Abstract: When modern readers think of female power politics, what comes vignetting in their mind is the solitary but eccentric personage of the Virgin Queen of England who ruled with a warm hand and a frozen heart. Endeared as the ‘Gloriana’, hers was indeed a mysterious personality shrouded in controversy as well as ambiguity that plagued scholars for centuries, both in veneration and censure. Yet little could be deciphered for she led an extreme private life, presenting little of herself and what exists in the leaf of English history is merely an audience view point sprawled in inks of admiration, and abomination. These much interspersed shades in Elizabeth I’s glyph provoke the inquiries of the making of the ‘masqueraded’ glyph, the real face of the person behind the facade and the conflicting array of emotional regulation that she claimed to possess. This essay based on the novella ‘The Virgin’s Lover’ by Philippa Gregory: explores the Virgin Queen in the making amidst a thematic background of androgyny, monarchical ‘manhood’, sinful pleasure, ambition and most importantly virtue and virtuality of the bygone Tudor Era. The principle purpose is to demonstrate that the Queen’s own unconventional construction of gender is not only her self-invention, rather the silent ‘powers’ behind the throne unconsciously contrived to bring it to that conclusion.
Keywords: Elizabeth I; Virgin Queen; England; androgyny; virtue; virtuality.
“‘I am too afraid.’
‘You cannot play the woman now, now you have to have the heart and stomach of a man. Find your courage Elizabeth. You are your father’s daughter, play the king. I have seen you as brave as any man.’
For a moment he thinks that the flattering lie has persuaded her. Her chin comes up, her color rises, but then he sees the spark suddenly drain from her eyes and she droops again.
‘I cannot’, she says. ‘You have never seen me be a king. I have always been nothing more than a clever and duplicitous woman. I can’t fight openly. I never have. There will be no war.’
‘You will have to learn to be king’, Cecil warns her. ‘One day you will have to say that you are just a weak woman but you have the heart and stomach of a king. You cannot rule this kingdom without being its king.’”
A woman whom legend disdainfully hands down as the ‘Madonna Gloriana’ of England, giving her recognition and devotedness paralleled only by the mythical Arthur of Camelot is not one whose secrets are subject to facile divulgence. Against her esoteric life, her self- and cult- representations pose the loudest rhetoric between her sex and the political chessboard she mastered. Every niche of her life is clogged in a tantalizing questionnaire: What destined her to the English throne? What was the miracle play behind the Elizabethan ‘Golden Age’? And which scepter did she weld more to rule – the heart, head or stomach? In this essay we examine the themes of gender and politics in the work of a historical fiction that is concerned with the pen picture of the Queen as the agent but not the author of her unique public imagery – how she is ‘catalyzed’ to make use of her androgyny and virginity to overcome the politico-cultural threats to her sovereignty, as posed by her sex.
Third in the series of Gregory’s Tudor Court Novels, ‘The Virgin’s Lover’ concentrates on the early rule of an anxious and recklessly feeble young Bess but incontestably contains the seeds for the blooming of the Elizabethan orchid in the later ‘Golden Age’. The novel opens with the rise of the ‘bastard Lady’ Elizabeth to the Tudor throne following the short but blood bathed reign of her half-sister Mary Tudor; and the role of two men in it – Robert Dudley of Leicester (Master of Horse) and William Cecil (Lord Secretary of State). The narration is done from four perspectives – Elizabeth I’s, Cecil’s, Dudley’s and his wife Amy Dudley’s, whose death at the end of the novel changes the course of Tudor History. The difficulties encountered by the Young Queen upon the inheritance of a bankrupt and rebellious country and her survival against the tumultuous odds form the volume of the novel. Against this vibrant background of political rehearsals, are placed the illicit love affair between the Master of Horse and his Queen as well as one of history’s most extraordinary murder cases.
Nevertheless, the author decides upon encouraging treason against the title of the novel when she somewhat shifts the spotlight from Elizabeth I in the narration and focuses it on the crystallization of the aggressive exhibition of diplomacy – almost a ‘dagger drawn fox – cunningness’ in part of the two men who battle to tighten their grip on the young Queen. It is but another tightrope that the author exhibits through her narrative that the young Monarch is to transverse. Yet if one reads in between the lines what magically bursts in is the fact that the Queen silently and skillfully exploits her feminine weapons to balance this power fray. Her partial advocacy of masculinity is clearly at its infancy; nevertheless the hermaphroditic essence is seen hovering at the horizon: much as she is allured by Dudley’s intimate advances, surrendering her reputation to pursue a ‘dishonored relationship’ with him, she holds on to her ‘princely wisdom’ adhering meticulously to Cecil’s cautious instructions that shields her royalty from downfall. She is effigised in the different seasons of her early reign – a helpless damsel, a powerful queen, a wanting lover and a detested whore. However, in relation to her rule, the characters of these two men are poignantly portrayed to show that they are the real ‘powers’ behind the throne and it is their hands that prove instrumental in shaping her public image as well as the future prosperity of her reign. Hardened by youthful experiences that the queen never underwent the two men are depicted as desperate players playing shrewdly the cards of Fate to gift their queen her deserved prize and aid her in maintaining her grasp over an odyssey that is to span five and forty years. ‘The end decides the means’, goes the corrupt saying and in their case the means that they compel her to employ comprise pasturage from flirtation to ruthlessness. She suffers in this necessity of making every move chary as long as she lives and though the fruits are golden, she is left behind a frustrated spinster caught in the snares of her gender apprehensiveness and popular contemplation.
