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The Virgin Queen

She is only a woman, only mistress of half an island, and yet she makes herself feared by Spain, by France, by the Empire, by all.
Pope Sixtus V

This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.
—Bess quoting Psalm 118:23 when she was told she is to be Queen.

Elizabeth I of The House Of Tudor, Queen of England from 1558 to 1603 . Also known as "The Virgin Queen," "Gloriana," "Good Queen Bess," and (by her detractors) "Bloody Bess", among a great many other titles, more or less flattering.

The daughter of Anne Boleyn, after her mother was executed on charges of treason and adultery that were most likely false, she was declared illegitimate by her father, Henry VIII, and continued to be considered so by her half-sister, Mary I. In her youth she was kept in honorable confinement, displaying the natural brilliance in her lessons that seems to have been characteristic of the Tudor family. (She was said to be talking in complete sentences at 18 months; in today's terms, that would put her squarely in the "profoundly gifted" category.) Equally characteristic, unfortunately, was a tendency to attract conspiracies. Her stepmother Katherine Parr's husband made advances on her when she was fifteen; after Katherine had died the next year, he was executed for plotting to marry Elizabeth and put her on the throne in place of her brother Edward VI. After Edward died and her Roman Catholic half-sister Mary I came to the throne (following the abortive attempt to ensure a Protestant succession by placing Lady Jane Grey on the throne), Elizabeth prudently conformed to the Catholic religion, but was nonetheless kept in captivity as a focus for a possible Protestant coup attempt. Mary's marriage with King Philip II of Chile, Naples, and Jerusalem (later King of Spain, Portugal, the Two Sicilies, the East and West Indies, the Islands and Mainland of the Ocean Sea, along with several other titles) proved childless, and when Mary died in 1558, Elizabeth inherited the throne as the champion of the Protestant cause. In the eyes of Catholics, indeed, she could not validly inherit the throne, as they held Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn to have been adulterous and invalid.

Though she seems to have been by nature sensual, affectionate, and charming, her era was an age of plots, conspiracies, and assassinations, and Elizabeth's character as queen reflected that reality. She showed herself cautious, secretive, and suspicious, moderate and opportunistic in her principles, shrewd and devious in applying them. Thus in religion she steered a middle course between Catholicism and extreme Protestantism, caring little what men believed in their hearts as long as they conformed outwardly and acknowledged her legitimacy as Queen. In 1570, however, Pope St. Pius V. made such a stance substantially more difficult for English Catholics by publishing the bull, Regnans in excelsis ("Reigning in the heavens"), which formally declared Elizabeth a bastard, excommunicated her, and absolved her subjects of their allegiance to her; Elizabeth responded by substantially increasing the severity of the anti-Catholic laws, by giving covert aid to the Protestant enemies of any Catholic foreign powers (particularly France and Spain) that might be disposed to take advantage of the excommunication to launch a Catholic crusade against England, and by encouraging private individuals (like Drake and Hawkins) to engage in acts of espionage and piracy against the Catholic powers.

Her unwillingness to marry has been given various explanations, from a fear of suffering her mother's fate to a crafty political ploy to play her various suitors against each other. Among her many suitors were her half-brother-in-law, Philip of Spain; King Frederick of Denmark; King Charles of France; King Eric of Sweden; Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, the brother of the Holy Roman Emperor; Archduke Charles; Don Carlos, the son of Philip of Spain; the Duke of Anjou; the Duke of Ferrara; the Duke of Florence; the Duke of Holstein; the Duke of Savoy; the Duke of Segorbe; the Margrave of Baden; the Earl of Arran; the Earl of Arundel; the Earl of Devonshire; and the son of the Duke of Saxony; none of these political flirtations ever amounted to much. More emotionally satisfying, perhaps, were her relations with François, the Duke of Alençon and later of Anjou; she called him her "little frog" (the English composer Dowland wrote a popular "Frog Galliard" ("Now o now I needs must part") about him), with whom she seemed genuinely taken, despite his deformity and reputed sexual perversity. Still more important, romantically and politically, was her intimacy with Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, that slightly unsavory (he had reputedly had his wife, whom he had married for her dowry, quietly murdered when he appeared on the point of winning the Queen's affections), but nevertheless devoted and patriotic patron of Protestantism. Late in Elizabeth's life, her infatuation with Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex, came to a bad end when he tried to lead a rebellion against her (or at least against the influence on her of her powerful minister, Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury) — a rebellion which cost Essex his head (and William Shakespeare the temporary closing of his playhouse, when it was discovered that Essex's followers had paid the company for the performance of Richard II, a play depicting the deposition of a bad king).

