary into his introduction to the problems of female queenship.  In The Lion Roared: The Problems of Female Rule in English History, Charles Beem utilized gender analysis to examine the problems of queenship from Matilda to Victoria.  Interestingly, Beem did not examine Elizabeth in-depth because he believed “her position as the archetype of English female rule” had caused her to too “long crow[d] the centerstage [sic] among gender studies concerning the nature of female rule in England.”[45]  Instead, he analyzed Mary and the other English queens to determine what they contributed to the formulation of English queenship.

Beem “identifie[d] Mary as the original architect of [his] conceptualization of female rulership within the social constructs of sixteenth-century womanhood.”[46]  Like Richards, Beem examined the gendered language and images that Mary manipulated in order to “inhabit [the] conventional constructs of womanhood” while “remain[ing] within the patriarchal parameters of legitimized female power, avoiding the mistakes that had cost the empress Matilda her coronation four centuries earlier.”[47]  Beem went beyond Richards or any other analysis of the Spanish marriage, however, when he noted that Mary’s pursuit of the Act concerning Regal Power emasculated Phillip.  Historians of women’s history had only asserted that the act affected Phillip’s pride, not his masculinity.  Beem noted that Mary’s “forceful” emergence “from behind the screen of feminine authority” in such times “served as a blueprint for Elizabeth I’s marriage negotiations with various continental princes after she became queen.”[48]  While admitting that the elder Tudor queen provided both good and bad examples for Elizabeth to follow, Beem asserted, “Mary triumphed against formidable odds…while creating a public image of benign queenship as she arranged for a marriage guaranteeing her autonomous sovereignty of queen.”

Over the past sixty years, scholars traveled a long ways in their studies on Elizabeth and Mary Tudor.  Certainly, no scholar of women’s history and gender analysis today could seriously consider the types of assertions that Thomas Maynard made in 1943.  Likewise, it is increasingly obvious that any future political study of the Tudor queens must include at least some discussion, conducted either in the tradition of women’s history or gender analysis, of their anomalous female position.  Elizabeth’s status as “the Virgin Queen” may make it achingly tempting to solely reference her as the example of extraordinary female queenship, but historians of gender analysis clearly demonstrate through their examinations of both sisters that Mary cannot be forgotten.  Thanks to the evolution in historical methods, it is unmistakable that Mary contributed a model of queenship, with both good and bad aspects, for Elizabeth to follow or ignore.


Works Cited

Bassnett, Susan.  Elizabeth I: A Feminist Perspective.  Oxford: Berg, 1988.

Beem, Charles.  The Lioness Roared: The Problems of Female Rule in English History. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006.

Heisch, Allison.  “Queen Elizabeth I and the Persistence of Patriarchy.” Feminist Review 4 (1980): 45-56.

Jordan, Constance.  “Woman’s Rule in Sixteenth-Century British Political Thought.” Renaissance Quarterly 40 (Autumn, 1987): 421-451.

Levin, Carole.  The Heart and Stomach of a King: Elizabeth I and the Politics of Sex and    Power. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994.

Loades, David.  The Reign of Mary Tudor.  London and New York: Longman, Inc., 1979.

Maynard, Theodore. Queen Elizabeth. London: Hollis & Carter LTD, 1943.

Maynard, Theodore.  Bloody Mary. Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1955.

Redworth, Glyn.  “’Matters Impertinent to Women’: Male and Female Monarchy under Phillip and Mary.” The English Historical Review 447 (Jun., 1997): 597-613.

Richards, Judith M. “Mary Tudor as ‘Sole Quene’?: Gendering Tudor Monarchy.” The Historical Journal 40 (Dec. 1997): 895-924.

[1] Theodore Maynard, Queen Elizabeth (London: Hollis & Carter, 1943);

Theodore Maynard, Bloody Mary (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1955);

David Loades, The Reign of Mary Tudor (London and New York: Longman, Inc, 1979).

[2] Allison Heisch, “Queen Elizabeth I and the Persistence of Patriarchy,” Feminist Review 4 (1980);

Constance Jordan, “Woman’s Rule in Sixteenth-Century British Political Thought,” Renaissance Quarterly 40 (Autumn, 1987);

Susan Bassnett, Elizabeth I: A Feminist Perspective (Oxford: Berg, 1988).

[3] Glyn Redworth, “’Matters Impertinent to Women’: Male and Female Monarchy under Phillip and Mary,” The English Historical Review 447 (Jun., 1997);

Judith M. Richards, “’To Promote a Woman to Beare Rule’: Talking of Queens in Mid-Tudor England,” The Sixteenth Century Journal 28 (Spring, 1997).




[4] Judith M. Richards, “Mary Tudor as ‘Sole Quene’?: Gendering Tudor Monarchy,” The Historical Journal 40 (Dec. 1997);

Carole Levin, The Heart and Stomach of a King: Elizabeth I and the Politics of Sex and Power (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994).

[5] Charles Beem, The Lioness Roared: The Problem of Female Rule in English History (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006).

[6] Maynard, Queen Elizabeth, 5, 50.

[7] Maynard, Queen Elizabeth, 135.

[8] Maynard, Queen Elizabeth, 135.

[9] Maynard, Queen Elizabeth, 139, 135.

[10] Maynard, Queen Elizabeth, 262.

[11] Maynard, Queen Elizabeth, 62.

[12] Maynard, Queen Elizabeth, 62.

[13] Maynard, Bloody Mary, 155.

[14] Maynard, Bloody Mary, 285.

[15] Maynard, Bloody Mary, 80.

[16] Loades, 69-70.

[17] Heisch, 45.

[18] Heisch, 54.

[19] Heisch, 48-49.

[20] Heisch, 45.

[21] Jordan, 421.

[22] Jordan, 432.

[23] Jordan, 427.

[24] Jordan, 437.

[25] Bassnett, 120.

[26] Bassnett, 9.

[27] Bassnett, 11.

[28] Levin, 9.

[29] Levin, 9.

[30] Levin, 8-9.

[31] Levin, 11, 66.

[32] Heisch, 53;

Bassnett, 125.

[33] Bassnett, 15.

[34] Levin, 147.

[35] Heisch, 49;

Jordan, 429.

[36] Bassnett, 40.

[37] Redworth, 598.

[38] Redworth, 599.

[39] Redworth, 611.

[40] Redworth, 611.

[41] Richards, 895.

[42] Redworth, 895.

[43] Richards, 924.

[44] Richards, 924.

[45] Beem, 12.

[46] Beem, 22.

[47] Beem, 98.

[48] Beem 98.


Filed under Across/Beyond Genres with The Tudors: Guest Posts by Novelists, Historians, Cultural Observers, Poets, Memoirists, Artists, and Bloggers

Becoming Bess

1381471_669585709726835_1591478188_nThis week’s guest post is by Australian film journalist and reviewer Nicki Newton-Plater who, in addition to having a passion for Tudor history, is editor-in-chief  at Movie Critical. You can check out Movie Critical’s Facebook book page by following this link. This post is a part of the guest blog series, “Across/Beyond Genres with The Tudors: Guest Posts by Novelists, Historians, Cultural Observers, Poets, Memoirists, Artists, and Bloggers.”

