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Autor: anton 04 November 2010
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All the witches, wizards, astrologers, soothsayers and physicians in the kingdom assured the couple that they would indeed have a son. This is just what the father wanted to hear. Having a son was not just his desire; it was his obsession. No one close to the couple dared to think the baby could be anything but a boy. And so the father prepared for the delivery like one would prepare for a royal ball. The finest bed was brought in, parties were thrown and days were counted until the joyful event. Names were chosen: Edward or Henry. And finally the day came. The laboring mother-to-be was ushered into her private chamber, she prayed to her God that He would give her a son, and a few hours later the cries of a newborn child were heard. But to the disappointment of all, the child was a girl. The mother was distraught. The father was outraged. And those in the kingdom who hated the father, rejoiced. And so began the life of the future first Queen of England, Elizabeth Tudor. Born in a time of social and spiritual upheaval, Queen Elizabeth's life was significantly affected politically, romantically, and morally by the relationships she would have with her father the King, the young Lord Essex, and Robert Dudley.
Long before the royal birth that was considered to be the most grievous disappointment in England's history, there were multiple complications (Plowden 39). Henry had married his first wife by the granting of a papal dispensation. Only this ruling from the Pope had allowed this marriage, for Catherine had been his brother's wife before his premature death. Now married to Catherine for over 20 years, Henry came to the realization that the chances of having a son by her were slim. Out of several births, only one daughter, Princess Mary, had survived. King Henry now sought a divorce; he desperately needed a son to rule his kingdom. To put the kingdom in the hands of a son-in-law was dangerous. But unfortunately, the Pope refused to make a decision on this issue. For seven long years, he found one reason after another to postpone the ruling (Ridley 20). He had his motives. First, he did not want to offend Catherine's nephew, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Charles was the ruler of Spain, the Netherlands, and large parts of Italy and Germany, and he was angry at Henry for renouncing their alliance and joining forces with his enemy, King Frances I of France. The Pope dared not risk offending this great power by granting a favor to the King of England. But second, the Pope did want to offend King Henry, either. Two kings were telling him to do two different things, and now this tug of war was at a height of tension (20).
The King had been fairly patient during the Pope's long decision making process, but upon finding out that his mistress Anne Boleyn, whom he had openly lived with for several years, was pregnant, he knew it was imperative to take care of the situation immediately. Henry married Anne very secretly at the end of January 1533, and in April told Parliament to pass an act which would abolish the "right of appeal" from the courts in England to the Roman papal courts. This would mean that the papal dispensation was annulled, and King Henry's marriage to Catherine would be considered "void" by the divine law. He was now free to make Anne the new lawful Queen of England, and introduce her to the kingdom. And introduce her he did, with a lavish coronation. Nothing could be seen for four miles but beautifully decorated boats and barges, and nothing could be heard over the sounds of thousands of artillery celebrating the new queen (Ridley 21).
The celebrations continued until Elizabeth's birth on the 7th day of September in 1533, and then he became somber and quieter, especially towards Anne. It was Anne, after all, that had failed to give him a son. Within three years, King Henry would order her execution by beheading, leaving the very young Elizabeth, like Mary, without a mother and in the middle of a royal scandal (Plowden 56). Elizabeth, however, found favor in her father's eyes, and he was a fairly good father, lavishing attention and affection on her. The dark side of his nature, however, did not escape her observation. She grew up knowing the true personality and motives of her father, and this had a profound affect on her developing character.
First, she saw his political strategies being played out on a regular basis. Henry displayed outward signs of religion, but his political strategies showed his true heart. He changed his religious policies to suit his political needs, burned protestant heretics, and had Catholic abbots hanged, drawn and quartered. All this was done to "advance the interest of his diplomacy, to fulfill his treasury, or even to satisfy his personal pleasure" (Ridley 33). Perhaps that is why Elizabeth grew up with mercy towards people, and with a conscience, unlike her father. When Elizabeth's heir-to-the-throne half brother died unexpectantly from consumption and she became Queen of England at age 24 in 1558, she was quite the opposite of her father. She made great personal and political sacrifices in order to do duty to both God and her people (33).
Second, her father's influence in her life affected how she viewed romance and love. King Henry had had 6 wives by the time Elizabeth was 14 years old. Two of these wives, one being her mother, had been beheaded by order of her father, and two he divorced. Elizabeth had never witnessed a blessed marriage where husband and wife commit fully to one another until death. Although she was only 2Ð’Ð… years old when her mother was beheaded and probably didn't remember much about the event, she soon experienced the nightmare again with her stepmother, Katherine Howard, her father's fifth wife. Elizabeth had grown quite close to her young and enchanting stepmother, but Katherine was convicted of adultery by the courts and her husband the king, and sentenced to beheading. After her death, her head and headless body were wrapped in a sheet, carried into the chapel on Tower Green, and then buried under the flags where Elizabeth's mother was already buried. Elizabeth was only eight, but uttered these words to her childhood friend, Robert Dudley: "I will never marry" (Jenkins 10). Robert Dudley would later become one of Queen Elizabeth's many suitors and a major influence in her life.
