As many of you know, news about the release of a new book by Steve Berry has been making the rounds throughout the internet. The buzz is in no small part thanks to the the Daily Mail‘s subtle article title, “Is this proof the Virgin Queen was an imposter in drag? Shocking new theory about Elizabeth I unearthed in historic manuscripts.” In the fictional book, The King’s Deception, Berry makes the case that Elizabeth I was really a man. The inspiration for this story came from a book written by Bram Stoker (of Dracula fame) in 1910, titled Famous Imposters.
Part II was originally meant to be an analysis of Stoker’s Famous Imposters, of which I have a copy. But then…then I was lured by the possibilities of what I might find in 1910-1911 reviews of Stoker’s book. Would the reviewers of Stoker’s era be as classy as those in the twenty-first century?
The Washington Herald, Feb. 26, 1911
WAS “QUEEN BESS” A MAN?
Was Queen Elizabeth, England’s greatest ruler, a man? Bram Stoker, the well-known English author, has collected a mass of interesting evidence and documents tending to show that she was. His discoveries are contained in a book entitled “Famous Imposters.”
Mr. Stokes [sic] was led to investigate this subject by hearing an ancient tradition, which had existed and been generally accepted by the natives of Bisley ever since the supposed Elizabeth lived among them. Bisley is a little isolated village among the Cotswold hiss, in the west of England, where Elizabeth lived during her youth. The house in which she lived, Overcourt Manor, is to-day preserved in virtually the same condition as when she lived in it. A little stone coffin still stands in the garden, in which it is said the real Princess Elizabeth was buried.
The tradition is that about the year 1540, when the real Princess Elizabeth was seven years old, she was taken ill with a fever an died. King Henry VIII, the terrible “Bluff King Hal,” was about to arrive on a visit. Nobody dared to cause him displeasure. Too often it meant the headsman’s ax for the offender. The princess governess, Mistress Ashley, decided to provide a substitute for the dead child. The only one she could find was a boy of the same age. The king paid a brief visit and was satisfied.
Examined All Facts
As the changeling grew up he made every effort to keep up the deception which had been practiced, for if he had been exposed he would have lost his head. He succeeded in becoming one of the greatest sovereigns of history. Mr. Stoker has examined nearly all the recorded facts of history, and has found none that disprove the tradition and many that confirm it. The facts that tend to support the theory that Elizabeth was a man fall into three groups. 1. Her lifelong devotion to her governess, Mistress Ashley, and her “cofferer,” Sir Thomas parry. 2. Her refusal to get married, despite the fact that the most brilliant men in Europe sought her hand. 3. Her well known masculine characteristics.
Many historians have remarked that there appeared to be a secret between Queen Elizabeth and Mistress Ashley and Sir Thomas Parry. She remained faithful to them and continued to heap benefits on them to the end of their lives in spite of serious charges against them. “This conduct,” says Miss Strickland, a high authority, “naturally induces a suspicion that secrets of great moment had been confided to him – weighty secrets that probably would have touched not only the maiden name of his royal mistress, but placed her life in jeopardy, and that he had preserved these inviolate. The same may be supposed with respect to Mrs. Ashley.”
Elizabeth’s rejection of the many proposals of marriage made to her seems very remarkable in one who took pleasure i the society of men and women, and was by no means an ascetic. This has always been a puzzle to historians. In a letter to Lord Admiral Seymour, Elizabeth says:
“I have not the slightest intention of being married, and if ever I should think of it – which I do not believe is possible” – &c.
Similar phrases occur again and again in her letters. Why should she have so often referred to the impossibility of being married?
Other Masculine Traits
If boundless ambition, unswerving determination, and merciless severity to her enemies are masculine characteristics, then certainly Queen Elizabeth was masculine in a high degree. She sent her most favored suitor, the Earl of Essex, and her cousin and fellow-sovereign, Mary Queen of Scots, to the headsman’s block. It is true that on hearing that Queen Mary had actually been executed she displayed great emotion, and ordered the arrest of Sir William Davison, who had carried out her warrant, but here is every reason to believe this conduct was due to policy, like all her other acts.
Again and again she boxed the ears of a courtier who displeased her. She intimidated the wisest and boldest of her counselors, such as Lord Burleigh, by her loud voice and terrifying manner. When the greatest power in Europe – Spain – with many allies, threatened her with annihilation, she put courage into her soldiers and sailors by her ringing words and martial bearing. No emergency ever found her lacking in courage and resource. Even on her deathbed her spirit never forsook her.
“The constitution of her mind is exempt from female weakness, and she is endowed with a masculine power of application,” wrote Roger Ascham, the great scholar of the day.
Could a woman have displayed all the qualities mentioned? Many person will doubtless say that she could, but certainly these facts tend to support the view that “she” was a man.
When it came down to it, the 1911 review did not look terribly different from the 2013 piece, did it? Except that maybe the author from The Washington Herald was a little more upfront about his true uneasiness concerning Elizabeth – even for a writer from the United States in 1911, those Victorian ideas about Elizabeth and masculinity still held strong.