It is of utmost priority to understand the institutional nature of the Tudor Monarchy if one wants to even guess at the gender controversies that arise from the Queen’s androgyny, virginity and political rehearsals. In 16th century England masculinity was a nearly unbroken norm of monarchy, for ‘a King was trewly Parens Patriae of his people’. Although around Europe the trend was somewhat different: as dynastic curses became more frequent, the position of female royalty was institutionalized into façade sovereignties, as evident from the ‘queenships’ of Isabella in Castile, Mary de Guise in Scotland, Anne in Austria and Catherine de Medici in France. Rare as they were, the question about female rulership hinged at the debate over the stronger determinant of the character and role of these sovereigns – gender or rank. In this context, Protestant England was the most extreme opponent of female rule by the 1550s for she saw much religious violence – the Protestant persecutions under the Catholic ‘Bloody Mary’. The Protestant intellectuals (Gilby, Goodman and Knox) vehemently stated that female sovereignty was ‘unnatural, unlawful and contrary to Christian Scriptures’ and in their published works of 1558 asserted that female rulers were ‘monsters’, a condition they could never overcome and their subjects needed no other justification for rebellion than their monarch’s sex. But the same year as Elizabeth became the heir apparent to the throne and lowered the ‘pyx’ of the Catholic Church of England, the Protestant “fretwork shutter” against queenship “banged open like a thunderclap”. Prologizing her coronation was the declaration of war on the Church with her “own muddled heretical thinking” that restored Protestantism to England in the English Bible and an un-raised Host. To win the Elizabethan favor, a number of courtiers like Thomas Smith and John Aylmer disputed both scriptural and natural law arguments against female rulership. Albeit, they kept alive the concept of ‘male domination of the household’ (that the state was like a household and just as in a household the husband/father had authority, so in a state a male monarch should always rule), but they averred the new theory of the sovereign’s ‘two bodies’ wherein a distinction was made between the queenship and the queen. A queen had full potentiality to be feminine in her body and sexuality but it was valid for her as sovereign to leave these female roles unactualizad , concentrating instead on the office, qualities and roles of a ‘conventional masculine’ monarch. What was significant here that for the first time in British History the sex of the ‘Regina’ was separated from her gender, thus approaching an idea of androgyny as a desirable ‘virtual’ state for Her Majesty’s public persona.
However, the same card that legitimizes her rule also imposes upon her the regal obligations of matrimonium (marriage) and apographon a heres (reproduction of heirs) that are to plague her for the rest of her life. Further, the text reinstates the impression that at the beginning, the prospect of the renegade ‘usurper’ Princess in the strong Catholic realm is feeble –her “mortal heresy of Protestantism” subjects her to open opposition from the “constitutionally unfaithful” Lords and Priests, and in the probability of the English Catholic obeying the Pope, Elizabeth is “a dead woman, and all that Cecil can do for her is to delay her funeral”. Cecil “aligns himself to the doomed cause” of manning the external “crusade against the young Queen” whereas Dudley is assigned the task of administering the internal threats that could arise from the subjects multiplying “like headlice” who “know that their treasonous plotting was no longer a sin”. Their policies are, nonetheless, successful and are influential enough to change the face of female monarchy in England. In a way, male authority ineluctably encroaches into the female domain, both in tact and splendor, to ‘guide’ it ‘compellingly’ toward a success d’estime.
Robert Dudley’s character in the novel is synonymous to those aspects of Elizabeth I’s character where she is dictated by sentiments, whether her own or of the English crowd. For the maintenance of popular support, against Cecil’s advocacy of catering to popular demands, Dudley is the champion of ‘extravagant celebrations’. Like all other synchronous female personalities, Elizabeth I suffers the convention that women should be kept aloof of the harena publicus and Dudley squarely helps her confront this prejudice at all social level by “the show of the throne”. Herein the reader also gets a sense of the hollow splendor so to say that the monarchy has always relied on, in any society or culture, where show of power and wealth is the assertion of the sovereignty. After all he is the master of Horse and is responsible for playing the tune of joviality to the court’s amusement, including organizing the state festive. Indeed his pedantic ceremonial planning leaves the Queen a mistress in the art of outreach for modern scholarship contends that she is loved and remembered largely because she noticed the masses. In Dudley’s vision, the Queen –
“…has to have people crying out for her, she has to have tableaux declaring her as the true and only heir: pictures for the people who cannot read your [Cecil’s] proclamation, who have no knowledge of law. She has to be surrounded by a beautiful court and a cheering, prosperous crowd. This is how we make her a queen indeed: now and for the rest of her life.”