King Henry VIII also forbade his daughter, and Prince Edward as well, to read romances of any kind. Instead, he insisted that she read classical mythology, commentaries on the Greek New Testament, Plato's Republic, classics such as More's Utopia, and history books. Books, however, could only be read if they had a "moral" (Williams 10). Even after Henry's death, his influence on her romantic life still persisted, although not directly. It was Henry's sixth wife, Katherine Parr, with whom Elizabeth lived after her father passed away. When Katherine remarried a man named Thomas Seymour, Elizabeth began to see that her new step-father was not just fond of his new wife, but of fourteen year old Elizabeth, as well.
Many modern biographers think this incident was the main reason why Queen Elizabeth came to the decision to "live and die a virgin Queen" (Ridley 39). Some feel she developed a fear of sex because of Seymour's brutal flirtations and physical attention, which both frightened and excited her. Whatever the case, she morally could not allow herself to become intimately involved with another man until much later in life when she found a new favorite in a young courtier named Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex (263). Devereux, like her father King Henry, would have a profound political, romantic and moral impact on the Queen's life.
Elizabeth had ruled her kingdom for nearly thirty years when she became enamored with a young man over thirty years her junior. The Earl of Essex was 20 years of age, tall, red-haired and handsome, and charming, with a boyish spirit and "exquisite hands". The Queen and the Earl were never seen apart one summer, and there were "long talks and long walks in the woods." They often played cards at night until the wee hours of the morning (Strachey 5). But the relationship was not to continue in the same manner. Essex was pro-Puritan, and a man considered by Elizabeth to sometimes be Ð’â€˜rash' in battle (Ridley 326). Elizabeth would congratulate Essex on his victories in battle, but was also angry that he had created too many knights; she felt the power to do so was to be used sparingly. Finally, Queen Elizabeth could take his popularity no more, and on October 2, 1599, she shouted, "By God's Son, I am no Queen, this man is above me!" (328). Later, she announced, "I shall break him of his will, and pull down his great heart" (Weir 426). In February, 1601, Essex planned an insurrection against the Queen, but the rebellion was suppressed, and he and several others were convicted of high treason (Strachey 268).
Politically, Elizabeth became more determined to carry out her own wishes because of a few factors. First, she had been very involved with Essex but now mistrusted him and all political connections he had. She felt betrayed, and so found it much easier to Ð’â€˜betray' him. Second, he had hurt her, and she refused to forgive him, perhaps due to her trust being broken. An order had apparently gone out from the Queen one day stating her "conditions". When the impulsive and headstrong Essex heard of these conditions, he shouted, "Her conditions! Her conditions are as cankered and crooked as her carcass!" She never forgave him for this (Weir 458). Romantically, she had been crushed, and morally, she felt some guilt: she had ordered the execution of Essex by beheading. After his death the Queen grieved personally for quite awhile but finally determined that although it was a tragic death, he had deserved it and that "England was a more stable and secure state without him" (468).
A third person who influenced Queen Elizabeth I politically, romantically and morally was her lifelong friend, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. The two had grown up together; Robert had been one of the select groups of aristocratic children that studied lessons together with Edward and Elizabeth. The friendship continued until eventually the two were so close that the Queen actually consulted him politically on state affairs, something she had not done with anyone before. Only a year after her coronation in the spring of 1559, two suitors were vying for her attention, but only one proved to be a serious contender, and that was Dudley. Rumors soon spread through the kingdom that the Queen was becoming emotionally involved with the Earl. In fact, most believed that if Dudley's sick wife were to die, Elizabeth might actually take him as her husband (Weir 70). She became so involved with Dudley that the two of them would ride horses often together during the day, causing Elizabeth to neglect her state duties (75). Later in life, Dudley would write, "I have known her better than any man alive since she was eight years old" (20).
Morally, Dudley caused a shift in Elizabeth's attitude towards the people in her kingdom. Usually very concerned about public opinion, Elizabeth suddenly didn't care what people thought. She would simply respond with logical explanations, saying that inappropriate relations with this man were impossible because she was attended to round the clock by her maidservants. It did not seem to bother her that she was becoming more and more emotionally involved with a married man (Weir 71).