Like her mother Anne Boleyn, Queen Elizabeth I remains one of the most intriguing women in history. Mother and daughter shared many of the same qualities despite having spent so little time together. They were both strong female figures who had remarkable strength and determination, especially when they set their eyes on the prize. Physically, although Elizabeth inherited her fiery red hair from her father Henry VIII, it was often remarked upon that she had her mother’s dark eyes. However, what they are both remembered for and what makes them so fascinating are polar opposites. Whilst Anne Boleyn is remembered largely for her role as Henry VIII’s second wife and for her unforgettable demise, Elizabeth is remembered for defying all the odds to become queen and her eventful reign as the Virgin Queen.

As both mother and daughter are historically such intriguing and powerful female figures, they are both widely represented in popular culture, particularly in film and television. The roles of both Anne Boleyn and Queen Elizabeth I are particularly sought after by strong actresses as they require confident, powerful and fiery performances. They are roles which come with a huge amount of expectation from historians and the film community alike. It takes a certain type of actress to be able to take on the role of either of these two women. Genevieve Bujold, Natalie Portman and Natalie Dormer are among the women who have successfully portrayed Anne Boleyn on the screen and are perhaps her best-known portrayals.

Queen Elizabeth I has attracted the talents of some of the best actresses of our generation. As previously stated, since Elizabeth was such a strong woman in real life and arguably ruled better than many kings had done, the role is not one to take on lightly. There is much expectation and a great deal of research which must be done in order to portray her as accurately as possible. Over time, there have been dozens of portrayals of Elizabeth in both film and television. Perhaps it is Cate Blanchett and Bette Davis who are the first two actresses who come to mind when you think about her on the screen and there is absolutely no doubt that these two gave amazing performances. Yet, there are seven other actresses who should be given as much recognition for the role as Blanchett and Davis.

The wonderful thing is that not one of the following actresses played Elizabeth the same way as another. Each film or television mini-series gives a different interpretation of what Elizabeth was like. Of course she is still fiery, hot-headed and proud as she is historically known, but each actress brings something different to the role depending on which part of Elizabeth’s life is being represented. These are the nine Queen Elizabeth I’s everyone should see on screen if they are a Tudor history fan. Some of these portrayals are more historically accurate than others, but it is wonderful to see Bess’ memory being honoured by these remarkable actresses with such love and warmth for her.

Cate Blanchett-Elizabeth (1998) and Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)

Although there has been no lack of Elizabeth’s on screen in the past 15 years, Cate Blanchett remains the actress most people currently associate with the queen. It is no surprise considering Blanchett played Elizabeth in both 1998’s Elizabeth and 2007’s Elizabeth: The Golden Age and received Academy Award nominations both times. Blanchett’s Elizabeth has incredible character development, particularly in the first film where she goes from being a young, carefree girl who dances in the sunshine to a queen with a hard exterior who refuses to be ruled by any man. In the second film, we see how she has established her position and is much more imperious and hot-headed. Blanchett shows that the queen did not change overnight and how her circumstances led to her becoming what she is remembered for. However, even at the beginning of the first film, her Elizabeth does show a stubborn streak, but shows it in a very subtle way. What Blanchett’s Elizabeth does that we do not see other Elizabeths do is go from the young princess who never thought she would one day inherit the crown to one of the most powerful and strong women the world has seen.

Bette Davis- The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939) and The Virgin Queen (1955)

Like Blanchett, the one and only Bette Davis played Elizabeth twice. First in 1939 in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex and secondly in 1955’s The Virgin Queen. The Elizabeth we see in these two films has the glaring qualities one would normally associate with the queen. She is indeed hot headed and oozes power, but is also a little crazy. Davis herself was sometimes described as having these qualities in real life, so the role of Elizabeth in the stages of life which she portrayed fit her like a glove. This is not to say that Davis was playing herself, because she most definitely is not. She is Elizabeth, and one of the greatest. Although her Elizabeth shows her tough and rather ruthless side, she does show her more human side as well, as is seen in the film clip above. In both films, Elizabeth has feelings for two separate men in Lord Essex and Sir Walter Raleigh so Davis’ performance is more definitely not restricted in her emotions. The match of Davis’ and Queen Elizabeth I is a match made in heaven. One of the strongest willed women matched up with perhaps the strongest female actor of old Hollywood.

Helen Mirren- Elizabeth I (2005)

The only actress who has portrayed both Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Elizabeth II on screen is Dame Helen Mirren—and she has won the highest honours for both: An Oscar for Elizabeth II in Stephen Frears, The Queen and an Emmy and a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Elizabeth I in the television mini-series Elizabeth I. All these honours came in the same year. As these awards suggest, Mirren is an incredible Elizabeth. Her Elizabeth is brilliant at her fiery best, but even better when her emotions take hold. The above clip is an extraordinary scene in the series when she finds that her love is married. There are several other scenes like this, which makes the Elizabeth in this version seem very human. There are a few historical inaccuracies in the series itself, but Mirren’s Elizabeth is one who is strong and incredibly stubborn, but also shows her emotional side. However, there is no doubting that Mirren’s performance has an extremely regal air to it.

Anne-Marie Duff- Elizabeth I The Virgin Queen (2005)

The 2005 television mini-series, Elizabeth I: The Virgin Queen does what no other film or mini-series about Elizabeth I does. It looks at Elizabeth’s reign in its entirety, from the days of her imprisonment at the hands of her sister, Mary right through to her death. Anne-Marie Duff is absolutely incredible as she plays this role from the beginning where she is a stubborn and proud, yet very likable young woman, through to her last days as an old woman who is ridiculed in her nostalgia for the past. Duff’s younger Elizabeth always has a regal air to her, but it is actually refreshing to watch her as the queen dancing and smiling at court like she hasn’t got a care in the world. She is the Elizabeth that could be any one of us and is perhaps the most human portrayal of Elizabeth on our list. The make-up applied to make Duff 40 years older is exceptional as it is so convincing.

Glenda Jackson- Mary, Queen Of Scots (1971) and Elizabeth R (1971)

Glenda Jackson is another actress who played the part of Elizabeth I in more than one production. She played the lead in the 6 part BBC mini-series, Elizabeth R and also played the same role in Mary, Queen of Scots. Here we will look at Jackson’s portrayal in Mary. Queen of Scots as because this film is about her rivalry with her Scottish cousin, Mary, it is a very different Elizabeth we see. Although you can tell that the film isn’t evidently trying hard to do so, it does take a biased look at the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth and Elizabeth does come of looking like the villain. Jackson’s portrayal of Elizabeth is actually quite chilling. This is the Elizabeth who is reminiscent of her father’s ways. She is suspicious and jealous of her cousin and very proud and tense. However, the scene you see above is historically inaccurate, as Elizabeth and Mary never met face to face.

Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson- Anonymous (2010)

Anonymous, which is based on the idea that William Shakespeare was a fraud, is not the most popular film with Elizabethan enthusiasts as its premise is highly improbable and details historically inaccurate. However, the portrayal of Elizabeth here is definitely worth mentioning. Elizabeth is seen both in her early years as a young queen who adores the arts, and also as an old woman in the last years of her life terrified about who will follow her on the throne. What makes this so interesting is that mother and daughter in real life, Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson play the older and younger Elizabeths. Both Redgrave and Richardson give wonderful performances. Redgrave is sad and painful to watch, while Redgrave is a young delight. Interestingly enough, Redgrave played opposite Glenda Jackson’s Elizabeth as the title character in Mary, Queen of Scots, and Richardson played Elizabeth’s stepmother, Catherine Parr in the television show, The Tudors.

Jean Simmons- Young Bess (1953)

Jean Simmons gave a portrayal of a different Elizabeth than we are used to seeing. Young Bess looks at Elizabeth’s life before she became queen, in particular the years which she lived with her stepmother, Catherine Parr (played by Deborah Kerr) after her father passed away. Young Bess is again not a completely historically accurate portrayal of the young Elizabeth, and even though Simmons does give a good performance, her Elizabeth is not as believable as some of the others. There is one scene where she has a verbal confrontation with her father, Henry VIII, which hardly seems realistic. The film is very exaggerated so to glorify Elizabeth. She is not the typical young girl, but she still has the teenage characteristic of falling head over heels in love. She is also very queenly for her young age. Whether historically accurate or not, it is still a nice change to see a film about Elizabeth in the time period before she was queen.

Judi Dench- Shakespeare In Love (1998)

Last, but far from being least is Dame Judi Dench. Dench’s Elizabeth won her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, even though she was only on screen for very few scenes. This portrayal of the older Elizabeth is incredible. Dench is perfect as she shows both sides of Elizabeth’s personality. You see the no nonsense queen who doesn’t put up with anything she sees as irrelevant, but she surprises everyone when she shows her tender and understanding side, particularly when speaking to Viola Shakespeare In Love is a comedy, and thus Elizabeth actually has some very funny moments. The delivery of some of her dialogue is hilarious and rather than her fiery nature being daunting, it is actually quite endearing in this film.


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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: 17th Century Views

By Natalie Sweet

Just as in the Elizabethan era, opinions on Anne Boleyn in the seventeenth century were still heavily influenced by England’s religious climate and by opinions of Elizabeth I. After Elizabeth’s death, Englishmen largely welcomed the new Stuart monarchy. Many had secretly whispered that the Queen was too old, her court was too emasculated, and that her foreign wars were too costly for the English people. Thus, when James I (of England, VI of Scotland) ascended the throne in 1603, he was generally accepted, despite his Scottish background. As the years passed, however, Englishmen gradually grew more wary of their Stuart monarchs and of the possibility of their connection to Catholicism. Elizabeth’s popularity began to slowly rise once again in the 1620s. The arrival of the English Civil War at the mid-century both diminished and increased interest in Elizabeth: some wished to avoid discussion of the monarchy altogether, while other Englishmen idealized Elizabeth’s reign, proclaiming it a golden age where Queen and Parliament were harmoniously in-sync. The return of the monarchy insured that Elizabeth’s popularity did not wane. Indeed, it is clear from surviving records such as the famous Samuel Pepys diary that the memory of Elizabeth lived on. It is understandable that a favorable opinion of Elizabeth would inspire tolerant, if not pleasing, accounts of the famed Queen’s mother. Additionally, a positive portrayal of Anne was also aided by growing anti-Catholic and anti-foreign sentiment.

Below, we have an excerpt from The Character of Elizabeth, by Edmund Bohun and published in 1692. At the time, the Glorious Revolution had just passed, and William and Mary sat upon the throne. Describing Elizabeth as “the Greatest Princess that ever swayed this or any other Scepter,” Bohun dedicated his book to William in Mary in the hopes that they might be instructed by “[t]he Great Things she did, and the Ways, Means and Instruments she employed under her to bring them into Act” (pg. A3-A4).

The Birth and Parentage of Queen Elizabeth (modernized spelling applied)

Elizabeth, Queen of England, was born at Greenwich the 7th of September 1533. Her Father was Henry the VIIIth, Her Mother was the Lady Anne Boleyn the Daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn, a Knight of great Estate and Esteem. After she came to wear the Royal Crown of England, She had a particular Affection for Greenwich, that Pleasant Seat upon the Thames, as for the place of Her Nativity: and upon that account, amongst many others, She preferred Her Palace there before all Her other Country Seats near London; as in truth it enjoys one of the Noblest, Prospects in the World, and an healthful, and a pleasing Air. From Her very Cradle She was exposed to the Hazards and Hardships of an unkind Fortune. Anne Boleyn, Her Mother, upon the Death of Queen Catherine, in the Year 1535, the 8th of January, was Arraigned for Treason; and in 1536, being Sentenced, was freed by Death from a bloody Marriage, the 19th of May. The Inveterate Malice of the Popish Clergy having ever since pursued this Match with the Reproaches as unlawful and void; because Queen Catherine his first Wife was then still living, and very much enraged at It, though to no purpose. Hereupon soon after a Parliament was summoned, which began the 8th of June; In which the Issue of both the King’s former Marriages was declared Illegitimate, and for ever excluded from claiming the Inheritance fo the Crown as the King’s Lawful Heirs by Lineal Descent; and the Attainder of Queen Anne, and her Complices, was Confirmed. So that by Authority of Parliament She stood wholly incapacitated as to the wearing the Crown of England. Her only Support in the mean time under all these Injuries and Afflictions was the Goodness of God.

As you can see, Anne is minimally noted, and at most she is titled with “Lady.” Yet, her downfall is tied to the “inveterate Malice of the Popish Clergy” and she “was freed by Death from a bloody Marriage.” The dates are terribly off, but the sentiment is positive: Anne is not a character to be reviled, but one to be treated with sympathy.

As Susan noted in a previous post, the same sentiments were true in other works produced during the time period. In 1682, John Bank’s “Vertue Betray’d” became one of the first popular plays to portray Anne as a tragic heroine: “In France at the time, a genre called “secret histories” was popular; one, by Madame D’aulnoy (who also wrote fairy tales) was the “secret history” of Elizabeth–which is actually mostly about Anne. Banks took several elements (such as the romance with Piercy) from Madame D’Aulnoy’s “secret history” to insure that the play had appeal to female audiences. Unlike D’Aulnoy’s novel, however, Banks’ play is clearly a salvo in the Protestant/Catholic culture wars. At the end of the play, Anne, hideously wronged, goes to her death in magnificent fashion, proclaiming to all the saints, cherubins and other martyrs in heaven that she is coming to them, and ending many long and lofty speeches with and an even loftier prediction of her daughter’s future–a seventeenth century version of the “Elizabeth Shall Be Queen” speech in “Anne of the Thousand Days”–and the death of Catholicism (the pope being the “holy tyrant” mentioned in the speech:

Thou, little child [meaning Elizabeth], shalt live to see thy mother’s wrongs o’re paid in many blessings on thy women’s state. From this dark calumny, in which I sit, as in a cloud; thou, like a star, shalt rise, and awe the Southern world: that holy tyrant, who grinds all Europe with the yoke of conscience, holding his feet upon the necks of kings; thou shalt destroy, and quite unloose his bonds, and lay the monster trembling at thy feet. When this shall come to pass, the world shall see they mother’s innocence revived in thee.”

