Saturday, March 24, 2012

On this Day in Elizabethan History: The Death of Queen Elizabeth I, and the End of the Elizabethan Era

The Funeral Procession of Queen Elizabeth I, 1603. Elizabeth's funeral effigy is now part of the Westminster Abbey effigy collection.
On this Day in Elizabethan History, March 24th 1603, Queen Elizabeth I passed away at the age of 69. When Elizabeth knew she was dying, she refused to take to her sick bed, despite the urging of her councillors that she should rest. Elizabeth was recorded as saying, "if you knew what awaited me in my bed, you would not go and lie down either." Queen Elizabeth would leave this world only when she deemed it acceptable to do so herself, and through the sheer willpower that she had become famous for, Elizabeth remained standing for weeks on end with very little food or water to sustain herself as she contemplated the many episodes of her life. When Elizabeth finally laid her head down on her pillow, she had Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester's last letter with her, and supposedly she called out his name as she was dying.

"His Last Letter" as Elizabeth titled it in her own hand; this was the last letter she had received from her lifelong friend and only love, Robert Dudley when he was away from her recovering from his infirmities. Dudley thanks Elizabeth for the medicine that she has sent him, informing her that the tonic's are much better than anything else he has been given. He inquires as to her health, and jokes "I humbly kiss your foot".Any places in the letter where two o's are together, Dudley doodled them into eyes, a nod to Elizabeth's nickname for him. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

After 44 years on the throne of England, Elizabeth had earned herself the nicknames of "Gloriana" and "Good Queen Bess" because of the fame, fortune, peace and prosperity she had brought to her realm.  The last of the Tudor's, Elizabeth was also undoubtedly the greatest.

Elizabeth inherited a country on the brink of disaster in 1558. Her legitimacy and thus her right to rule was in question by those who did not wish to see her succeed. Despite the odds being against her, Elizabeth got straight to work solving the many problems of the country was to serve.

The Coronation Portrait of Elizabeth I. This portrait depicts Elizabeth at 25, holding the orb and scepter of a sovereign of England, and clad in an ermine-trimmed robe (ermine being a symbol of royalty). It is a 17th century copy of a 16th century original. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
Queen Elizabeth selected men whom she knew she could trust to give her honest council and a variety of opinions, to serve in the various positions of her government. No one doubts that Elizabeth was an expert in politics and statesmanship. As queen she would always make the final decisions on matters of state using her own sound judgement. Elizabeth would weigh the input of her council against her own beliefs, and sometimes prudently stall making a decision up until the eleventh hour (this tactic being much to her council's frustration); but for all her procrastination her choices were always right in the end. 

Elizabeth's adoption of a moderate religious policy appeased the majority of her subjects, both Catholic and Protestant, and allowed them to see themselves unified as English first, rather than divided by religious faction. Elizabeth was able to keep her people from the countless religious and civil wars that were destroying the rest of Europe.

Queen Elizabeth stimulated a bleak economy by encouraging at-home trade and industry, and as a result England would become mostly independent for the first time during her reign. Elizabeth's practice of granting religious asylum to individuals and families with special skills would only contribute to England's economic strength. Toward the end of her reign, Elizabeth had effectively solved the debt crisis that had been left to her by her predecessors.

The Clopton Portrait of Elizabeth I, c. 1560-1565.

Queen Elizabeth's value of education originated from a childhood where learning was her only solace; she mastered the history of the world, seven languages, translation, religion, science and astronomy, along with the more traditional pursuits of musical composition, dance and singing. This enjoyment and mastery of her education motivated Elizabeth to become a benefactress of both Cambridge and Oxford University; in fact, she would visit the students there personally many times throughout her reign. During the Elizabethan era, an alarming amount of grammar schools were established, which gave educational opportunities to more of England's people than ever before. In Ireland, Queen Elizabeth would found Trinity College, which is still in operation to this day.

The embroidered book cover of Elizabeth's translation of The Mirror of the Sinful Soul. This translation of the French text into English (and the book cover itself) was done by the Princess Elizabeth as a gift to her stepmother Queen Katherine Parr.

Queen Elizabeth Playing the Lute, a miniature attributed to Nicholas Hilliard, c. 1580. This miniature was commissioned by the Queen's cousin Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon. Elizabeth composed many original pieces of music, and she was praised for her skill at playing the virginals. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
Queen Elizabeth and her courtiers brought England into the "Golden Age", promoting theatre, music, art, and literature. Shakespeare, Marlowe, Spenser, Johnson, Byrd, Hilliard, Teerlinc, Lanyer, and the Sidney's are just some of the many remarkable talents that hailed from Elizabeth's court. Elizabeth made England a superpower, using her "Sea Dogs" to explore, plunder, settle and trade in the New World. The dominant power in the 16th century had been Spain up until the 30th year of Elizabeth's reign, when the Elizabethan Navy destroyed the Spanish Armada when it dared to invade England in 1588. With the founding of the East India Trading Company, Elizabeth was able to leave her mark on the next two centuries of England as Empire.

The Armada Portrait, attributed to George Gower. This painting was commissioned to commemorate the English's defeat of the Spanish Armada. Elizabeth is shown with her hand resting on a globe, symbolizing that she is a world power. The windows behind her reveal episodes of the English Navy and the Armada's battle at sea. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
 There never has been a woman nor a monarch like that of Queen Elizabeth I. Elizabeth survived a significant amount of childhood trauma and evaded death twice at the hands of her own family to become the greatest ruler of the Western World. Never has there been a love affair like that of Elizabeth Tudor and her people. Elizabeth sacrificed her chance of having a husband and her own children to be married to England, and to become a mother to her people. And I know that in the end she never regretted that decision.

Eliza Triumphans, a woodcut print from 1589 celebrating Queen Elizabeth as the savior of the English people. Attributed to William Rogers. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

"And though you have had and may have many mightier and wiser Princes sitting in this seat, you never had nor shall have any that will love you better."-the words of Elizabeth Regina, from The Golden Speech, delivered to her last Parliament in 1601.

Queen Elizabeth Presiding Over Parliament, c. 1580-1600.Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Elizabeth Tudor, Queen of England lives on in the heart's and minds of all who study her. I am one of those people. I will never know enough or understand enough about this fascinating, multidimensional woman and icon to ever be satisfied. If I can get one child to fall in love with Elizabeth as I did at the age of 12, I will have done what I set out to do.

Rest in Peace, Elizabeth Tudor, Queen of England. Your legend lives on...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Elizabethan Fact Of The Day: Protecting the Queen

Queen Mary I had reigned directly before her sister Elizabeth I for a brief and disastrous five years, bequeathing her a bankrupt Treasury, along with a myriad of other problems. One of the ways Elizabeth cut costs and thus expedited replenishing the Treasury was by choosing not to keep a standing army during her reign. The costs of employing a standing army were astronomical, as the powers on the Continent who kept them had demonstrated. Standing army's with nothing to do also bred anxiety in the population, especially when they caused disturbances of the peace, as they were known to do. The immediate safety of England fell to the local magistrates, who were entrusted with ensuring peace within their own districts (Palliser). And the overall safety of Elizabeth and her realm would be ensured by a network of spy's and informants, overseen by Elizabeth's "spymaster" Sir Francis Walsingham.

A detail of a 16th century portrait of Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth's "spymaster".Walsingham's ability to protect the Queen was never doubted, although sometimes she greatly disliked his methods. Elizabeth nicknamed him her "Moor". Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Queen Elizabeth prided herself on being accessible to all of her subjects; her practice of walking amongst throngs of people when she exited and entered buildings, often stopping to speak with them, was something that made her Councillors fear for her, and they often told her so. On Elizabeth's progresses throughout her realm, which we know she very much enjoyed, she would always stop and speak with villagers and tradesmen, without a retinue of guards to protect her. Like her mother Queen Anne Boleyn had done so many years before, Good Queen Bess would distribute coins in exchange for poesy's of meadow flowers from village children (Denny).

An Elizabethan Maundy, a miniature by female court painter Leevina Teerlinc depicting Queen Elizabeth I meeting with her subjects. Image public domain.
Elizabeth had good faith in her subjects, and they in her. These were her people, who along with God she believed had preserved her and guided her to become Queen of England. Unlike her father, whose paranoia in the latter half of his reign compelled him to order the locks of his personal apartments changed every time he moved his court to a new castle, Elizabeth would remain tangible to her people up until her death at age 69 in 1603.

Queen Elizabeth used her image (clothes, appearance of perpetual youth due to heavy makeup) and the good faith she demonstrated with her people  to build nationalism and loyalty to the crown. This "Cult of Gloriana" made Elizabeth semi-divine, and thus her people invincible.

A painting of Queen Elizabeth en route to the wedding of Lady Anne Russell, c.1600. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Religious Policy Under Elizabeth I

Upon succeeding to the throne of England in 1558,  Queen Elizabeth immediately set to work devising the Church Settlement that progressed through Parliament to be passed in 1559. Of course, the religious policy saw opposition from the Marian bishops who remained in office, but it still passed. The Church Settlement allowed Elizabeth's subjects to honor their own religious convictions privately, provided that they demonstrate their loyalty to Queen and Country by outwardly conforming. This meant that subjects were required to attend an Elizabethan church service weekly, and those who refused to do so were fined 1 shilling per a week.

The Coronation Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, depicted at the age of 25. Thought to be a 17th century copy from a lost original. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Outward conformity from both sides, Protestant and Catholic, helped Elizabeth's subjects to see themselves for the first time unified as English, rather than divided into religious factions.  It certainly helped that the Church of England's services retained elements of the old Catholic faith, while adopting some of the reforms of the Protestant movement. One of the tools used to rectify the Queen's subjects of any Christian affiliation was the Book of Common Prayer. The Book of Common Prayer was revised in 1559 in an attempt to appease as many English subjects as possible. For example, for the Service of Holy Communion, the Book of Prayer contains this phrasing to be spoken:

"The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life; Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving."

The first statement comes from the 1549 Prayer Book and would have been acceptable to Catholics who believe that the bread is transformed into the flesh of Christ by the miracle of transubstantiation. The second phrasing comes from the 1552 Prayer Book and would have been deemed acceptable to the English Protestants who believed that the taking of the bread is an act of memorial to the Last Supper, making the bread symbolically the flesh of Christ, rather than literally. The issue of transubstantiation was a central issue of the English Reformation, hearkening back to Henry VIII's break with Rome to form the Church of England. People lost their lives in the Henrician and Marian regimes upholding their beliefs pertaining to this matter. Queen Elizabeth wished to avoid this conflict altogether, and careful consideration was taken in reforming the Book of Common Prayer early in her reign.

King Henry VIII of England, by Hans Holbein c. 1537. Elizabeth's father Henry VIII broke from Rome so that he could grant himself his own divorce from Catherine of Aragon, in order to marry Elizabeth's mother, Anne Boleyn. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
 Elizabethan bishops were required to subscribe to 3 Articles of Faith:

1. They must recognize the Queen as Supreme Governor of the Church.
2. They must subscribe to the Book of Common Prayer.
3. They must agree to the 39 Articles of Religion.

William Cecil, Lord Burghley, who was Queen Elizabeth's chief advisor and Lord Treasurer was well known by the Queen to have Puritan leanings. He took issue with the rigidness of belief to which Elizabeth's bishops were expected to subscribe, and in 1584 he wrote to Elizabeth I's 'model' bishop John Whitgift, who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1583-1603. Burghley did not wish to see the Puritan clergy compelled to leave the church due to the 3 Articles of Faith they were required to uphold.  In Burghley's letter to Archbishop Whitgift, he said,

"...But I conclude according to my simple judgement, this kind of proceeding is too much savouring of the Romish Inquisition, and is rather a device to seek for offenders than to reform any." (Quoted in Statutes and Constitutional Documents 1558-1625, G.W. Prothero, Oxford University Press 1894.)

Those with Puritan convictions like Burghley found it difficult to swear that the Book of Common Prayer contained nothing in contradiction to the actual Word of God. Whitgift responded to Burghley's concerns saying that  the Church previous to Elizabeth had been suffering from a "lack of discipline" and that the structure the Elizabethan Church Settlement was providing would hold clergy to a higher standard (Palmer, 32).

William Cecil, Lord Burghley (1520-1598), depicted in the robes of the Order of the Garter. Elizabeth made Cecil her chief Secretary of State in 1558. He was styled Lord Burghley in 1571, and in 1572 he was made Lord Treasurer, which was the position he held until his death. Elizabeth called this man who was her chief minister for 40 years her "spirit". Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
 At all costs, Elizabeth wished to keep the peace; she really had no interest in rocking the boat on either side; this disappointed the extremist Catholics who were looking for a clear offense that they could use as cause to rise up against her, but it also disappointed  the Puritans and Presbyterians who had hoped that she would be the figurehead for a stricter Protestant church.  

Elizabeth I's Bishop's Bible from 1568. In the collection of the Folger Shakespeare Library. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Elizabeth professed that she "wished not to open window's into men's souls", and she expected the same courtesy that she extended to her own subjects to be afforded to her as well. This is perhaps why the details of her own religious convictions remain somewhat of a mystery. Still, no one should doubt that Elizabeth herself was indeed religious; she had studied the Bible and other ancient texts of religion for many years, and she often professed how she believed God had preserved and guided her through the many trials and tribulations of her life to be crowned Queen of England. 

The frontispiece of Queen Elizabeth's prayerbook, showing her kneeling in reverence and prayer. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

William Camden (1551-1623) lived through Queen Elizabeth's reign, and as her contemporary he had access to original material (Palmer, 29).  He published his Annals of Queen Elizabeth in Latin in 1615, and he made a point to comment on the Queen's religious habits,

"(Queen Elizabeth was)...truly religious, who every day, as soon as she arose, spent sometime in prayers to God and afterwards also at set times in her Private Chapel; every Sunday and Holy day she went into her chapel ; neither was there ever any other prince present at God's service with greater devotion. The sermons in Lent attentively she heard being all in black, after the manner of old although she many times said that she had rather talk with God devoutly by prayer than hear others speak eloquently of God."

The frontispiece and title page of the 1675 edition of William Camden's Annals of Queen Elizabeth. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

This observation from Camden, published in the reign of Elizabeth's successor James I, shows that while Elizabeth gave nods to the Catholic way of worship (Attending church during Lent season in all black) she still professed and practiced perhaps the most important concept of Protestantism: the ability to converse directly with God rather than rely on the interpretation or intercession of the clergy to communicate with and understand God and His will.

While Queen Elizabeth adopted an extremely moderate religious policy that brought stability to her realm, it should be emphasized that extremism on either side was considered politically dangerous. Zealous Catholics as well as Puritans and Presbyterians were monitored and sometimes severely punished if they threatened the safety of Queen Elizabeth and her realm, or if their prophesying caused civil unrest.

Puritans took issue with Elizabeth's policy not continuing the work of her late brother Edward VI's regime. The Puritan's has hoped that Elizabeth Tudor would completely reform the Church of England, and rid it of  all vestments, icons, Latin verses and other trappings of the Catholic faith. While services continued to include Latin hymns and incense, Queen Elizabeth did promote the Protestant reform of raising the qualifications of the clergy: Elizabeth's bishops were supposed to be well-educated and Bible-literate; still, Elizabeth always remained wary that any religious study group could develop into cells of Presbyterian doctrine.

Detail of the allegorical work Edward VI and the Pope. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
Presbyterians, another Christian sect, were the biggest Protestant threat to the peace of Elizabeth's realm, since their rejection of the entire ecclesiastical hierarchy of bishops by implication took issue with the institution of royal supremacy (Palmer, 28).

Some ardent Catholics also gave Queen Elizabeth and her government reason to be cautious. A small number of Catholics in England welcomed militant Catholic priests and assassins from abroad who aimed to attack Queen Elizabeth with the blessing of the pope. When Elizabeth was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic faith (which she had never once been a part of), it was declared by the Bishop of Rome that anyone who saw the "English Jezebel" killed would not be committing murder but instead would be doing God's will, and would be welcomed into Paradise. Elizabeth's network of spy's and informants, led by her spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham, monitored the lives of  individuals associated with this Catholic movement closely.

Detail of a portrait of Sir Franics Walsingham (1536-1589). Walsingham succeeded Burghley as Secretary of State in 1573. He acted as Ambassador to Scotland, France and the Netherlands, while acting as Queen Elizabeth I's "spymaster". It was Walsingham's network that uncovered the Mary, the so-called Queen of Scot's treachery and the Babington Plot. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Queen Elizabeth had watched from afar with great concern the religious wars which were tearing apart the kingdom's on the Continent. When she became Queen she wisely decided to occupy herself with healing the religious tension in England as best as she could in order to prevent her nation from befalling a similar fate. While some Protestants and some Catholics took issue with aspects of Elizabeth's religious policy, most found it to be remarkably tolerable. If we compare Elizabeth's decisions pertaining to religion to those of her predecessors, contemporaries, and even her successor, it is very clear that her policy was the least oppressive. Queen Elizabeth really did make a conscience effort to appease the majority of her subjects by permitting them their religious convictions, so long as they remained loyal subjects. The Elizabethan Church Settlement would be one of the many ways in which Queen Elizabeth would improve the lives of her people.

Queen Elizabeth captured the matter of Christianity best when she said, "There is but one God, one Jesus Christ; all else is dispute over trifles."

The Great Seal of Queen Elizabeth I, from 1586. Designed by Nicholas Hilliard. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Palmer, Michael. Reputations: Elizabeth I. Bath Press, 1988. Print.

Prothero, G.W. Statutes and Constitutional Documents 1558-1625. Oxford University Press, 1894. Print.

Camden, William. The Annals of Queen Elizabeth. London, 1615. Electronic.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Great Day for Bess-Teaching & Learning at the Museum

UPDATE: We received this heartwarming message and photo on the museum's Facebook page:

“How my girls spent the morning. I think they're going to be talking about yesterday's audience with Queen Elizabeth for a long time. Her majesty was wonderful -- and so patient with 45 minutes of incessant questioning from her under-5 subjects. Thanks for another great day.”

A depiction of Gloriana at Tilbury. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
 As many of you know, today I ran two programs as Queen Elizabeth I at the museum where I work. I look forward to March all year, not only because it is Women in Armor month where I work, but because I get to run my first person interpretation program, Queen Elizabeth Addresses the Troops at Tilbury. This year I was also fortunate enough to be asked to run a bonus program, An Audience with the Queen, where (again, in first-person) I shared with museum visitors the story of my struggle for the throne and my accomplishments as queen. At the conclusion of the program, I delivered excepts from The Golden Speech and answered questions.

The Armada Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, attributed to George Gower. This portrait was painted to commemorate the English Navy's defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, the 30th year of Elizabeth's reign. Image public domain.

I have always maintained that if I can get just one child, one little girl, as captivated by Queen Elizabeth I and her legacy as I have been, then I can die someday knowing that I have accomplished what I feel I have been put on this earth to do. An equally important mission of mine would be to inspire children, specifically young girls, to look outside of their history textbooks to find out more about the incredible women who changed history. What Elizabeth means to me may be what Katerina von Bora means to someone else, or what Matilda of Tuscany is to another, etc.

Today I had remarkable visitor interactions with not one but many enthusiastic, interested children. I taught them all about Elizabeth and her reign, they asked me great questions, and I gave them information on different resources that would enable them to know more about her life.

But while I felt I gave a lot to the people I talked with, I truly felt that I received a lot myself as well.  I met children who I was a fan of (and I told them so!); kids who were so bright, and so talented, and they didn't even seem to know it yet! I hope these children never loose their thirst for knowledge and their impressive sense of self. I was humbled to be in their presence!

I also spoke with many wonderful adults who had either recently visited England, or who were currently reading books on Elizabeth herself. These people also asked thought provoking questions, and I enjoyed conversing with them as well. It is always a well rounded day when you can discuss history with children and adults!
I had one lady tell me twice that I had so much knowledge, and that she hoped I would find a way to share it; she said she considered herself an authority on several subjects, but she had never taken the time to get her projects just right, so she had never completed them. This moved me greatly; I consider this website and my interpretations my avenue for sharing my knowledge of Elizabeth, but this visitor certainly gave me some food for thought, and I do plan on sharing Queen Elizabeth's story through other mediums as well in the near future.

As is always the case, first person interpretation allows me to explore what works and what doesn't: what educational materials (books, portraits, replica jewelry) do people respond to best? What stories leave them wanting more? How can I improve? For instance, last year a woman told me that she really felt the black riding gloves I was wearing for my Tilbury show did a disservice to the palette of the white dress, and she suggested that I wear white gloves instead. This year, I wore white gloves! Every year, through my audience's help, I know my interpretations can only improve!

Eliza Triumphans, from 1589, by William Rogers. This was a print made to commemorate the English's defeat of the Spanish Armada. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
 Also, it should be said that answering questions (and you can never predict what people will ask, so you always have to be prepared!) helps me to learn more about Elizabeth herself: how would she answer this question? Would she be offended? Would she make a joke? What words would she use? It also helps me to understand her choices. Speaking to the children today who followed me throughout the museum called to mind the stories I have read of Elizabeth stopping on progresses to speak with farmers and tradespeople, and to accept nosegays and other trinkets from the peasant children. I understood how she must have felt in these moments: the warm heart, the gratitude, and pride in her people.

And I also was reminded of how difficult it was for Elizabeth to have any time for herself; she usually the early mornings riding with her Master of the Horse, Robert Dudley and her evenings writing, composing, or playing cards-but every other part of her day was for her people. I took my lunch 2 hours late because it took that long to make my way to my lunch through the people who wanted to stop and chat; and I would not have had it any other way, and I know Elizabeth would not have, either!

I want to personally thank all who came "specifically to see Elizabeth" as those people  who had come to the museum after seeing the article on my programs told me. I want to thank the Worcester Telegram & Gazette  for interviewing me in the first place. My programs, this website, everything I do has never once been about fame for me, but only about Glory for Elizabeth. I want everyone who I come in contact with to become inspired by Elizabeth Tudor and her legacy.



P.S. Next weekend I play Grania O'Malley, the 16th century Irish Pirate Queen!  I will be posting an article on her and her life next week, which will also explain her special connection to Elizabeth I.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

BeingBess Featured in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette! (Article & Video)

At the museum where I work, it is currently our annual Women in Armor month, coinciding with Women's History Month. My fantastic boss arranged for the city paper to come and visit the museum and learn about this months exciting programming. He thoughtfully arranged for me to be interviewed, filmed, and photographed for an article about my Elizabeth I programs, Queen Elizabeth I Addresses the Troops at Tilbury, and An Audience with the Queen, both of which are running this weekend.

I would like to share the online article link with you all, and if you are compelled to do so you can click on it and read more about what I do and why. I also hope you will click on the embedded video (in the upper right hand side of this blog's homepage!) or the direct link below to view the video that accompanies the article, featuring an interview with my boss, myself as Elizabeth I, and some clips of the museum . It also includes a brief clip of me delivering the Tilbury speech.

Article link.

Video link.

Please comment and let me know what you all think!



Friday, March 2, 2012

Elizabethan Quote of The Day: England Called a "Paradise" for Women!

In 1592, Frederick, Duke of Wurttemberg (south-west Germany) was visiting England. The Duke had begun a correspondence with Queen Elizabeth I herself, and would continue to exchange letters with her for many years thereafter. Part of the reason the Duke was so cordial was because he aspired to be made a Knight of the Garter by the British crown. By 1597 his campaigning payed off, as he was indeed elected as a Knight of the Garter. 

A detail of a portrait of the unfortunate-looking Frederick I, Duke of Wurttemberg. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

During his visit to England, Duke Frederick recorded his observations, which are now in the Record Office and British Museum (England as Seen by Foreigners in the Days of Elizabeth and James the First, William Brenchley Rye). There is a particular excerpt from the Duke's papers that I have chosen to share with you today, concerning the lives of women in 16th century England:

"England is a paradise for women, a prison for servants, and a hell or purgatory for horses-for the females have great liberty and are almost like masters."

First things first: No matter where you looked in 16th century Europe, including the Duke's native Germany, it was a difficult livelihood to be a servant, so please do not think that England had an exceptionally cruel policy toward the hired help. In fact, there were far worse places to be in service!

Second, I find the horse observation peculiar, since the English have a longstanding history of being partial to horses. It is unclear to me what kind of horse the Duke is referring to; seeing as he mentions them in the same clause as the servant, I would assume he means work or draft horses, not riding palfreys or warhorses, the latter two of which were treated with great care.

But the important part of the excerpt here is the Duke's observation of English women. The British Isles have historically always has fairly liberated women, especially when you compare their lives to the lives of women in the medieval and early modern states on the Continent.

In the 16th century, Spaniards were shocked at the shorter length of the dresses worn by the women at court, which sometimes scandalously revealed a bit of ankle (say it isn't so!). And I have read letters and journals from ambassadors from many different countries who repeatedly remarked at the freedom in which noblewomen conducted their lives and involved themselves in court intrigue.

And the women of the rising middle/merchant class ran businesses, managed households, kept financial books, and negotiated business deals. Some women even apprenticed in their own trades and became their own masters, but this was also true of other countries, and the practice itself hearkened back to the medieval era. The lives of the pastoral country folk were not bad either, and many foreign observers chose to remark on the wealth and autonomy of the English farming class. 

The Hardwick Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I was completed in 1592, the same year that the Duke of Wurrtemberg made his observation of English women. The embroidery on the front of  Elizabeth's partlet was done by Bess of Hardwick, and the portrait itself hung in Hardwick Hall. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
While many would assume that it was Queen Elizabeth's influence as female monarch that improved the lives of women, this was actually not the case; the movement of Humanism, which had caught on like wildfire in England long before Elizabeth was even born, and eventually the Reformation, had championed the educating of women and girls in religion, the classics, history and more, which expanded their previous traditional education of music, dance, reading and writing. Nonetheless, having a brilliantly educated, authoritative queen on the throne certainly inspired the women around her, and you need not look far to discover the countless remarkable women that changed Elizabethan England for the better. Queen Elizabeth also undoubtedly proved to the men that served her that the 'fairer sex" was every bit as capable as their male counterparts in achieving complex thought and assuming leadership (though it did take a while for her Councillors to believe it, and even then some only saw Elizabeth I as the exception, rather than the rule for womankind.)

Queen Elizabeth I presiding over her Parliament, c. 1580-1600. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
As you have probably guessed, English women's history and the evolution of their roles through time is a special interest of mine, and I plan to write more on the subject in the future. But I think the Duke of Wurrtemberg's observation is a good placeholder for the time-being, don't you?

And by the way, it may be a point of interest to my readers that three years after the Duke recorded his thoughts on English women, his Ambassador Breuning was charged by Lord Burghley for appearing before Queen Elizabeth I drunk. He was required to give an explanation of his deplorable behavior and a formal apology to the queen! (Brenchley Rye, 8) And I will let you draw your own conclusions from that!


Brenchley Rye, William. England as Seen by Foreigners in the Days of Elizabeth and James the First. Print.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Bess and Bradstreet: A 17th Century Woman's Poetic Tribute to Elizabeth I

As an American, it is hard to find direct ties between Elizabeth and the "New World". Of course, there are the obvious connections, like Elizabethan exploration, Virginia/Roanoke, and the experimental settlement of her successor, Jamestown. But other than than that there are very few! But upon casting my net a little wider, I can recover a whole tradition of literary tributes and allusions to England's most famous monarch.

Today I want to share with you a poem that I first came across when I was studying literature in college. The poem is a tribute to Queen Elizabeth I and her legacy by a British woman, Anne Bradstreet, who settled in New England in 1630. Anne was born Anne Dudley, but she became a Bradstreet when she married Simon Bradstreet at the age of 16 in 1628. Simon was a Cambridge graduate who was nine years her senior. Both the Dudley's and the Bradstreet's were Puritans who journeyed to America for religious freedom. Anne became a prolific writer in her new country. She chronicled spiritual struggles, the tragic deaths of her children, and wrote about her love for her husband while surviving harsh weather, famine, and the destruction of her home by fire. 

