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About this book

Elizabeth I is one of England's most admired and celebrated rulers. She is also one of its most iconic: her image is familiar from paintings, film and television.
This wide-ranging interdisciplinary collection of essays examines the origins and development of the image and myths that came to surround the Virgin Queen. The essays question the prevailing assumptions about the mythic Elizabeth and challenge the view that she was unambiguously celebrated in the literature and portraiture of the early modern era. They explain how the most familiar myths surrounding the queen developed from the concerns of her contemporaries and yet continue to reverberate today.
Published to mark the 400th anniversary of the queen's death, this volume will appeal to all those with an interest in the historiography of Elizabeth's reign and Elizabethan, and Jacobean, poets, dramatists and artists.

Table of Contents



Together with her father, Elizabeth I is one of a handful of figures from British history whose name and likeness are widely known to non-scholars. Along with the physical image, a commonly held view exists of the queen’s personality as calculating, imperious, shrewd, vain, indomitable and ruthless. Above all, she is remembered both as the Virgin Queen, who despite numerous suitors remained unmarried, and also as the victorious monarch addressing her troops at Tilbury. This familiarity has bred admiration: in two recent polls, one of the key figures of the last millennium, organised by Radio 4, and the other of the greatest Britons, organised by BBC 2, Elizabeth was the only one of two women to be voted into the top ten.The images of Elizabeth’s appearance and character have been fostered by histories, historical novels, dramas, operas and films. Famous, familiar and admired, it is very appropriate that the first of many dramas devoted to Elizabeth was entitled If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody.
Thomas S. Freeman, Susan Doran

Trojan Horses


1. Providence and Prescription: The Account of Elizabeth in Foxe’s ‘Book of Martyrs’

Insistence on the popularity and influence of John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments (commonly known as Foxe’s ‘Book of Martyrs’) has become something of a truism among scholars. Yet one section of Foxe’s text, his account of the tribulations of Princess Elizabeth during her sister’s reign, has had a pervasive impact which is impressive even when compared with the ready, indeed reverent, general reception of his book. Significant portions or the whole of this account were reprinted in such major early modern historical works as Holinshed’sChronicles and John Speed’s history of Great Britain.1 William Camden, arguably the most influential historian of Elizabeth’s reign, drew on Foxe’s narrative of the persecution of Elizabeth, even if he only made a limited use of it.2 Poets as well as historians borrowed from Foxe;William Alabaster’s Elisaeis (an imitation of the Aeneid with Elizabeth, rather then Aeneas, as its hero) took its historical substance, such as it was, from the Acts and Monuments.3
Thomas S. Freeman

2. Duessa’s Trial and Elizabeth’s Error: Judging Elizabeth in Spenser’s Faerie Queene

Edmund Spenser’s longest and most important work, The Faerie Queene (1590,1596), has until recently most often been read as a work fulsomely praising Elizabeth.1 Indeed, Karl Marx was moved to label Spenser, ‘Elizabeth’s arse-kissing poet’.2 Commentators have often assumed that Spenser, like his fellow subjects, worshipped the Virgin Queen and wrote his epic romance in celebration of her rule. After all, the knights within the poem are supposedly pursuing a series of quests that will lead to the court of the mysterious virgin queen, Gloriana, a transparent allegorical figure of Elizabeth. Many of the virtuous ladies in the poem, from the woman warrior Britomart, to the chaste/chased damsel, Florimell, from the huntress Belphoebe, to the virginal nun Una, can be read as figures of Elizabeth.3 To the unwary reader, The Faerie Queene appears to be a celebration of Elizabeth’s Protestant rule and its triumph over the forces of Catholicism.
Andrew Hadfield

Jacobean Perspectives


3. William Camden and the Anti-Myth of Elizabeth: Setting the Mould?

As an apprentice Elizabethan historian I was given discouraging advice by someone whose identity I have long since forgotten: ‘It’s all in Camden, and what’s not in Camden won’t hurt.’William Camden, a Londoner born in 1551, educated at Christ’s Hospital and St Paul’s schools and subsequently at Oxford, died at Chislehurst in 1623 and buried in Westminster Abbey, was a man of distinct, if related, parts: schoolmaster (at Westminster), herald (Clarenceux ‘king’ of Arms), antiquary, and historian. These last two roles were considered at the time to be formally distinct. History dealt with the notable deeds of men and required some first-hand experience of great affairs. And it was a vehicle for literary invention and elaboration, governed by the rules of rhetoric, which did not bind in the same degree the often disparaged if perhaps more historically learned compiler of antiquities, who was merely concerned with things, or the humble compiler of chronicles.1 It was as the antiquarian author of Britannia (first published in 1586) that Camden was chiefly famous, particularly in those international scholarly circles which had encouraged him to undertake this ‘chorographical’ guidebook to what was for these luminaries the terra incognita of the British Isles, with the emphasis on its very respectable Roman past: witness the bulk of Camden’s foreign correspondence.
Patrick Collinson

4. Elizabeth in Arcadia: Fulke Greville and John Hayward’s Construction of Elizabeth, 1610–12

In the 1570s and early 1580s, English supporters of the international Protestant cause had been frustrated by Queen Elizabeth’s reluctance to support her Continental co-religionists more actively. However, by the end of the first decade of the seventeenth century they were even more anxious about James I’s pacific diplomacy, and had come, retrospectively and often unhistorically, to consider her a much more militant Protestant.1 When one such campaigner Philip Sidney wrote his Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia around 1580, the character he principally associated with Elizabeth was the weak and misguided Arcadian King Basilius, who had endangered his subjects, his state and its neighbours by the inconstancy and irresponsibility of his rule.2 A quarter of a century later, Sidney’s friend and ally Fulke Greville attributed to Elizabeth the opposite active motives and princely virtues. Greville’s Jacobean queen was ‘a mirror ofjustice’, a model of ’deep’ ’wisdom’, the epitome of ’princely wakefulness’; a ruler of exemplary resolution, ’foresight, courage, [and] might’ who ’kept both her martial and civil government entire above neglect or practice’, and pursued ‘active courses’ against her enemies.3 Greville pointedly dissociated her from Basilius, whose conduct he regarded as a reprehensible example of the way in which ’sovereign princes … unactively charge the managing of their greatest affairs upon the second-hand faith and diligence of deputies’ and ’bury themselves and their estates under a cloud of contempt, and under it both encourage and shadow the conspiracies of ambitious subalterns’.
Lisa Richardson

