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Elizabeth Through the Ages

Happy Birthday to the Virgins!

“On Sept 7, between three and four o’clock p.m., the Queen was delivered of a fair lady, for whom Te Deum was incontinently sung.”(1)

Elizabeth knew that depicting herself as a holy, virgin woman chosen by God was bound to lead to some natural comparisons to the Virgin Mother of Christ.

“Has only to mention that on Sunday last, the eve of Our Lady (7 Sept.), about 3 p.m., the King’s mistress (amie) was delivered of a daughter, to the great regret both of him and the lady, and to the great reproach of the physicians, astrologers, sorcerers, and sorceresses, who affirmed that it would be a male child. But the people are doubly glad that it is a daughter rather than a son, and delight to mock those who put faith in such divinations, and to see them so full of shame.” (2)

When Eustace Chapuys wrote to Charles V on September 10, 1533, informing him of the birth of Elizabeth, he was very happy to report that the soothsayers were wrong. No male child made his appearance that day, and Henry and Anne looked foolish for putting their faith in predictions. As I wrote in an earlier post, however, the foretelling of a male child’s birth served a purpose beyond mere prediction: it acted as an excellent propaganda piece against Anne’s detractors while she was still pregnant. Beyond this, however, the fortuitous timing of Elizabeth’s birth lent another excellent propaganda opportunity to her future reign.

For as Chapuys notes in the letter, Elizabeth was born on the eve of the celebration of the Virgin Mary’s birth. This coincidence was viewed as a symbolic moment by later propagandists – both the Virgin Queen and the Virgin Mother shared a near birthday (being born on the eve of an event was nearly as symbolic as being born on the actual event. Wouldn’t want to upstage anyone, after all)! Over time, Elizabeth, too, took advantage of this coincidence when she cultivated a devoted following that came to be known as the Cult of the Virgin Queen, or the Cult of Gloriana.  This movement, which had its heyday in the 1580s, began to replace Marian devotion with Elizabethan devotion throughout England. Indeed, it can be argued that this new celebration of a political figure played a secularizing role in early modern England.

As if she had planned it, Elizabeth’s last great propaganda move was once again connected to the Virgin Mary. March 24th, the day of Elizabeth’s death, fell on the eve of the Feast of the Annunciation, which celebrated the Angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary. As far as controlling her image went, Elizabeth could not have picked better birth and death dates if she had tried.

(1) Hall’s Chronicle, Henry VIII: September 1533, 1-10, Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 6: 1533, James Gairdner (editor), in British History Online, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=77567&strquery=September 1533 (accessed 07 September 2012).

(2) Chapuys to Charles V, Ibid.

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Discussion

3 thoughts on “Happy Birthday to the Virgins!

  1. Ah, is anything a coincidence?

    Posted by Anne Barnhill | September 7, 2012, 5:56 pm
  2. Great article, thanks :>)

    Posted by lucychurchill | September 8, 2012, 3:33 am

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  1. Pingback: Happy 480th, Your Majesty! | Semper Eadem - September 7, 2013

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