Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Question from Leia - Dwarf at Elizabeth's court in "The Golden Age"

I recently watched Queen Elizabeth; the Golden Age and noticed a dwarf as one of her ladies in waiting. I was wondering who this represented. I think it might be Lady Mary Grey (the beheaded Jane Grey's little sister) who was about 4 feet tall and considered a dwarf. However, there is no information that I have found that says she was a lady in waiting to Elizabeth, in fact she was at court but married without permission. Does anyone know if that is who the dwarf is supposed to be in the movie?

5 comments:

PhD Historian said...

Dwarves were not uncommon in European courts of the period, and modern filmmakers seem to enjoy adding this bit of color to films about Tudor royalty. If you saw the first "Elizabeth" movie (1998), you may have noticed that Queen Mary was also depicted as attended by a dwarf (played by Valerie Gale). She is most prominently featured at Mary's deathbed, holding the dying queen's hand. Elizabeth was shown with a dwarf in the 1998 film as well, played by Hayley Burroughs. Ms Burroughs reappears as the lady-in-waiting in "Golden Age." She is credited as playing "Elizabeth's dwarf," without a name for the character. I therefore assume that she is not intended to depict Mary Grey.

In my extensive research on Jane Grey, I have not come across any reference at all from those who knew Mary Grey or who had actually seen her to suggest that anyone thought her a dwarf at the time. She apparently was, however, somewhat shorter than the average for Tudor-era women. The idea that she was a dwarf was invented much later, in the 1700s, probably to add a little extra pathos to her story. There is also a story that she was hunchbacked (possibly scoliosis), though this too appears to be a later invention.

Lady Mary Grey is not known ever to have been a lady-in-waiting to the Queen. Elizabeth considered both Mary and her older sister Katherine to be threats to her throne in the wake of the events surrounding Jane Grey's brief reign of July 1553. Very little is known about Mary Grey except as it relates to her marriage to Thomas Keyes in 1565. Mary was held under house arrest until 1572, and was allowed at court only occassionally thereafter.

kb said...

Lady Mary Grey was a maid of honor to Elizabeth I in the 1560's until her unauthorized marriage to Thomas Keyes. She also received a yearly pension of £80 from the queen. Elizabeth had a tendency to keep potential female heirs to the throne close unless there was a chance they might give birth to a son at which point she did her best to place them in isolation.

I agree with phd historian that there are no references to her as dwarved.

kb said...

One more bit - Elizabeth had a dwarf at court named Tomasen. She is named as receiving some bits of clothing. For some reason I think there was another dwarf as well but remember at the moment.

kb said...

A bit more on Elizabeth's dwarves. (I've had more caffeine now) Tamasin, or Thomasine de Paris, also had a dwarf sister named Prudence with her at court. There was also Ippolyta the Tartaryan. Tamasin was at Elizabeth's funeral and given her appellation was possibly from France. Ippolyta is sometimes thought to have been a child but Elizabeth gave her a present of about 100 shillings upon the birth of her child so...I'm going with dwarf.

Chris PIGOTT said...

My understanding is that Mary GREY suffered serious spinal curvature, rather than dwarfism.
Her "sin" in marrying Thomas KEYES was not so much that she was in line to the throne and might produce a male child who could complicate the orderly succession (although this was judged at the time as unlikely); but that KEYES was a giant, standing over 6 ft 6 in in his stockinged feet.
CECIL viewed the match as "monstrous" - the Court viewed it as ludicrous - & Elizabeth got very angry.