Her close relationship with Dudley had one dominate advantage over all male admirers. He could not offer her marriage. With him, she had the best of both worlds. Dudley's wife visited England infrequently, but Dudley duties allowed him a lot of time in England. Elizabeth had male companionship without marriage, and therefore retained her independence while still remaining a virgin. She could stay in control of the relationship because she was single; if she were married she would be under the lordship of her husband. This also allowed her to preserve her virgin Queen image (Weir 73).
Elizabeth's friendship with Dudley grew even deeper, and as Elizabeth neared her fiftieth birthday, Leicester still occupied a special place in the Queen's heart, but he found it harder and harder to compete with younger suitors such as Sir Walter Raleigh or Charles Blunt. Although he was a loyal servant to the Queen, rumors began to be spread about the Earl, who had never been very popular in England. The Queen consistently defended him, commending his "good service, sincerity of religion and all other faithful dealings" (353). Perhaps her intense devotion and loyalty to the Earl and those she loved was due to her observing over many years the lack of devotion given to her mother and step-mothers by her father. After a deep friendship lasting over 30 years, the Earl developed a sickness that some believe to be stomach cancer. He died early one morning while at his hunting lodge, and was buried near his little son. Even after his death, the rumors about the Earl continued, some even saying he was poisoned by his wife so that she could be with her lover. Few mourned his passing; he was a target of much gossip and scandal his whole life, and even his death was no different. For nine days people wondered if he was indeed dead. But the Queen was grief-stricken by the loss of Leicester, the man whom she called "her brother and best friend" (Weir 396). The Queen handled the death of her dear friend like she had handled grief her whole life. She became very quiet and private. For several days she was silent, retiring for hours and finally several days into her bed chamber. The Queen almost always wept alone (Jenkins 362).
It was a long, slow, tiring death, and on March 21st, Queen Elizabeth I breathed her last breath at age 70 (Erickson 406). The country mourned their ruler of over 40 years. Few queens have ever been so loved, and under her rule the people of England gained confidence that they were a "chosen nation", protected by Almighty God, and this confidence "gave rise in the years after the Armada to the flowering of the English Renaissance" (Weir 487).
King Henry VIII had begun the great "theatre presentation", into which Elizabeth was born. In this Ð’â€˜theatre', role-playing was the way to capture the King's attention. But in Queen Elizabeth's Court, it was also "the way to keep the queen interested". The showy and boisterous Earls of Leicester and Essex were both "drawn into the stage world ruled by this famous Queen", and both had a serious agenda: a commitment to an expensive war in defense of European Protestantism (Guy 300). Elizabeth's agenda was more of a vow. She had willed herself into a life of everlasting virginity, and viewed her England as her husband, and her subjects as her children (King 30).
To be celibate in the Renaissance Era was considered to be a weakness, but Elizabeth used it to her advantage. Her subjects viewed her celibacy not as a weakness, but as a brilliant political strategy to make her appear as a sacrificial servant who had given up marriage in the name of public service (31). She was not against marriage, but was determined "not to marry an absent man" or a man she had never met (39). This was due, no doubt, to childhood memories. Elizabeth also had a strong desire to preserve her independence and autonomy. She had learned this from her childhood, too; she had closely watched her sister and knew which mistakes to avoid. Elizabeth was determined to identify with her people and work for the common interests. In the end, she brought great stability and peace to a very troubled nation; she believed with all her heart that God had willed for her to do this (Weir 10).
She had started life early as the illegitimate daughter of the condemned Anne Boleyn, she had withstood intense pressure to marry, and she had survived nearly twenty years of hostility from the Catholics, ruling with wisdom and determination. Through the romantic, political and moral influences of three very different and very powerful men in her life, she developed into a skillful politician who firmly established England as a Protestant nation and turned the country into a world power.
Erickson, Carolly. The First Elizabeth. New York: Summit Books, 1983.
Guy, John, ed. The Reign of Elizabeth I. Washington, DC: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Jenkins, Elizabeth. Elizabeth and Leicester. New York: Coward-McCann Inc., 1961.
King, John. "Queen Elizabeth I: Representations of the Virgin Queen." Renaissance Quarterly 43 (1990): 30-74. Spring 1990.
Plowden, Alison. The Young Elizabeth. New York: Stein and Day, 1971.
Ridley, Jasper. Elizabeth I. New York: Viking Penguin Inc., 1988.
Strachey, Lytton. Elizabeth and Essex. San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1928.
Weir, Alison. The Life of Elizabeth I. New York: Ballantine Books, 1998.
Williams, Neville. Elizabeth the First Queen of England. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1968.
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