Consequently, for her Coronation ceremony some people are ‘hired’ to pander the erratic English crowd with an affectionate “balm for the years of neglect.” “Elizabeth’s triumphal procession from the Tower of London to the Westminster Palace” goes “just as Dudley” has “planned”. She draws “rein at points he has marked for her” – receiving the Bible a little girl in the crowd offered; thanking a small child with a kiss in return of a posy of flowers; acknowledging the wishes of two wounded soldiers, an old lady, sailors, apprentice boys, and old peasants from midlands; and pausing by a pregnant merchant’s wife to request her to call her baby Henry if it is a boy. As desired, the crowd is claimed to think more of her responses than “the glory of her harness and the pace of the horse” as they gain “their own private memory of the princess’s radiant smile on her most glorious day.” Thus, the entire mystical aura that cuts the aristocracy above the rest is de-constructed as Elizabeth is established as the ‘people’s Princess’. Moreover, the parade gives the ambassadors, envoys, emissaries and foreign visitors the content of an enthusiastically good home report in favor of the new Queen of England. The gestures are simple yet remarkable for they provide the base of the future enduring ‘Elizabethan’ reputations.
Similarly, every royal hunt, joust or Christmas celebration captured in the novel speaks of the glory of being a Dudley enterprise that seeks to make the Queen “beloved, reachable, touchable”. The 1559 Papal decree for the assassination of heretical monarchs, described in the book, itself plays a great role in the public image formation of Elizabeth I. She is advised to dine in private yet her dinner is served to an empty throne, and the trumpets are played, solely to make the people “feel her presence” and give an impression of her reining a “wealthy and secure” country. The trick is to direct the people’s perception in what they have confidence in while still retaining the well being of the monarch. Her absence nevertheless, is compensated in the “high days and holidays” contrived to show her in good spirits. For instance, the pre- coronation Christmas of 1558 is depicted as being celebrated, in accordance to tradition, in Whitehall Palace, with the old “Christmas masque, the King’s Choristers and a series of banquets” ; besides the addition of new traditions to welcome foreign visitors with “dinners, and hunting parties and picnics.” Cleverly, the old traditions are seen to be kept flawlessly intact so that “the traditions of Tudor rule should be seen as continuous”.”The people should see that Elizabeth is a monarch just as Mary had been, just as Edward had been, just as their father had been: the glorious Henry VIII.” Elizabeth herself justifies her confident stance in the mixed nature of celebrations when to Cecil’s suggestion of innovative norms, she replies,
“I don’t want new traditions. There has been too much change. People must see that things have been restored, that my court is as good as my father’s.”
Incontestably, like Dudley, she prefers “heavy lidded eyes, continually alert” while watching over the crowd. This is a woman who had ridden before a cheering crowd and known their adoration for her; and later marched to the Tower amid a storm of booing, knowing herself to be the most scandalous princess in the whole of Christendom and the daughter of a whore and witch. She knows that “this crowd could be courted as sweetly as a willing girl one day, and yet turn as spiteful as a neglected woman the next.” However, till the end of her reign, the English subjects remain her “greatest safety”.
Cecil, on the other hand is depicted as a foil to Dudley’s character and true to his nickname “Spirit” he represents the inner intellectual and wise ‘mind’ of Elizabeth I. He is a Renaissance man and throughout the novel he defines the ideal English culture, setting a precedent for centuries of noble and selfless golden service to the crown. The Queen trusts him empirically and allows him great access to her life and administration: He not only deals with the English foreign affairs, the domestic rebellions and the currency – he, like the rest of the Elizabethan parliament takes upon himself to counsel her in potential marriage plans as well as ‘manipulate’ her reputation that has been diseased for her liaison with Dudley. He is driven by circumstances to maneuver the young queen, in action, mind and imagery for it is –
“his deep rooted belief that the intelligence of women, even one as formidably educated as this, cannot carry the burden of too much information, and the temperament of a woman, especially this one, is not strong enough to take decisions.”