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Anne and Elizabeth: Elizabethan Views

By Natalie Sweet

I can no longer think about the subject of how Elizabethans viewed Anne and Elizabeth without thinking of a cracked.com article that was posted in September of last year. Cracked.com is, at best, a highly off-kilter website (read: not for a younger audience), and the majority of its articles are done by freelance writers. One might read a terribly off-balanced fact sheet on Anne Boleyn penned by someone who had clearly just watched The Other Boleyn Girl, or one might read an article by an author who put serious (albeit, colorful) consideration into the topic. The latter was the case of an article I read in September 2010, titled “5 Fictional Stories You Were Taught in History Class.” The #1 myth, as chosen by the author, was “Anne Boleyn was a Deformed Freak.” While giving a brief overview of the Catholic-Protestant debate in England, the author explained that the lies about Anne’s appearance were a creation of Nicholas Sanders, a Catholic priest who realized that the best way to criticize Queen Elizabeth was to insult her mother, who had died nearly fifty years before Sanders wrote his book. The Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism, so explained the author, might as well be titled The Rise and Growth of Your Mom, so to use a modern, turn-of-phrase insult.

What, however, does this have to do with what we know of Elizabethan views of Anne and Elizabeth? The point of discussing this article is to demonstrate that much of what we know about how Elizabethans viewed Anne is clouded by the propaganda of Elizabeth’s contemporaries, who were locked in the religious politics of Roman Catholic vs. Anglican vs. Puritan (vs. Puritan became a greater issue in the latter part of Elizabeth’s reign). For many Elizabethans, insulting or praising Anne was a way to either support or challenge the changes that had been brought to England first by the Reformation and later by Elizabeth. No one who liked the Anglican Church as it was, or who wished to remain in Elizabeth’s good graces, would have dared to question the validity of Anne’s position. To do so would call into question the legitimacy of Queen Elizabeth, and also the Church of which she was the governor. The only people of position who made such insults were those who boldly attacked England’s new religious policies. The majority of those Elizabethan who criticized Anne Boleyn, as it turned out, were criticizing Elizabeth.

Aside from books that had a clear religious or political agenda, it is difficult to find Elizabethan opinions on Anne. Certainly, opinions of Anne were more positive during the time of the Armada, when Elizabeth’s “pure” English bloodline was celebrated in the face of foreign threat. We do, however, have one Elizabethan account of Anne and Elizabeth that was not to be found in a political/religious tract. In her book The Heart and Stomach of a King: Elizabeth I and the Politics of Sex and Power, Carole Levin relates the following story:

“ Joan Notte had two dreams she thought important enough to share with the government.  In each of them a variety of beasts threaten both Elizabeth and Sir Robert Cecil.  In one of the dreams Anne Boleyn is also a character.  Joan Notte described how, although she had been dead for nearly seventy years “Queen Anne Boleyn…appeared warning Queen Elizabeth not to go further from London than St. James.” Joan Notte would never have even seen Anne Boleyn, who died long before Notte was born.  We do not know whether she had ever seen Elizabeth either, though she might well have; Notte had been to London during the last few years, and Elizabeth did go on progress throughout the countryside.  Of course, we can never know even with our own dreams why certain people and symbols appear, much less with the dream of a woman who lived hundreds of years earlier…So we might speculate as to why in Joan Notte’s dream it is Elizabeth’s mother rather than her father Henry VIII who comes back to deliver the warning.  Perhaps Joan Notte as a woman imagined that a mother would be the one to care most, even more than a father, over what happened to their child, especially a daughter as opposed to a son.  Or it may be that Anne Boleyn’s own spectacular and horrific death was so much a matter of public memory that any worry over the fate of Elizabeth would coalesce with the image of that ritualized slaughter, the beheading, of the earlier queen.  Joan Notte may have envisioned a connection between Anne Boleyn, a queen consort whose vulnerability was expressed by attacks on her sexual reputation and her inability to have a living son, and Elizabeth, queen regnant, who was called whore by some of her subjects and also had no heir of her body.  Anne Boleyn was killed by her husband, the man who had so desired her, written her impassioned love letters, and waited almost seven years to make her his queen.  Though over thirty years younger than the queen, Essex beseeched her favors by acting like a lover, and the rumors of sexual misconduct that had been circulating throughout the reign about Leicester and Hatton had their last appearance in whispers about Elizabeth and Essex.  Henry the king had had his wife Anne executed.  Essex might kill Elizabeth to become the king.  And why does Anne Boleyn warn her daughter not to leave the city?  The court near London was the center of power; for Elizabeth to leave, to abandon that power, would put her at terrible risk” (Levin, The Heart and Stomach of a King, 159-160).

Such an interesting account suggests that Anne existed very much in the minds, and even the dreams, of the English people during her daughter’s reign. Because of Elizabeth, Anne could be neither forgotten nor erased.

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Anne and Elizabeth: The Way to the Daughter’s Heart is Through…

By Natalie Sweet

In my last note, I suggested that Anne might have been discussed and commemorated by Elizabeth’s courtiers more than we now assume. I base this on two reasons: first, even if Anne was only occasionally mentioned in the official records of Elizabeth’s court, we have little knowledge of what was said in private. Certainly, Elizabeth was likely not effusive on the subject of Anne, but that does not mean that her mother was not occasionally mentioned. I also sometimes wonder if we do not put an unfair amount of emphasis on the lack of Elizabeth’s official mentions of Anne. Henry VIII did not gush about his mother in the official record, and neither did the majority of English monarchs who came before him. Anne’s position as a mother, after all, is special in our minds for the unique position that her daughter occupied as a female monarch and for the gruesome way that Anne met her end. Of course, the latter is an excellent reason for many not to mention Elizabeth’s mother, especially given the religious climate of the times, but I am not convinced that we should label it as a taboo subject among all of her courtiers.

My second reason is based on the number of Anne-related gifts that were given to Elizabeth while she was Queen. The most famous of these gifts is a ruby and diamond locket ring that contained both Elizabeth’s and Anne’s portraits.  The fact that Elizabeth wore the ring suggests a very personal commemoration of her mother. Just as interesting, however, is the possibility that the ring was given to her as a gift. In the National Maritime Museum catalogue entry for the ring, it notes that Edward Seymour, the Earl of Hertford, was the likely gift-giver (note that this Edward was the son of Edward Seymour who was a brother to Jane Seymour. Elizabeth recreated the son as an earl during her reign – his emblem, too, was a phoenix rising from the ashes).  That the ring was probably given to Elizabeth as a gift is a little known piece of information, but it is news that should not detract from its significance as an item. Indeed, the fact that Elizabeth wore it suggests that she both loved and respected her mother. The ring’s commemorative nature demonstrates that Elizabeth’s courtiers recognized and acted upon their knowledge of the Queen’s affection for Anne.