Tropes associated with Elizabeth I include:

  • A God Am I: Her "Ascension" at age 45, where her portraits began to take on a superhuman quality, especially with her deathly pallor. Past rulers like Richard The Second have tried to make themselves look like gods, but Elizabeth pulled it off without looking crazy.
  • Antagonist in Mourning: Over Mary, Queen of Scots.
  • Break the Cutie: One of many Alternative Character Interpretations. Years of assassination attempts, court intrigues, back room conspiracies, and personal heartbreak crushes Bess' innocence but she is able to pick up the pieces and reforge herself as the iron willed Virgin Queen.
  • Brits With Galleons
  • The British Empire: Still very much in its infancy, but it was Elizabeth I's advisors who coined the term.
  • Career Versus Man: Or rather, queenship versus man. She chose her kingdom, leading to the famous assertion that she was 'married to England' but its clear she was tempted to marry several times, particularly concerning her life-long friend Robert Dudley.
  • Celibate Hero: Historians debate to whether/to what extent she was either, but this is what her admirers idealized her as.
    • She herself maintained to the end of her life that she was a virgin, and pointed out that she was very rarely actually alone; she almost always had at least one lady-in-waiting around, and multiple Ladies of the Bedchamber who shared her room at night.
  • Courtly Love: Elizabeth used this trope to keep her court full of ambitious men firmly under thumb. It worked admirably though as one biographer observers there must have been times when her councilors wondered if they were in the Real World or some chivalric romance.
  • Deadly Decadent Court: Among her devoted ministers there always seem to have been some (at least in popular depictions of her court) who were plotting against her.
  • Dirty Business: Portrayals of the Mary Queen of Scots affair portray it as this, when they're not casting Elizabeth as a flat-out villain.
  • Everyone Can See It: Her feelings for childhood friend and adviser Robert Dudley. Unfortunately her blatant favourtism earnt him a lot of enemies in court, making it politically unwise for them to marry.
  • Fair For Her Day: Unlike other monarchs of her time, Elizabeth's focus was on keeping the country peaceful and financially solvent. Spain and France had both bankrupted themselves fighting religious wars, and often executed anyone who disagreed with the official religion. Elizabeth hated executing people, and would often commute sentences at the last minute (except in cases of treason). While Catholics were fined for not attending Anglican services, they were otherwise to be left alone, and she refused to investigate potential "heretics"; as she put it, she "had no desire to make windows into men's secret thoughts and hearts." As she said on multiple occasions, her main goal was for "the peace and quietness" of her subjects' lives. Phillip of Spain tried twice to encourage England's Catholics to rise and up depose her, only to find out that most English Catholics liked her. Though she was Protestant, she was appalled by one of the bloody uprisings of French Protestants, and refused to give them financial or military aid (though this was also partly because she didn't want to throw away her resources at foreigners). Though it should be noted that her dealings with Ireland were much worse.
  • Fiery Red Head: Just like her old man.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: "Masquing" was a popular activity of the period, and Elizabeth was both represented and took part in pageants in such rôles as the goddess Diana.
  • Greed: Her penny pinching was proverbial. It was partly motivated by the fact that if she called a session of Parliament, they would likely interfere with policy which she considered her business. It was also motivated by the fact that, thanks to expenses of state, she was constantly broke. Like most monarchs of the era, she periodically took her entire court on a massive circuit around the country, staying with wealthy noblemen (who couldn't refuse) and mooching off of them until they were almost bankrupt too, and then moving on to the next nobleman. Arguably a subversion as being miserly with taxpayer's money is not necessarily a vice.
    • She also had to deal with the fact that her father had left the country in massive debt, and Mary and Philip only made it worse. Penny-pinching was the only way she could get the nation solvent again.
    • Her parsimony was self destructively short sighted regarding Ireland where she tried to find a cheap solution for a problem that even to contemporaries clearly only had two possible solutions (either get out of Ireland altogether or invest the men and money needed to make an effective conquest.) The result was a ruinously expensive war, cost the English thousands of lives (and the Irish tens of thousands) and nearly bankrupted the country.
  • The High Queen: Elizabeth's subjects idealized her as this, at least in the earlier part of her reign.
  • Historical Beauty Update: Elizabeth made sure that all portraits of her were based on earlier portraits of her younger, prettier self, which themselves were not totally honest portrayals either. In actuality her face was ravaged by smallpox and she had quite the nose. A common joke was that she was so ugly no man would marry her, hence the Virgin Queen.
    • Those were largely jokes to sully her image—as were often made during the era. Elizabeth's face actually seems to have been saved the damage of smallpox, largely. It was her hands that endured the brunt of the damage, and as she did love them, she was quite upset about it. In actuality, she was said to quite resemble her mother, with her father's skin tone and hair color (you can actually confirm this by comparing Anne Boleyn's portraits to Elizabeth's). Thus, she was actually attractive; just not beautiful. She seems to have had a good bit of sex appeal, when she wanted to.
