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Elizabeth and Gender, Elizabeth Through the Ages, Historiography

Masculinity, Sex, and the Virgin Queen: Victorian Perceptions of Elizabeth I, Part 3

This blog post comes from a 2009 essay by Natalie Sweet.

Elizabeth I

Elizabeth as Mother of the Empire

From 1877 through 1907, a number of popular books and plays were published on Elizabeth I in England.  Some, like Michael Creighton’s Elizabeth I Queen of England, 1533-1603 and Sydney Wilmot’s The Queens of England, were meant to serve as general biographies.[1]  Others, like Louis Wiesener’s The Youth of Queen Elizabeth 1533-1558 or Sarah Josepha Buell’s Lessons from Women’s Lives, were targeted towards girls and younger women in an attempt to educate them in the character and qualities of Elizabeth. [2] The great majority of the printed works, however, focused on Elizabeth’s relationship with various suitors, especially her great favorite, Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester.  In 1894, Walter Inglisfield penned Queen Elizabeth and the Earl of Leicester, a Drama in Five Acts, and although the title of Queen Elizabeth: An Historical Drama in Four Acts might not suggest a romantic theme, its author, W.G. Hole, primarily focused on the relationship between Elizabeth and Leicester. [3]   Likewise, Martin Hume wrote about Leicester and other suitors in The Courtships of Queen Elizabeth: A History of Various Negotiations for her Marriage while Jerusha D. Richardson focused solely on Leicester in The Lover of Queen Elizabeth: Being the Life and Character of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester 1533-1588.[4]  Each author, no matter which angle they took in portraying Elizabeth, produced common themes when they wrote about her.

For example, each author was quick to acknowledge that England owed Elizabeth thanks for the nation’s current strength, but some were more effusive on this topic than others.  Sydney Wilmot reproduced a passage from William Camden’s “Britannia” in his biography of Elizabeth, letting the words engraved on her tomb speak of her global impact.  He quoted,

For let these noble actions recommend her to the praise and admiration of posterity: – religion reformed peace established, money reduced to its true value, a most complete fleet built, our naval glory restored, rebellion suppressed, England for forty-three years together most prudently governed, enriched and strengthened; Scotland rescued form the French; France itself relieved, the Netherlands supported, Spain and Ireland quieted, and the whole world twice sailed round.[5]

For these perceived actions, Sydney held Elizabeth in special regard and believed that other Englishmen should take note of the “air of majesty” that continued to surround her image in the present day. [6]

Other Victorian authors made similar observations.  Martin Hume firmly proclaimed that “England, under the guidance of the great Tudor Queen, was able to emerge regenerated and triumphant from the struggle which was to settle the fate of the world for centuries to come.”[7]  As “an article of the national faith,” Elizabeth rescued England from both French Catholic and Spanish Catholic domination and set the course for England’s own Protestant imperial future.[8]  Michael Creighton pointed out that he could not write about Elizabeth without also writing about the nation because “Elizabeth’s life was so closely interwoven with the history of England.”[9]  To him, Elizabeth “represented England as no other ruler ever did” in that “[s]he  educated Englishmen to a perception of England’s destiny, and for this purpose, fixed England’s attention upon itself.”[10]  He observed that Elizabeth “saw what England might become, and nursed it into the knowledge of its power.”[11]  Such motherly imagery suggested that Creighton not only regarded Elizabeth as mother to the early modern English state, but that he viewed her as the wise founding mother of the British Empire as well.


[1] Michael Creighton, Elizabeth I, Queen of England, 1533-1603 (New York, Bombay: Crowell, 1896); Sydney Wilmot, The Queens of England: Volume II (London: J. S. Virtue, 1889). Although Creighton’s book was published in New York, he was British.

[2] Louis Wiesener , The Youth of Queen Elizabeth 1533-1558 (London: Hurst and Blackett, 1879);  Ssrah Josepha Buell Hale, Lessons from Women’s Lives (London: William P. Nimmo, 1877).

[3] Walter Inglisfield, Queen Elizabeth and he Earl of Leicester, a Drama in Five Acts (London: E. Stock, 1894); and W.G. Hole, Queen Elizabeth: An Historical Drama in Four Acts (London: George Bell and Sons, 1904).

[4] Martin Hume, The Courtships of Queen Elizabeth: A History of Various Negotiations for her Marriage (London: T.F. Unwin, 1896); and Jerusha D. Richardson, The Lover of Queen Elizabeth: Being the Life and Character of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester 1533-1588 (London: T.W. Laurie, 1907).

[5] Wilmot, 101.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Hume, vi.

[8] Ibid., 333.

[9] Creighton, v.

[10] Ibid, 197.

[11] Ibid., 198.

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Discussion

2 thoughts on “Masculinity, Sex, and the Virgin Queen: Victorian Perceptions of Elizabeth I, Part 3

  1. I’m addressing the idea of Elizabeth as mother figure in my current novel–both in a personal way (though she is NOT a mother in the novel) and in a larger more politcial way. Find this fascinating! THanks!

    Posted by Anne Barnhill | November 16, 2012, 6:20 pm

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