Thursday, August 14, 2008

Question from Gervase - Rumors that Elizabeth I was a man

Friends, I once spent the summer between school waitressing and I met a young lady from England who told me that her professor in England once, during the study of Elizabeth I, said that there was a rumor that arises once in awhile, that Elizabeth was really a man. Apparently, in an unfortunate accident, the toddler drowned. Panicked, her guardian found a young boy,same age, red hair etc., and raised the child to be the Queen. While I realize that this is probably just a random rumor, in the movie Elizabeth I, the French Prince is complaining about her lack of emotion and he says "some say she is a man". Does anyone know anything regarding this story. I appreciate all the effort given in the blog.


Anonymous said...

This question gave me a much needed giggle. Not because there is anything wrong with the question itself (it is a great question), but because of the mental image it raises in light of recent questions about Elizabeth's relationship with Robert Dudley! Suppose ole Robin knew he was batting for the other team? "Elizabeth: The Tudor Crying Game."

Seriously though, attitudes toward women in the 16th century were remarkably negative, at least by modern standards. And yes, it was fairly common for rumors to arise around ANY woman who was able to make her own way in the world without the assistance of a father or husband. Viragos, or manly women, were a common literary trope of the period. And by "manly," I do not mean masculine in appearance or mannerisms. I mean women who refused to be quiet, withdrawn, and submissive, but who instead were outspoken, assertive, or demonstrated apptitude for activities or occupations usually reserved for men. By 16th century standards, the vast majority of American or British women today would be considered viragos and suspected of secretly being men.

Elizabeth is famous for supposedly having said that though she had but the body of a woman, yet she had the heart of a king. And she filled the role of monarch, a role usually considered masculine, with considerable success. So it was virtually inevitable that detracters would arise to cast doubts on her "true nature."

A modern comparative might be the still-too-common assumption that all women who are good at sports must be lesbians. The real problem lies in the misogynist attitudes of men, in both the 16th and 21st centuries, incapable or unwilling to accept that women might be physically and intellectually equal to men.

kb said...

Well Done phd historian! Still giggling over the Tudor Crying Game.