Among the manifold lessons history may teach is the skillful use of public relations—as used, for example, in the court of Elizabeth I.
Four centuries ago, the sovereign’s flaks and spinmeisters did a job, unmatched since, in the promotion of the cult of Gloriana (i.e., Elizabeth), celebrated as the maiden ruler for some 45 years during her life (and a long time thereafter). No longer would the Catholic Virgin Mary reign in England; the Protestant Virgin Queen would be venerated in her place. British art historian Strong’s (Elizabeth R, 1971, etc.) study, first published in Britain a generation ago and now available in the US as an elegant paperback, elucidates Elizabethan propaganda as it was practiced through the masterful use of poesy, pictures, and pageants—all designed to enhance the image of the Tudor queen. Familiar Elizabethan pictures are parsed to fix the scene and time. First, the depiction of the social event of 1600 in Peake’s Procession Picture is used by Strong to distinguish and describe various influential nobles who are shown accompanying Her Majesty. Studying Hilliard’s emblematic Young Man Amongst Roses, he identifies the romantic youth who sports the nascent mustache as none other than Essex himself. Then Sir Henry Unton’s Memorial Picture is deconstructed to sketch the life of a representative courtier. The brief guide to the world of Gloriana continues with descriptions of fêtes and pageants. Accession Day festivities, commemorating Her Majesty’s achievement of the throne, were marked by bells, bonfires, bombast, and tournaments. Masques and jousts and parades by the Garter Knights enhanced the secular mythology of majestic chivalry. Puissant PR was indeed at work, but maybe the Age of Elizabeth was, in its way, quite some time after all. Surely it was a time as remarkable and as bizarre as our own.
Elizabeth was complex and her character often obscure. Her cult was a deliberate creation, says Strong, and his presentation is convincing, scholarly, and sophisticated. Knowledge of Latin helpful, but not essential. (91 b&w illustrations, seen)