Indeed, diplomacy is Cecil’s greatest weapon – throughout the novel he is seen dispatching instructions to a complex network of crown agents and presiding over a huge and unscrupulously efficient espionage system, for the sole attempt of bracing the “dangerously unsteady crown” on Elizabeth I’s head. Being the ruthless and fierce Protestant that he is, he coerces the indecisive young Princess to support the cause of the Protestant rebels in Scotland against her conscience of supporting a rebellion against the ruling queen, Mary de Guise. He carefully dodges the royal tantrums created by the possibility of an open Scottish – French invasion of England and sues peace with Scotland after the ‘demise’ of the Scottish Queen from dropsy. These timely miracles are no coincidence for Elizabeth I’ s declaration at court, “God is on our side” provokes a snide self-musing from Dudley: “But who would have thought that God’s chosen instrument would be a little weasel like William Cecil?” He sees through the whole ‘foul’ play –
“…and in that moment he understands that she had known everything. She has been waiting for the news of the regent’s death, waiting with foreknowledge, probably since their wedding day when she had begun to look happy again. And she could only have been prepared by Cecil.”
Cecil is that guiding light which she turns to at all resorts. The depth to which he is allowed to move her hand is exemplified in their clandestinely remedy of the coinage issue of 1560. Despite possessing the “bright cynicism of her merchant forbearers” .i.e., the Boleyns, Elizabeth I ordains him to execute this massive undertaking – always diligent to the queen and to the state of England, he does not waver in the face of such wealth, but carries on with his duty and exacts great governance as to give solid foundation for the first time in fifty years to the English currency that heralds the ‘Golden Age’. Again it is Cecil she recourses to in order to escape her secret and ‘suffocating’ de future betrothal to Dudley. Having convinced the Queen that her marriage to Dudley will cost her the throne, he is drawn into her entrust to set in motion the events that would put the conceited courtier “in fear of his life and humble him to dust.” He commissions the murder of the innocent Lady Amy Dudley, makes the connection between the scandal of the deed and the impossibility of re-marriage for Dudley and liberates Elizabeth from her affiance. These are some of the innumerable instances in which the Elizabeth-Cecil friendship procreate the image of a ‘tactfully’ deadly ‘English Utopia’, directed by an equally critical ‘she – wolf’ diplomat.
Nevertheless, however Cecil successfully brings political color and pageantry to the Elizabethan epoch; he dismally fails in bringing a similar pedantic glory to her personal life. His brilliant plan of Lady Dudley’s murder delivers the English kingdom from being plunged into an abyss of dis-concordance at the cost of hammering the last nail to the coffin of the Tudor dynasty.
An intriguing aspect of the book is the fact that the very existence of both Cecil and Dudley illustrates the feminine traits of Elizabeth I. The former obligates her to submit to the feminine ideals and duties of her day, whereas the latter induces in her feminine élans hitherto unknown to her. While Cecil constantly hounds on Elizabeth the utmost necessity to marry for political gains and produce an heir to cement the Protestant fate to the English throne; Dudley bedazzles her with masculine charm and concern. Though the apprehensiveness of gossip keeps her passive to his courting at the beginning of the novel, later she succumbs to her dark desires –
“Elizabeth wants to shrug and laugh but his dark gaze is utterly hypnotic, far too serious for the flirtation tradition of courtly love. ‘Robert…’She puts her hand to the base of her throat where her pulse is hammering , her face flushes pink with desire … It is the rose-red stain of lust and Robert Dudley has to bite his lips not to laugh aloud to see the virgin queen of England as red as any slut with lust for him.”
Her perilous passion for an ex-convicted traitor who personally knows the ‘petticoats’ of Court Ladies and London whores adds to her already controversial reputation , tainted by her previous ‘romantic’ involvements with Thomas Seymour and Phillip II of Spain. “Her marriage is her greatest weapon” for a powerful matrimonial alliance is bound to beget allies who would keep Protestant England alive .To the readers, Cecil’s advice contains the progeny of a politically stable state intangible to foreign invasions or civil wars of succession. He finds Dudley “a commoner, a man whose family has been under the shadow of treason, a man with a living wife” and hence a complete misfit for the royal bride. However, its Dudley’s ‘beckoning’ that she yields to; with sufficient foreknowledge that soon he would exploit her loneliness and desperation for affection to satisfy his royal ambition. Nevertheless, he is more than just her generous lover, for –
“He is her partner in dancing, her lead on the hunting field, her conspirator in the silly practical jokes that she loves to play and her equal when she wants to talk of politics, or theology, or poetry. He is her trusted ally, her adviser, her best friend and her best matched companion. He is the favorite: he is stunning.”
As the Queen and Courtier fall in love, the intimacy leads to dangerous heights of frequent sexual encounter. All passion materializes into a secret betrothal in 1560 that if published, has the potential to be the most notorious love scandal throughout England and Europe. “Everyone remembers that if the Dudleys rise high, they abuse power” when the Courtier himself fuels the belief by demanding obedience and loyalty from his Queen as her ‘husband’. The Queen’s uncontrolled reflexes is equally to be blamed for she permits his soaring in power, with the cognizance that he is to be King of England in all but name –
“ ‘Come’, