Well, my hand has finally been forced. When I first began this blog, I wrote a post about one day addressing all of the myths that surrounded Elizabeth I. Particularly, I promised that I would cover the rumor that she was really a man. I promised and promised that I would get around to it, but research on other subjects and a toddler entering his Terrible Twos led me to believe that the rumor that Elizabeth I was really a man didn’t need immediate attention. It took the Internet blowing up with posts like “Was Queen Elizabeth a Drag Queen in Disguise?” to get me typing.
The source of the buzz first came from an article in the Daily Mail, which admittedly should have made all of us wade into the story rather warily. The gist can be boiled down to this: an author named Steve Berry wrote a fictional book titled The King’s Deception. Not that you would know this from the Daily Mail’s title, “Is this proof the Virgin Queen was an imposter in drag? Shocking new theory about Elizabeth I unearthed in historic manuscripts.” Of course, Berry isn’t exactly painting the picture of a fictional book either when he makes comments such as,
‘Elizabeth’s grave has never been breached,’ Berry says. ‘Now it’s time to open it up and see what’s in there.’
If you follow the Tudor internet community whatsoever, you know that it has gone around and around the topic of whether or not authors of historical fiction are responsible for the information that they feed to public: should disclaimers be included? Isn’t creativity implied in a piece of historical fiction? What if the writer is more apt to describe their fiction as “the truth”? All of these questions are relevant to Berry’s work and claims, and will undoubtedly only continue to fuel the debate on this topic. What can you say, however, to friends who know of your interest in Tudor history and breathlessly ask, “Have you heard that Elizabeth I was a man?!”
First, I would recommend this excellent BuzzFeed article, “Conspiracy Theory: Elizabeth 1 was Really a Man in Drag.” The short image and caption feed is hilarious, but more importantly, you will find this lovely explanation by the author’s brother at the end:
“Firstly, it was not treason to ‘allow’ a royal child to die. Every child in the Tudor period, including royal ones, had a 50/50 chance of dying from disease before reaching adulthood. Everyone knew this and, as long as reasonable care had been taken over a child’s welfare, there was no chance of a treason charge. For example, no-one was charged as a result of the death of Henry VIII’s older brother Arthur at the age of 15, nor after the death of Henry VIII’s first son, who died in 1511.
Secondly, it would have been utterly impossible for a man to masquerade as a Queen. A Queen’s body was in many ways public property. Her ladies in waiting dressed her and assisted her in the bathroom. They reported on her monthly courses, in which even the Privy Council took an interest.
Finally, it would have been far more dangerous to attempt a crazy scheme like this, which really would have been treasonous, than to admit that a child in their care had died. At this stage, Elizabeth was not even that important, with an older brother and sister in line to the throne before her.”
In addition to this incredibly reasonable explanation, I would also have you culturally examine three “suspicious” points that the Daily Mail’s article lists from Berry’s work.
1.) “The princess was known as a gentle, studious child, and painfully shy — not a girl to speak up in front of the king who had beheaded her mother.”
The real Elizabeth was a proper princess. Because young girls in the medieval and pre-modern periods were never supposed to be bold, correct?
2. “Her most urgent duty, as the last of the Tudor line, was to provide an heir — yet she described herself as a Virgin Queen, and vowed she would never take a husband, even if the Emperor of Spain offered her an alliance with his oldest son.”
All women want to be married and be mothers, right? Especially if it is for the good of the kingdom that they rule. Elizabeth surely wasn’t avoiding children to have more fun.
3. “She stayed true to that oath, provoking a war which almost ended in Spanish invasion in 1588.”
All men like war and violence. That’s why they spend all of their free time playing World of Warcraft, paintball, hunting, and continuing actual wars. Peace is for sissies – real men fight. And so the syllogism follows, if all men are warriors at heart, all warriors at heart must be men.
That’s all for tonight – there are toddlers to put to bed and episodes of The Americans and Game of Thrones that I need to re-watch. But coming soon (really, I promise this time!), we’re going to take a closer look at the work that inspired Berry’s work of historical fiction: Bram Stoker’s book, Famous Imposters (yes, that Bram Stoker).