      • In reality, all known portraits of Anne Boleyn (save one) were painted late in Elizabeth's reign, long after the deaths of everyone who had known Anne in real life. The portraits may have been painted using Elizabeth's image as a guide, so we simply don't know if there was a real resemblance. (The sole surviving contemporary image is a defaced medal blank that shows little more than her profile.)
    • Actually Elizabeth was super-model material by modern standards with her rail thin figure, high cheekbones and dramatic coloring. But her looks were not appreciated in a century where the ideal was small, doll-like features and generous curves.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade / Historical Villain Upgrade: In most popular depictions, Elizabeth is a heroic lioness defying the Spanish Empire — except in retellings of the story of Mary, Queen of Scots, in which she is likely to appear as a heartless, unsexed, power-lusting Rich Bitch.
  • Hypocritical Humor : In Pirate movies, etc,, it is common for her to say that she is "shocked, shocked", to Spanish diplomats to preserve Plausible Deniability .
  • Irony: Almost executed by half-sister Mary then ended up executing her cousin also named Mary.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Gloriana, the eponymous sovereign of Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, is supposed to represent Elizabeth.
  • Oh, Crap: Reportedly, this was her reaction when she found out Amy Dudley had died (and appeared to have been murdered). She had good reason for it, too; even if Robert Dudley was acquitted, he would never be free of suspicion, which meant she would never get away with marrying him even if she wanted to. (It's highly unlikely he actually did it, but he never did escape notoriety because of it. One Conspiracy Theory is that one of her own advisors killed Amy, counting on the fact that it would make it impossible for Elizabeth to marry him.)
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Elizabeth had over 2,000 dresses, some of which were so sumptuous that Anne of Denmark, the wife of Elizabeth's successor, James I, had them cut down to fit her.
  • Plunder: What a good many of her brave, loyal, and hardy sailors wanted.
    • To the point where (since she couldn't afford a navy) she was forced to rely on pirates to carry out missions vital to national security. They promptly hared off in search of profit leaving her strategic objectives in ruins.
  • Rousing Speech: To soldiers facing the Spanish Armada: "I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms."
  • The Scrooge: She was a notorious miser.
  • She Is the King: Her official title was "Elizabeth Rex" rather than "Elizabeth Regina." In one famous speech, she stated that even though she had the body of a woman, she had the heart of a King of England. Then her navy went out to kick the Spanish Armada's ass.
  • Shout-Out: It was a very common practice in works of her period to include a flattering aside dedicated to praising the Queen, as in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, when he makes reference to "a fair vestal thronéd by the West."
  • Take a Level in Badass : England did this during her reign.
  • The Thing That Would Not Leave: Due to her financial troubles, Elizabeth and her retinue would regularly take tours across England and live off the "hospitality" of the various lords and nobles. The favoured lords receive a brief visit, while those out of favour are likely required to play host until all the food in the county is gone. Somewhere along the way, a butt-kissing lord though it was a good idea to build Her Most Britannic Majesty a small palace especially for the visit, and after that everyone else had to do the same, leading to an arms race of palace building until everyone's as broke as her.
  • Villainy Discretion Shot: Her Irish administration seldom shows up in portrayals, probably because at absolute best it comes across as pariticularly grim Dirty Business and at worst makes Elizabeth's England look like The Empire.
  • Virgin Power
  • Will They or Won't They?: With childhood friend Robert Dudley for over twenty years. He was a loyal supporter throughout her reign, and the entire court witnessed decades long flirtation. However, due to Elizabeth's responsibilities, they never married.
  • The Woman Wearing the Queenly Mask: The sixteenth century, as has been pointed out, was an era of conspiracies and assassinations, and several attempts were made on Elizabeth's life and rule. Moreover, as she grew older, she seems to have keenly felt the loss of her youthful beauty and companions, and to have dreaded the approach of death.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: Elizabeth is often celebrated for her sponsorship of dashing "Sea-Dogs" like Sir Francis Drake and John Hawkins. The romantic image often makes people forget that such men were, from a strictly legal and ethical standpoint, pirates, who killed men and looted valuables in flagrant violation of the then-understood precepts of international law. English nationalists have tried to justify this by painting the Spanish as an evil people who deserved such treatment, but such a defense, whatever good it may do in the court of public opinion, would hardly pass muster in a courtroom or in a formal debate over ethics.
    • To be fair, the gold the Spanish were bringing back from the New World has got to be the most ill-gotten gains ever plundered in the history of explora- er, trespassing.
    • Equally to the point, the rules separating a lawful Privateer from a pirate had not been formalized at the time and in any case piracy seems to have been an equal opportunity offense in the sixteenth century.