A depiction of Anne Bradstreet at her writing desk. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

In 1650, Anne wrote a poem to honor Queen Elizabeth I, whose reign would have been in the recent memory of her parents and grandparents. Undoubtedly, Anne had listened to stories as a child portraying Queen Elizabeth as the utmost example of Christian learning and piety; however, it is somewhat ironic that any Puritan would sing such high praises of the Protestant queen,  since Elizabeth herself was always wary of extremism on either side of the religious spectrum, be it the fervent Catholics or the strict Puritans.

Without further ado, I share with you Bradstreet's tributary poem, an homage from one strong Protestant woman to another. Bradstreet writes in the traditional style of verse, and also includes many classical allusions. Amidst the formality of the structure, I feel Bradstreet is able to convey a genuine feeling of admiration and affection for Queen Elizabeth, whose achievements she calls on all to recognize. The explanations in italicized parenthesis are my own, to provide greater clarity.

The Rainbow Portrait of  Queen Elizabeth I, attributed to both Isaac Oliver and Marcus Gheeraerts, c. 1600-1602. Inscribed on the left-hand side of the portrait is the Latin phrase NON SINE SOLE/IRIS, or "No Rainbow without the Sun". The sun, of course, is Queen Elizabeth herself, while the rainbow is the hope and peace she has brought to her realm. On her fabric of her dress are symbolic eyes, ears and mouths, to convey that this queen is all-knowing and all-powerful. Interestingly, Elizabeth would nick-name members of her Privy-council and her friends, and some of them where called after body parts. For instance, Elizabeth was known to call the Earl of Leicester her "eyes". This painting is one of my personal favorites of the queen, and it is also the perfect example of the Queen controlling how her image was portrayed; by royal decree, she must always appear youthful, even immortal, so as to deter talk of  her declining health and the succession. The portrait is now on display in Hatfield House. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

In Honor of That High and Mighty Princess Queen Elizabeth of Happy Memory

The Proem (a brief introductory verse)

Although, great Queen, thou now in silence lie
Yet thy loud herald Fame doth to the sky
Thy wondrous worth proclaim in every clime,
And so hath vowed while there is world or time.
So great's thy glory and thine excellence,
The sound thereof rapts (holds the complete attention of) every human sense,
That men account it no impiety
To say thou wert a fleshly deity.
Thousands bring offerings (though out of date)
Thy world of honors to accumulate;
'Mongst hundred hecatombs (Honorary tributes) of roaring verse
Mine bleating stands before thy royal hearse
Thou never didst nor canst thou now disdain
T'accept the tribute of a loyal brain.
Thy clemency did erst esteem as much
The acclamations of the poor as rich,
Which makes me deem my rudeness is no wrong,
Though I resound thy praises 'mongst the throng.

