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Elizabeth and Gender, Elizabeth and Mary, Historiography

An Evolving Process: Historians Evaluate Elizabeth I and Mary I

The following is taken from a  piece I wrote in 2008, Two Tudor Monarchs: Analyzing Queenship in Early Modern England. It will be the beginning of a series on how interpretations of Elizabeth I affected how Mary I has been studied, and vice versa. Please do not copy or quote without proper attribution.

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.  Historians, therefore, 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 man’s 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 demonstrate 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.

Next Time: Elizabeth and Mary in the Leave it To Beaver Era


[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).

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Discussion

One thought on “An Evolving Process: Historians Evaluate Elizabeth I and Mary I

  1. Reblogged this on Semper Eadem and commented:

    Over at The Creation of Anne Boleyn Facebook page, “Mary Tudor Week” is taking place. Way back in 2011, I began a piece on Elizabeth I and Mary I, but never finished it up. You can catch the full piece soon on The Creation of Anne Boleyn blog. For now, however, a blast from the blogging past!

    Posted by thecreationofanneboleyn | February 23, 2014, 4:11 pm

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