The ring was not the only Anne Boleyn-related item that Elizabeth was gifted. Within the Victoria and Albert collection, there is a linen napkins and a couple of tablecloths bearing Anne’s emblem that were presented to the Queen. Not all are available for viewing on the website, but you can read about and view the description of the napkin here: http://tiny.cc/re9qh

All of the Anne Boleyn-related gift giving suggests that Anne was not a taboo subject among Elizabeth’s courtiers. Indeed, these gifts were, like all gifts given to the Queen, bestowed with the purpose of honoring her and winning her favor. It seems that at least one courtier believed that the way to Elizabeth’s heart was through her mother.

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Anne and Elizabeth: What Do We Know of Elizabeth’s Thoughts of Anne?

By Natalie Sweet

Yesterday, we discussed what Elizabeth might have been told by others about Anne Boleyn. While it was clear that there were many who would not have passed on fond memories of Anne to Elizabeth, it was equally clear that there were those who probably shared positive recollections of the Queen. Among them was Matthew Parker, who Elizabeth appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. While on the throne, Elizabeth asked Parker to substantiate the validity of her parents’ marriage. In an excellent article at The Tudors Wiki, historian Nasim Tadghighi discusses both Elizabeth’s request of Parker and her earlier assertion to Venetian ambassadors in the 1550s that she was not “less legitimate than her Majesty, alleging in her own favour that her mother would never cohabit with the King unless by way of marriage, with the authority of the Church, and the intervention of the Primate of England” (Venetian Papers, Vol. VI). I highly suggest you read it here (http://tiny.cc/dta40) as it is an excellent article, but for immediate purposes, know that while Ms. Tadghighi concluded that Anne was a sensitive subject for Elizabeth, she also believed that Elizabeth viewed her mother in a positive light and remembered her in her own private way.

I agree with Ms. Tadghighi. Anne was a controversial subject that had to be treated carefully. I sometimes wonder, however, if she was discussed and remembered more often than we assume. The difficulty in determining this is due to the lack of sources we have on Elizabeth’s thoughts and actions concerning Anne. Elizabeth certainly had her own private tributes to her mother. What we know of some of them, however, is questionable. For instance, we can only surmise that Elizabeth’s translation of Marguerite of Navarre’s “Looking Glass of the Sinful Soul” was a tribute to Anne. There is also the claim that after Elizabeth was crowned with St. Edward’s Crown and then the Imperial Crown of England that she chose to wear the Queen Consort’s crown, the one that Anne was crowned with in her own coronation in 1533. However, the crown that Elizabeth chose to wear for a majority of the day could have alternately been one that we know was remodeled for the 1559 coronation.

Still, even if the above theories are someday proven to be complete bunk (and I doubt new evidence will ever arise to provide contradiction), we have many reasons to believe that Elizabeth did think lovingly of her mother. For one, Elizabeth was more than amply surrounded by her Boleyn relatives. She did not seek to deny them; indeed, if one looks at the Privy Chamber members who served during the middle part of her reign, eighteen out of twenty-five were related to Elizabeth through her mother.  Of course, this could have been a way for Elizabeth to build her own legitimacy. I would argue, however, that the favoritism she showed in one particular case demonstrates that she had a deeper than surface-level dedication to her Boleyn relatives. In the latter part of her reign, troubles with English colonization in Ireland abounded for a number of reasons, and are far too numerous to cover in-depth here. What is important for us to note is that Elizabeth favored her Butler relations in Ireland with a tenacity that bordered on imprudence. The Butlers, of course, were cousins to Elizabeth through her grandfather, Thomas Boleyn.

Additionally, it has been noted that Elizabeth’s use of a phoenix rising out of the ashes might have been meant to symbolize her emergence out of the disaster that was her parents’ relationship. One also cannot forget that Elizabeth occasionally used Anne’s falcon badge as her own emblem. Indeed, it was an emblem that others gifted to the Queen, and it is to the subject of gifts that I will turn to in the next installment. Do not think that I have forgotten about the locket ring which held Anne’s image, either; it will be discussed tomorrow!

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Elizabeth and Anne Boleyn Anne and Elizabeth: As a Child, What was Elizabeth Told About Her Mother?

By Natalie Sweet

Turn on the final episode of Season 2 of The Tudors, and you will watch a very sad scene of a young Elizabeth realizing that her status in the world has fallen. As Lady Margaret Bryan reorganizes the household to accommodate Elizabeth’s new position in the world, she notes, “The world is a slippery place, my Lady. If you would take my advice, for what it’s worth, find a rich man to marry who is too stupid to know anything about politics. Then, perhaps, unless you die in childbirth, which is likely, or the plague, which is almost inevitable, then you’ll be happy.” Little Elizabeth looks studiously on, as if she takes every word to heart.

Whether or not Anne’s fate influenced Elizabeth’s later marriage decisions is difficult to confirm, although mere circumstance is more than enough in this case to suggest possibility. Just as intriguing, however, is the theorization of what young Elizabeth was told at her mother’s death. Certainly, in real life she realized that something momentous had occurred. Children much younger than the age of three realize when patterns are broken; for example, my seven-month-old son was one day completely perplexed when a stranger in the grocery store line would not return his eager little smile. He waved his hand, finally received their attention and smiled his biggest grin, and was disappointed to find the person resume their reading of a magazine. He crinkled his brow and looked at me as if to say, “What is up with HER?” Of course he expected the woman to open up when he grinned at her. He had never been in a social situation where everyone in the room did not fawn over him, let alone not smile.

Now, imagine you are a child of almost three, whose every cry, whim, and snuffle has been tended to without haste. You are addressed as “My Lady Princess,” and people acknowledge your presence when you enter a room with a special gesture that is reserved only for you. Suddenly, it is taken away, and it is connected with your mother’s prolonged absence. What do you make of that?

According to at least one account, Elizabeth viewed it with great perplexity. “How haps it governor,” it is claimed she asked Lady Bryan, “yesterday my lady Princess, today but my Lady Elizabeth?” The little girl likely learned very quickly that her mother was not to be spoken of, at least in the King’s presence. As quickly as possible, the King’s workmen set to the task of removing the intricately carved, painted, and embroidered “Hs” and “As” that had once been intertwined with one another throughout the royal households. Physical representations and reminders of Anne, if any existed, were removed. A few would survive, but a majority of the images that might have reminded Elizabeth of her parents’ former relationship were eradicated. What she had to remember of her mother came from the people who knew Anne, and what a motley crew they were! From Henry who declared he had been deceived and tempted by witchcraft, to Mary, the half-sister whose own mother was placed aside for Anne, to foreign envoys who would not give Elizabeth the time of day due to her bastard status, the little girl was certain to have been bombarded by negative representations of her mother. If she believed Anne to be a whore, temptress, witch, or worse, she certainly had a crowd to confirm the opinion.

