Densely erudite, intriguing take on Queen Elizabeth I’s very public private life.
Although biographies of Elizabeth and her court are legion, this intimate portrait by Tudor scholar Whitelock (Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen, 2011) delves into the nitty-gritty of the archives, diaries and records of people around the queen who physically knew her person. Indeed, the queen herself acknowledged upon accession to the throne in 1558 at age 25 that she had “two bodies”: the natural body of a woman, flawed and corruptible, as well as the “body politic to govern,” inviolable and enduring. Moreover, she was regarded as both feminine and masculine, as she famously alluded to in her Tilbury speech of 1588: “Although I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, I have the heart and stomach of a King, and a King of England too.” Remaining unmarried plunged the queen’s body “at the centre of a drama that encompassed the entirety of Europe.” The metaphors in poetry or satire of the time, referring to the queen in chaste or erotic terms, reveal the charged, sexual anxiety around her accession and succession. Especially striking is the author’s chronicle of Elizabeth’s relationships over the course of her long reign; she was never alone, and she had several (probably consummated) love affairs or infatuations, most notably with her beloved Lord Robert Dudley. Her ladies-in-waiting certainly knew the skinny on Elizabeth, but they were fiercely loyal even after her death, when they refused to allow her body to be examined or disemboweled, thereby allowing her to remain regina intacta. Whitelock’s deep reading into the primary sources of this period proves wonderfully satisfying.
This chockablock, scholarly portrait invites further interest in this endlessly alluring queen.