The Poem

No Phoenix pen, nor Spenser's poetry,  (Edmund Spenser 1552-1599, author of The Faerie Queen)
No Speed's nor Camden's learned history,  (John Speed 1542-1629, Wm.Camden 1551-1623; English historians)
Eliza's works, wars, praise, can e'er compact (summarize) ;
The world's the theatre where she did act.
No memories nor volumes can contain
The 'leven Olympiads of her happy reign, (the 4-yr period between Olympic games; thus asserting correctly that Elizabeth ruled for 44 yrs.)
Who was so good, so just, so learned, so wise,
From all kings on earth she won the prize.
Nor say I more than duly is her due,
Millions will testify that this is true.
She hath wiped off th' aspersion of her sex,
That women wisdom lack to play the rex (Latin for 'king')
Spain's monarch says not so, nor yet his host (Philip II and his army; Elizabeth's Navy defeated his Spanish Armada)
She taught them better manners, to their cost.
The Salic law (ancient law used in France and Spain to forbid women to inherit land, thus preventing them to rule in their own right) in force now had not been,
If France had ever hoped for such a queen.
But can you, doctors (scholars), now this point dispute.
She's argument enough to make you mute.
Since first the Sun did run his ne'er run race,
And earth had, once a year, a new old face,
Since time was time, and unmanly man,
Come show me such a phoenix if you can.
Was ever people better ruled than hers?
Was ever land more happy freed from stirs (conflict and war)
Did ever wealth in England more abound?
Her victories in foreign coasts resound;
Ships more invincible than Spain's, her foe,
She wracked, she sacked, she sunk his Armado;
Her stately troops advanced to Lisbon's wall,
Don Anthony1 in's right there to install.
She frankly helped Frank's brave distress'ed king2; (The references are to 1. Philip's unsuccessful rival to the throne of Portugal, supported by England & France 2. Henri IV, who came to the French throne in 1589 & was aided with money & arms by Elizabeth to fight Catholic rebels backed by Spain.)
The states united now her fame do sing.
She their protectrix was; they well do know
Unto our dreaded virago, what they owe,
Her nobles sacrificed their noble blood,
Nor men nor coin she spared to do them good.
The rude untam'ed Irish she did quell;
Before her picture the proud Tyrone fell (The Earl of Tyrone, assisted by Spain to lead the Irish in rebellion against English rule; defeated at Kinsale).
Had ever prince such counsellors as she?
Herself Minerva caused them so to be (Minerva is the Roman name for the goddess Athena, who was goddess of wisdom, war, and crafts).
Such captains and such soldiers never seen,
As were the subjects of our Pallas queen (a prefix for Athena).
Her seamen though all straits the world did round;
Terra incognita (Latin for 'unknown land') might know the sound.
Her Drake1 came laden home with Spanish gold;
Her Essex2 took Cadiz, their Hurculean hold (1.Francis Drake, English admiral, explorer and privateer 1540-1596. 2. reference to Robert Devereux Earl of Essex).
But time would fail me, so my tongue would too,
To tell of half she did, or she could do.
Semiramis to her is but obscure, (reference to the Semi-legendary Assyrian warrior-queen)
More infamy than fame she did procure.
She build her glory but on Babel's walls,
World's wonder for a while, but yet it falls.
Fierce Tomris (Cyrus' headsman) Scythian's queen, (Tomyris, Scythian warrior who beheaded Cyrus, the founder of the Persian Empire, on the battlefield. Scythians, like the Celts, did not consider it unnatural for women to fight. It has been suggested that the Scythina women-warriors inspired the legends of the Amazons.)
Had put her harness off, had she but seen
Our Amazon in th' Camp of Tilbury, (Site of Elizabeth's famous address to her troops on the eve of the invasion of the Spanish Armada.)
Judging all valor and all majesty
Within that princess to have residence,
And prostrate yielded to her excellence,
Dido1, first foundress of proud Carthage walls
(Who living consummates her funerals), (1. Queen of Carthage; upon her abandonment by her lover Aeneas, Dido threw herself onto her own funeral pyre in despair.)
A great Eliza, but compared with ours,
How vanisheth her glory, wealth, and powers.
Profuse, proud Cleopatra, whose wrong name,
Instead of glory, proved her country's shame, (Cleopatra's reputation has since been vindicated)
Of her what worth in stories to be seen,
But that she was a rich Egyptian queen.
Zenobya, potent empress of the East, (Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, an ancient city in Syria from 267-72 A.D. Resisted Rome and was taken prisoner by Emperor Aurelian's troops.)
And of all these without compare the best,
Whom none but great Aurelius could quell;
Yet for our Queen is no fit parallel.
She was a phoenix queen, so shall she be,
Her ashes not revived, more phoenix she.
Her personal perfections, who would tell
Must dip his pen in th' Heleconian well, (Well found on the Greek mountain of poetic inspiration, Helicon.)
Which I may not; my pride doth but aspire
To read what others write and so admire.
Now say,
have women worth? or have they none?
Or had they some, but with our Queen is't gone?
Nay masculines, you have thus taxed us long,
But she, though dead, will vindicate our wrong.
Let such as say our sex is void of reason
Know 'tis a slander now but once was treason.
But happy England which had such a queen;
Yea, happy, happy had those days still been.
But happiness lies in the higher sphere,
Then wonder not Eliza moves not here.
Full fraught with honor, riches and with days
She set, she set, like Titan in his rays.
No more shall rise or set so glorious sun
Until the heaven's great revolution (the Day of Judgement),
If then new things their old forms shall retain,
Eliza shall rule Albion (the ancient name for Britain) once again.

Her Epitaph

Here sleeps the queen, this is the royal bed
Of th'damask rose, sprung from the white and red (a reference to the 'Tudor rose' emblem, combining the white and red roses of the York and Lancastrian dynasties upon the peace-bringing marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York after the War of the Roses),
Whose sweet perfume fills the all-filling air.
This rose is withered, once so lovely fair.
On neither tree did grow such rose before,
The greater was our gain, our loss the more.

Another (An alternate epitaph)

Here lies the pride of queens, pattern of kings,
So blaze it, Fame, here's feathers for thy wings
Here lies the envied, yet unparalleled prince,
Whose living virtues speak (though dead long since),
If many worlds, as that fantastic framed, (this may be a reference to Copernicus, who challenged the theory that the heavens revolved around the earth, instead declaring that the planets revolved around the sun.)
In every one be her great glory famed.

I think Elizabeth would approve, don't you? 
What epitaph do you think
Did you have a favorite part of the poem?
I look forward to hearing your opinions!