Ten Surprises About Elizabeth Tudor

Since it is only a week until my “Elizabeth I” will be published, now is the time to tell you some things I discovered or confirmed while  writing the novel!

She was a virgin. In spite of endless wishful thinking and plays, novels, and movies to the contrary, there’s no evidence the Virgin Queen was anything but.  Had she not been what she publically claimed to be and based her image on, she would have had her power and authority and veracity stripped from her in an instant.

She was the last English monarch to be purely English. She was followed by the Scottish Stuarts, and then the German Hanoverians, and so on.  Even the present royal family had to change its name from Saxe-Cobur-Gotha to Windsor to sound less German in 1917.

She was a local monarch. She didn’t travel very far from London—she never got  as far north as York  and she never crossed over into Europe.

She didn’t hang out with Shakespeare or attend his plays at the Globe. It’s a lovely scene in “Shakespeare in Love”, but the queen did not attend the public theater.  Instead, the theater came to her.  Plays were presented at court.  She met Shakespeare and reputedly liked the character of Falstaff, but she didn’t pal around with him.

She knew she was getting old. She did keep mirrors in her rooms and wasn’t afraid to look in them.  The official portraits, though, were executed according to approved images.  They were not expected to be true likenesses, any more than the portrait of the present queen on money reflects her exact image.  Although it’s updated from time to time, it’s always younger than she is.

She admired her father and praised him often. Since he executed her mother, and ignored her for most of her life, you would expect her to hate him.  Why she didn’t is another mystery of her psychology.

She never tried to rehabilitate her mother’s reputation. Unlike King James, who quickly ordered his mother Mary Queen of Scots to be taken from her obscure grave in Peterborough and reburied in a magnificent tomb in Westminster Abbey, Elizabeth did nothing to comment, one way or the other, on Anne Boleyn and her innocence or lack of it.  She preferred to let sleeping dogs lie.

Elizabeth had hair. She wasn’t bald and she didn’t shave her head.  Her hair thinned and turned gray, but she still had a head of hair.

Elizabeth wasn’t religious. She seemed to have a spiritual sort of humility but one historian observed that when Elizabeth was most troubled, she turned to the classics rather than to the scriptures for consolation.

Elizabeth was the last Tudor. Not only did she have no children, but there were no surviving collateral cousins, legitimate or illegitimate.  She was truly the end of the line.

Visiting the Queen

When the Queen is away from London in the summer, she opens the state rooms of Buckingham Palace to the public.  Of course, Buckingham Palace is much more recent than Elizabeth’s day, but it’s one of the very few working palaces left in the world, so it was a fascinating glimpse into that world. I am sure the formality must have increased a great deal since Tudor times.  In the dining room, the polished table can seat around 40, and there are rulers to mark off precisely the spacing between place settings, and all the things within the place setting—the outer knives and forks, and so on.  I can’t imagine an Elizabethan table, even a state one, set to such protocol.  Portraits of ancestors—most of them life sized—loomed on the walls.  In some ways it must be a crushing burden.  Or do you just get used to it?  Or, even, learn to ignore it?

The build up of layers of perfection, protocol, and preciseness must imbue the eventual encounter with Her Majesty almost overwhelming, which is, presumably, the point.  Yet, like Elizabeth the First, this Elizabeth is also known for being good at chatting with people and for a common touch.  However, her ‘handlers’ probably don’t let her out as much as Elizabeth Tudor.