But what of positive representations of Anne Boleyn? Within the Anglican Church, a person’s godparent was to see after the child’s spiritual well-being, to make certain that they were steadfastly raised in the ways of the faith. It was not just an honor to be named a godparent; it was a duty that was to be faithfully carried out should anything happen to the child’s parents. Elizabeth’s godparents were Thomas Cranmer and the Duchess of Norfolk. Certainly, Thomas Cranmer expressed his astonishment to Henry when Anne was brought up on charges of treason. In fact, as we have discussed in other notes, his expression of overt disbelief of the charges against Anne could be viewed as a roundabout way of criticizing what happened to her. Cranmer was in no position to publicly disagree with the King, but he did not have to trumpet his condemnation of Anne in the years after the fact, least of all in front of her daughter.

Likewise, in her final days Anne sought Matthew Parker to look after Elizabeth’s spiritual needs. Elizabeth evidently took his guidance to heart, as she sought him to become the Archbishop of Canterbury when she took to the throne. Parker was the type of moderate Elizabeth sought in her quest to find a middle-path in the Catholic-Protestant divide, but it is likely that Parker’s connection to her mother and to herself as a young girl played a role in her decision as well.

Religious instructors with a connection to Anne were not the only ones to surround Elizabeth in her formative years. Her governess, Katherine Ashley was married to Sir John Ashley, a cousin to Anne. He likely joined Elizabeth’s household before 1540, and could have provided a positive representation of Anne. Likewise, Elizabeth’s future stepmothers could possibly have provided positive representations of her mother. Anne of Cleves, who was Henry’s wife for only about half a year, had a great fondness for Elizabeth. Elizabeth possibly visited Anne of Cleves at the home she was given upon her escape from Henry – Hever Castle, the former home of Anne Boleyn. Being Anne Boleyn’s cousin, Katherine Howard also carried a close connection to Elizabeth’s mother. Their meetings were likely few and far between, and Katherine’s subsequent execution likely brought back old feelings of dread for Elizabeth, but for a short time, there was a possibility of a positive connection. Finally, there was Catherine Parr, the stepmother to whom Elizabeth gave a carefully composed translation of  Marguerite of Navarre’s “The Glasse of the Synnefull Soule.” Anne Boleyn, as many of you know, once served under Marguerite, and many scholars argue that the young English girl was greatly influenced by the influential Queen.

At this point in our series, the extent to which Elizabeth was influenced by both positive and negative accounts of Anne is still a bit of a mystery. We will tackle Elizabeth’s possible thoughts on Anne tomorrow. For Wednesday, I will put forth the theory that gifts given to Elizabeth when she was queen can tell us as much about Elizabeth’s thoughts on her mother as her actual words. On Thursday, we will look at Elizabethan views of Anne and Elizabeth, and we will spend the weekend looking at various images and pop-culture videos related to the pair. As always, be certain to add your thoughts about the relationships I discussed above. There are several other obvious connections to be made between Elizabeth and those who had a connection to Anne, but I would love to see and discuss the connections that we might make as a group! Share away!

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Anne and Elizabeth: August 7, 1533

The following post was originally shared on Susan Bordo’s Facebook page, The Creation of Anne Boleyn. By Natalie Sweet

On August 7, 1533, Anne Boleyn was a month away from giving birth to her first child, Elizabeth. While not the sought-after-prince Henry desired, Elizabeth would eventually become one of the most recognized monarchs in world history, the Queen for whom an entire era was named after.  What were Anne Boleyn’s thoughts concerning her daughter? What did she hope for her? These thoughts are somewhat easy to guess. Obviously, Anne felt a mother’s love for her daughter. Anne greatly loved her own mother, and surely hoped for a replication of the relationship with her own firstborn. Given her royal status, she would not have been allowed to be the hands-on parent that many women of lower stations in life were allowed to be at the time period. However, she undoubtedly would have looked to Elizabeth’s education, overseen her upbringing, and made important decisions about how she was to be raised. Her requests for frequent updates on Elizabeth indicate her loving concern and, had she lived, we can imagine her occupying the later role that Catherine Parr filled in Elizabeth’s life:  a willing nurturer who oversaw her young charge with fierce pride.

Anne, though, did not live to claim her motherly right.  She died before Elizabeth was three, and as a result the little girl’s life took on a hard edge that she need never have experienced. Declared a bastard, made contemptible for being the offspring of a whore and a witch, Elizabeth quickly learned the unforgiving nature of 16th century politics. How would this have affected her views of her mother? Would she have viewed Anne as a victim? Would she have believed the rumors and blamed her for her fate? Who surrounded the child to influence her opinion of her mother, and when she was Queen, what were her thoughts?

The above questions are just a few of the topics I will cover in the month-long lead-up to Elizabeth’s birthday. While Susan puts the finishing touches on her book, we will explore…

Elizabeth’s thoughts on Anne

Views of Elizabeth and Anne through the centuries

Preparing for Elizabeth’s birth

Pregnancy in the 16th century

The arrival of Elizabeth

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Reflections on Anne’s Remarks at her Trial by Susan Bordo

The following post originally appeared on “On the Tudor Trail,” a website you should definitely check out if you haven’t already!

Full references available upon request from: Bordo@uky.edu. Please do not quote or cite without author’s permission.

Reflections on Anne’s Remarks at her Trial by Susan Bordo

At her trial, Anne Boleyn insisted that she was “clear of all the offences which you have laid to my charge.” But she went on: “I do not say I have always shown [the King] the humility which his goodness to me, and the honours to which he raised me, merited. I confess I have had jealous fancies and suspicions of him, which I had not discretion enough, and wisdom, to conceal at all times. But God knows, and is my witness, that I have not sinned against him in any other way.” Anne’s recognition that she had not shown the King enough humility, in this context, shows remarkable insight into the gender politics of her day. She stood accused of adultery and treason. Yet she did not simply refute those charges; she admitted to a different “crime”: not remaining in her proper “place.” In juxtaposing these two, Anne seems to be suggesting that not only did she recognize that she had transgressed against the norms of wifely behavior, but that this transgression was somehow related to the grim situation she now found herself in.

The idea that Anne was aware that she had fatally defied the rules governing wifely (and Queenly) behavior may seem, at first, like the “p.c.” thinking of a 21st century woman who sees would-be feminists lurking in the shadows of every historical period. But actually, educated women of Anne’s time were very much aware of the various debates concerning the “querelles des femmes” (in English-speaking countries, known as “the woman question”) which was first introduced by Christine De Pizan in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, and which had a particular resonance in Britain, where the issue of whether or not women were suitable to rule became more than just theoretical under Henry VIII’s reign. Pizan is most famous for her Book of the City of Ladies (1404-5), which gathers heroines from history and Pizan’s own time to refute ancient views of female inferiority. It was published in Britain in 1521, around the same time that Anne was about to return from France.