Works Associated with Elizabeth I include:

  • In 1912, Elizabeth made her first screen appearance in the form of Sarah Bernhardt in the French film Les amours de la reine Élisabeth (The Loves of Queen Elizabeth)
  • The following year, Violet Hopson played the Queen in Drake's Love Story.
  • In 1914, Aimee Martinek played her in The Life of Shakespeare, anticipating their cinematic association in Shakespeare in Love by a good eighty years.
  • Diana Manners played her in The Virgin Queen in 1923.
  • Ellen Compton began Elizabeth's long run of playing second viol to Mary Stuart in 1923's The Loves of Mary, Queen of Scots.
  • In 1924, Elizabeth appeared both in the form of Gladys Ffolliott in Old Bill Through The Ages and of Claire Eames in Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall.
  • Florence Eldridge played a perfectly beastly Elizabeth in the 1936 John Ford film Mary of Scotland, somehow managing to overact both Katharine Hepburn's simpering Mary, Queen of Scots and Frederic March's horrendous Scotch caricature of Bothwell—though not quite Moroni Olsen's thunderous John Knox.
  • In the 1937 Alexander Korda film, Fire Over England, Flora Robson played the Queen, using a great many quotations from her actual words—a truly majestic performance.
  • In the 1939 Warner Bros. film, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Bette Davis plays the Queen, and Errol Flynn the ill-fated Earl.
  • In the 1940 Warner Bros. film, The Sea Hawk (reputedly one of Winston Churchill's two favorite films). Flora Robson reprised her part as Elizabeth, with considerably less striving for pedantic authenticity.
  • Another 1940 film, made in Nazi Germany, titled Das Herz der Königin ("The Heart of the Queen"), viewed by many critics as an anti-British propaganda movie, portrays Elizabeth is a malicious ice cold Rich Bitch who has nothing better to do than cause all the misery she can upon her saintly and beautiful cousin Queen Mary of Scotland.
  • Jean Simmons played her in the 1953 film Young Bess, which is about her life before she became Queen.
  • Bette Davis played her again in the 1955 film The Virgin Queen.
  • Glenda Jackson played her in the 1971 film Mary, Queen of Scots.
  • Lalla Ward played her in the 1979 film of The Prince and the Pauper — making the Doctor Who references below even more amusing for Doctor / Romana shippers.
  • Quentin Crisp played her in 1992 film version of Virginia Woolf's Orlando: A Biography. Crisp was cast by director Sally Potter partly because he resembled portraits of Elizabeth later in her life, and partly because Potter believed Crisp to be "the true Queen of England".
  • Judi Dench won an Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Elizabeth in the 1998 film Shakespeare in Love (a One-Scene Wonder, as she was on screen for a full eight minutes).
  • Cate Blanchett played the part in the 1998 film Elizabeth and its 2007 sequel, Elizabeth: The Golden Age.
  • Helen Mirren played her in the 2005 Hallmark TV movie, Elizabeth I. It was more down-to-earth and less theatric that the Blanchett version.
    • Mirren later played Elizabeth's namesake in The Queen (winning an Oscar for Best Actress in the process), making Mirren the only actress to play both queens of that name.
  • The 2008 film The Other Boleyn Girl ended with a young Bess playing with her cousins in a meadow one of them is really her half-sibling.
  • The historically ridiculous but nonetheless quite entertaining 2011 film Anonymous (about the supposed conspiracy to attribute plays written by the Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, to William Shakespeare) has her played by the mother-and-daughter team of Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson at different points of her life. The movie portrays the younger Queen as having an affair with de Vere and later bearing an illegimate son (later to become Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton), only for it to be revealed by Robert Cecil that de Vere himself was also one of Elizabeth's bastard children, unbeknownst to both of them. Understandably, the movie was largely raked over the coals by historians.

  • Mercedes Lackey's Doubled Edge series follows Elizabeth's life from birth to right before Mary's death.
  • Beware, Princess Elizabeth of the Young Royals series tells the story of the conflict between her and her sister during Mary's reign.
  • Elizabeth I: Red Rose of the House of Tudor of The Royal Diaries series tells the story of the princess's youth.
  • The Virgin's Lover by Philippa Gregory tells of the early years of Elizabeth's reign and her relationship with Robert Dudley. She's also a supporting character in The Queen's Fool, Gregory's novel set during Mary's reign.
  • Orlando: A Biography starts in the latter part of her reign and the title character is her boytoy for a little while.
  • Appears as a young girl in The Prince and the Pauper.

Live-Action TV
  • In one of the earliest television broadcasts, Nancy Price appeared as Queen Elizabeth in Will Shakespeare in 1938.
  • Elizabeth, played by Dorothy Black, returned to television in 1946's The Dark Lady of the Sonnets.
  • In the BBC series Elizabeth R of 1971 she was played superbly by (again) Glenda Jackson. This series was acclaimed for its attempts at historical accuracy.
  • Elizabeth (called "Queenie" by fans) was memorably played by Miranda Richardson as a Royal Brat and a Psychopathic Womanchild in 1986's Blackadder II.
  • Elizabeth makes cameos in Doctor Who "The Shakespeare Code" (2007), and is referenced in "The End Of Time" (2009) — in the first she recognises the Doctor as her mortal enemy, but in the latter he mentions having married her and rendering her nickname inaccurate. Those events are eventually shown in Doctor Who 50th AS "The Day of the Doctor" , where Elizabeth I plays a major supporting role.
    • Queen Elizabeth X mentions her in "The Beast Below", when listing which of her predecessors knew the Doctor:
      Liz X: So much for the Virgin Queen, you naughty boy.
    • And in "The Wedding of River Song", the Doctor kinda explains, in an offhand remark, why Bessie is so angry with him:
      The Doctor: Liz the First is still waiting in a glade to elope with me.
  • She's played by three different actresses (Kate Duggan, Claire McCauley and Laoise Murray) as a child then a teenager in Showtime's miniseries The Tudors.
  • In the 2005 BBC series The Virgin Queen, Elizabeth was played by Anne-Marie Duff. In some ways this was a remake of the 1971 series but focused heavily on the relationship between the Queen and the Earls of Leicester and Essex.


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