5. Drama Queen: Staging Elizabeth in If You Know Not Me You Know Nobody

Thomas Heywood’s two-part history play If You Know Not Me You Know Nobody was a run-away success: not only was Part I printed eight times and Part II five times between 1605 and 1639, but the two parts of the play continued to be given, if in slightly altered forms, well into the reign of Charles II. A comment in Pepys’s diary may account for the extreme popularity of a play noted neither for its dramatic merit nor its light literary touch:
I confess I have sucked in so much of the sad story of Queen Elizabeth, from my cradle, that I was ready to weep for her sometimes. But the play is the most ridiculous that sure ever came upon stage, and indeed, is merely a show; only, shows the true garb of the queens in those days, just as we see Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth painted — but the play is merely a puppet-play acted by living puppets. Neither the design nor language better; and one stands by and tells us the meaning of things. Only, I was pleased to see Knipp dance among the milkmaids, and to hear her sing a song to Queen Elizabeth.1
Teresa Grant

6. ‘A Very Deborah?’ The Myth of Elizabeth I as a Providential Monarch

In one of the many pious memorials published in the wake of Elizabeth I’s death in March 1603, an anonymous poet extolled the virtues of a maiden queen whose ‘like before no mortal eye had seen’:
How God’s religion which herself professed
She did establish; banished Popery
With superstition and idolatry.
Her hearty zeal sought both by deed and word
To build the ruined Temple of the Lord:
Proud Antichrist, and haughty Spain did strive
To cut her off, whom God preserved alive
Safely preserved with his outstretched arm
From murder, poison, and all other harm
Which Popish bulls, or Spanish gold procured
Blind zeal provoked, or wicked Mammon lured… 1
Alexandra Walsham

Elizabeth Engendered


7. Virginity, Divinity and Power: The Portraits of Elizabeth I

Towards the end of Shekhar Kapur’s film, Elizabeth, the attractive young queen kneels before a statue of the Madonna and, taking inspiration from it, transforms herself into ‘the legendary Virgin Queen, formidable, untouchable and unbeatable’.1 In the next scene, Kat Ashley hacks off the queen’s flowing tresses, fits a jewel-encrusted wig on her shorn head, and paints her face unnaturally white. Elizabeth then dons a stiff white farthingale and makes her first public appearance at court as an icon of divinity. In these final shots of this deeply ahistorial drama, Kapur conveys brilliantly the most familiar myth surrounding Elizabeth I, namely that she fashioned her own image and created the cult of the Virgin Queen as a political device to inspire awe in her subjects, consolidate her political power, and signal her intention never to marry.2
Susan Doran

8. Queen Elizabeth and Mrs Bishop

One of the most persistent of the legends surrounding Elizabeth is the assumption that she was not only opposed to clerical marriage per se but that her prejudices on the subject presented a formidable obstacle to the elevation of married candidates to the episcopal bench. A corollary is that she was invariably enraged if her bishops had the temerity to remarry as widowers. Scholars have sought to modify the traditional view — most recently and persuasively Eric Josef Carlson1 — but it continues to make its presence felt in generalised accounts of the reign. The present chapter is an attempt to destroy it once and for all, in particular by analysing two crucial cases of marital scandal — those of Bishops Richard Fletcher and John Thornborough.
Brett Usher

9. Harington’s Gossip

What should historians do with gossip?1 A traditionalist’s answer to that question might be, simply and straightforwardly, nothing: they should ignore it, steer clear of it, look for more firmly grounded, ‘objective’ evidence. If rumour and tittle-tattle have any part to play in the articulation of historical narratives, it is at best a subsidiary one, as icing on the cake of the main business, the rationale of events. The traditionalists who might give this answer are, however, increasingly in the minority, to the point of looking like mere strawmen. Even where they remain confirmed empiricists in the face of postmodernism and the ’linguistic turn’, most historians now give considerable weight to the fictional, the subjective and the irrational. Their accounts of the past are less likely than ever to rely on the autonomy and rationality of mostly male historical agents. Along with many other previously disreputable subjects, gossip (the unruly voice of the usually female or feminised historical subject) is up for reappraisal.2
Jason Scott-Warren

10. A Queen for All Seasons: Elizabeth I on Film

In 1912 Sarah Bernhardt was the first actor to portray Elizabeth I on the big screen in a film entitled The Loves of the Queen (1912). Despite its age this film anticipates many of the key issues that reappear in latter films depicting Elizabeth I. Bernhardt’s Elizabeth is a woman torn between her duty as a queen and her love for the earl of Essex. The film opens with Essex bringing news of the Armada’s defeat to the English camp at Tilbury. It then moves to court and becomes a complicated story of personal and political intrigue. Essex’s fate is sealed when the husband of his lover, the countess of Nottingham, finds out about their relationship and gets Essex sent to Ireland. After 11 years away Essex returns to the court. Nottingham, however, tricks the queen into thinking Essex is a traitor. After his trial and execution Elizabeth pays Essex one last visit as he lies in state, discovers that she has been deceived and dies of melancholy.
Thomas Betteridge
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