Historians of women have made a strong argument that Pizan’s book became part of an ongoing debate in England, beginning with Juan Luis Vives’ Instruction of a Christian Woman (1523), written expressly for Princess Mary, and insisting, against Pizan’s arguments, on the necessarily subordinate role of women. Vives’ book purports to offer instruction for all women, but was clearly written with Catherine’s strict Catholicism as its model. Young girls were forbidden to read anything other than scripture or philosophers of high moral worth, advised to leave their homes as rarely as possible, to use no artifice of any sort in the “vainglorious” pursuit of physical beauty, and most especially to avoid the kind of conversation cultivated in court: “The custom to give praise to a woman for her ability to converse wittily and eloquently with men for hours on end is something that is welcomed and prescribed by ordinances of hell, in my opinion, “ Vives writes. Heterosexual conversation is so much the devil’s tool that Vives advises, “it is not to be permitted that a young woman and a man should converse alone anywhere for any length of time, not even if they are brother and sister.” Indeed, it is “best to have as little contact with men as possible.” Once married, a woman should leave the home as little as possible, speak “only when it would be harmful to be silent,” and at home “administer everything according to the will and command of her husband.”

Vives was not the last word on the subject, however. The debate about woman’s place (which was largely conducted by men) continues in 1540 and 1542 with Sir Thomas Elyot’s refutation of Vives, Defence of Good Women and Agrippa of Nettesheim’s Of the Nobilitie and Excellence of Womankynde, which historian Constance Jordan describes as “the most explicitly feminist text to be published in England in the first half of the century.” In its original Latin form, published in 1509, it was dedicated to Margaret of Austria, who was to be Anne’s first model of queenly behavior. Anticipating later enlightenment thinkers, Agripa argued that the differences between men and women were only bodily, and that “the woman hathe that same mynd that a man hath, the same reason and speche, she gothe to the same ende of blysfulnes (spirituality], where shall be noo exception of kynde.” Why then are they everywhere subordinate to men? Because they are not permitted to make the laws or write history, and therefore “cannot contribute to or criticize the intellectual bases on which they are categorized as inferior.” (Jordan, 123)

The same might be said of the slant on Anne that is presented in most of the historical documents from her own time—which have, unfortunately, provided the basis for most historical accounts written later. Natalie Dormer, who played Anne on Showtime’s The Tudors, was emphatic on this point:

“History was written by men. And even now, in our post-feminist era we still have women struggle in public positions of power. When you read a history book, both the commentary and the first hand primary evidence, all the natural gender prejudices during the period will certainly be there.”

Natalie goes on: “Anne was that rare phenomenon, a self-made woman. But then, this became her demise, because she was a challenging personality, and wouldn’t be quiet and shut up. So all the reasons that attracted [Henry] to her, and made her queen and a mother, were all the things that then undermined her position. What she had that was so unique for a woman at that time was also her undoing.”[1]

Where did Anne develop her “uniqueness”? The first term in what Eric Ives calls Anne’s “European Education” began in 1513, when she was just twelve, sent to the court of the politically powerful and independent-minded Archduchess Margaret of Austria, who was serving as regent for her 13 year-old nephew Charles of Burgundy. After that, Anne spent six years at the French court, where many historians surmise that she became acquainted, and possibly friends, with Francis’ sister Marguerite de Navarre. De Navarre, who historian Patricia Cholakian describes as “the mother of the Renaissance,” was largely responsible for the reputation that the Valois court had as a center of intellectual and artistic brilliance. Pious and retiring Queen Claude had the babies, but as the “king’s respected counselor and confidante” since he took the throne in 1515, Marguerite filled the court with poets, philosophers, and the most provocative reformist intellectuals of the time. They debated all the hot humanist topics of the day, from the “Bible Question” (Did people needs priests to interpret scripture for them, or should vernacular versions be widely available?) to “The Woman Question.” (Could a woman be virtuous? If so, what kind of virtue was distinctively hers? Was her intelligence lesser than man’s? Was she even of the same species as man?) De Navarre’s own collection of some seventy stories, The Heptameron, did not appear in print until after both she and Anne were dead, but their content gives some indication of the radical ideas circulating among her “salon,” and the potential links between criticism of the church and the assertion of female equality. Many of the stories deal with the sexual abuses of men—almost always libidinous monks and friars, ravaging the countryside—and the overlooked worth of women.

Marguerite’s influence on Anne is speculation on my part, of course, in that none of it is documented. However, with only twelve ladies-in-waiting serving at Claude’s court, it’s not a stretch to imagine frequent contact between them. (In 1535, Anne sent a message to Marguerite saying that her “greatest wish, next to having a son, was to see you again.”) If so, it’s possible that Marguerite taught Anne, by example, that “woman’s place” extended beyond her husband’s bed, and that this, ironically, was part of Anne’s appeal for Henry. For traditionalists at court, the mere fact of Anne having any say in Henry’s political affairs would have been outrageously presumptuous, particularly since Anne was not of royal blood. Henry, however, has been educated alongside his two sisters and was extremely close to his mother; there’s no evidence that he regarded women as naturally inferior to men, or that he saw Anne’s early “interference”, so long as it supported his own aims, as anything other than proof of her queenly potential. In fact, in the six-year-long battle for the divorce, they seem much more like co-conspirators than manipulating female and hapless swain.

Henry would later become less open to the political participation of his wives, warning Jane, for example, not to meddle, and holding the example of her predecessor ominously over her head (so to speak.) But there’s no evidence that during the six years he pursued Anne he had any objection to her counsel. It has to be remembered that these were six years in which Henry spent far less time mooning about Anne than he did arguing, gathering forces, reviewing texts, his ego and his authority more on the line every year that passed. Initially, Henry had every expectation that the Pope would quickly reverse the dispensation he had granted for the marriage to Katherine. But for complexly tangled political reasons, the Pope was not about to give Henry the easy divorce he imagined, and Henry was drawn into battle with the papacy itself. It was long, fierce, and bloody, fracturing British loyalties, sending devoted papists like Thomas More to the scaffold, and ultimately resulting in a new Church of England with Henry as its head. Anyone who follows it closely can see that the autonomy and authority of kings ultimately became more at issue for Henry than the divorce itself.

As a dedicated reformist whose criticisms of the church were probably fueled (if not formed) by the powerful intellect of Marguerite and her circle, Anne was perfectly in synch with Henry’s growing hostility toward the papacy. She more than supported Henry’s efforts, supplying the reformist texts and arguments that gave Henry the justification he needed to enlarge his role as the spiritual leader of the nation. In fact, James Carley, the curator of the books of Henry and his wives, notes that all the anti-papal literature that Henry collected supporting his break with Rome dates from after he began to pursue Anne. Although she may not have supplied all the actual readings herself, the couple was almost certainly discussing the issues and theological arguments involved, as both were avid readers of the Bible. Most famously, Anne introduced Henry to Tyndale’s Obedience of a Christian Man, which must have prickled Henry’s sense of manliness as well as supporting his resistance to the church—and suggesting it could be very profitable as well. Tyndale complained that the monarchs of Christendom had become mere shadows, “having nothing to do in the world but when our holy father needeth help” and encouraged them to take back “every farthing”, “all manner of treasure”, and “all the lands which they have gotten with their false prayer.” It did not require feminine brainwashing, as Chapuys and others charged, to convince Henry that such ideas were on his side. As early as 1515, the youthful Henry, pronouncing on a dispute about the relative powers of ecclesiastical and state courts, declared that the king of England has no “superior but God only” and upheld the authority of “temporal jurisdiction” over church decrees. This point of view, growing sharper every year that followed, was the cutting edge that ultimately cost Thomas More his head, not Henry’s marriage to Anne.

Although a few historians are still insistent that Anne’s contribution to “The King’s Reformation” (as G.W. Bernard titles his book) was exaggerated by later protestant “rehabilitators” of Anne’s image, by now most historians agree that Anne was not just the face that launched the English reformation, but an active participant herself. Multiple corroborating sources from her own time remember Anne as “a patron of rising evangelicals, a protector of those who were harassed” both “a model and champion” of reformers, “in England and abroad.” (Freeman, 819) As queen, she secured the appointment of several evangelical bishops and deans when Henry created the newly independent Church of England. She attempted to intervene on behalf of reformists imprisoned for their religious beliefs. She was also an avid reader of the radical religious works of the day (many of them banned from England and smuggled in for her), both in French and in England. Her surviving library of books includes a large selection of early French evangelical works, including Marguerite de Navarre’s first published poem, Miroir de l’ame pechersse”, (1531), which was later to be translated into English (as “Mirror of the Soul”) in 1544 by none other than Anne’s 11 year-old daughter, Elizabeth. Anne’s library also included Jacques Lefevre d’Etaples’ French translation of the bible, published by the same man (Martin Lempereur) responsible for publishing Tyndale’s New Testament, and numerous other French evangelical tracts.

The promotion and protection of the cause of reform was an especially dangerous business for Anne to engage in, because it was such a divisive issue (to put it mildly) and men’s careers (and sometimes heads) would hang or fall depending on which side was winning. And the religious “culture wars” provided fertile soil for the anti-Anne propaganda that circulated around court and through Europe. Much of this came from the tongues (and pens) of those for whom to be anti-papal was to be pro-devil. “Lutheran” women (an incorrect appellation for Anne, who did not subscribe to Lutheran doctrine) were “heretics.” From “heretic” to “witch” was a short step, and from “witch” to “insatiable carnal lust” and “consorting with the devil” (K and S, p. 188) took barely a breath. The same year that Anne was executed, an effigy of Marguerite de Navarre, on a horse drawn by devils wearing placards bearing Luther’s name, appeared during a masquerade in Notre Dame. And although Anne was not charged with witchcraft, the atmospherics that allowed her to be eliminated so ruthlessly certainly contributed to the extremity of her downfall. When Henry claimed she had bewitched him, he may have half (or even wholly) believed it.

Protestants, of course, could be no less zealous than papists in their diatribes against women who presumed to interfere in men’s business. Often they were more vehement, as they had a religious doctrine within which the Father, whether God, King, or husband, was the model of all authority. Rather, depending on which side you stood—Catholic or Protestant—determined which presumptuous women were most offensive to you. When Mary Tudor became queen of England in 1553, her Catholicism added fuel to the fire that was already burning in Protestant reformer John Knox, who argued, in his famously titled The First Blast of Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, that any woman who presumed “to sit in the seat of God, that is, to teach, to judge, or to reign above a man” was “a monster in nature.” And then the old familiar charges came pouring out again: “Nature…doth paint them forth to be weak, frail, impatient, feeble, and foolish, and experience hath declared them to be unconstant, variable, cruel, and lacking the spirit of counsel and regiment.” (Jansen, 1) No wonder that when Elizabeth took the throne, she was insistent that she had “the heart and stomach of a King”!

Anne Boleyn’s problem, though, as far as public relations went, was the pro-Katherine, papist faction. It was they who saw her as a vicious corrupter of otherwise sweet-tempered King Hal. It was they who wrote that her coronation dress was covered with tongues pierced with nails, and who later spread rumors that she bore physical marks of the devil on her body. It was they who were most terrified of her insidious influence on the King’s politics. Ambassador Eustache Chapuys, in particular, was a constant source of anti-Anne propaganda. Chapuys, a great champion of Katherine’s and the papal cause, despised Anne with a passion that he didn’t even try to disguise, disgustedly referring to her in his official communications as “the concubine” and “that whore”—or, with polite disdain, “The Lady.” (Accordingly, Elizabeth was “the little bastard.”) He accused Anne of plotting to murder Catherine and Mary—without a shred of proof beyond a few reported outbursts of Anne’s—and was the first to advance the argument that she was responsible for Henry’s “corruption.” (“It is this Anne,” Chapuys wrote, “who has put Henry in this perverse and wicked temper.”)

My belief is that Chapuys was enraged, not only by Anne’s religious politics or supplanting of Katherine and Mary, but of her refusal, as Natalie Dormer put it in my interview with her, “to be quiet and shut up.” Anne was a religious radical, yes, but probably would have been seen as less of a monstrosity had she been a less vocal, intellectual, “interfering” woman. As such, her actual contribution to the scourge of Lutheranism, far from being minimized as it later was to be by later historians, was inflated to unbelievable proportions. In one letter to Charles, Chapuys went so far as to blame “the heretical doctrines and practices of the concubine” as “the principal cause of the spread of Lutheranism in this country.” (April 1, 1536)

Anne’s reputation as a woman who simply would not behave as she should, however, spread and resonated way beyond pro-papist circles. While her unwillingness to occupy her “proper place” was not in itself the cause of Cromwell’s turn against her, it certainly contributed to their stand-off and unleashed his ruthlessness in planning her downfall, as well as striking at Henry’s manly pride and vulnerability to believing the charges of adultery and treason laid against her. Anne’s confidence and insistence on holding her ground also helps account for the general failure of anyone to serve as her protector when she needed it. Jane Seymour was no less the “other woman” than Anne was (and probably more deserving of the charge of using her virginity as bait than Anne was), but her apparent docility miraculously spared her, when she became queen, from the antipathy that Anne inspired. While Austria and France, where Anne was “finished,” had become accustomed to a strong female presence, the English court was still very much a boy’s club, in which men like Henry delighted in surprising a wife like Katherine by showing up in her bedroom, as he did one morning early in their marriage, with 12 of his hyper-active companions, dressed like Robin Hood and his Merry Men. “The queen,” Hall reports, “the ladies and all other there were abashed, as well for the strange sight, as also for their sudden coming.” Blushing bride, boisterous husband; it was just the way it was supposed to be. But Anne was not a blusher.

To describe Anne Boleyn as a feminist would be an anachronism—and not nearly as appropriate an anachronism in her case as in that of Marguerite de Navarre and others who openly championed for female equality. Marguerite did not have the word, but she was conscious of a female “cause.” There’s no evidence that Anne felt similarly. But she had learned to value both her body and her ideas, seems to have realized that there was something unsettling about this to Henry, and perhaps also understood that this played a role in her downfall. “I do not say I have always shown him humility,” she said at her trial, insistent even then on speaking what she believed. Anne wasn’t a feminist. But she did step over the ever-moving line that marked the boundary of the comfort zone for men (and most women) of her era, and for all the rage that inspired, she may as well have been one.
[1] From an interview with Susan Bordo, June 2010

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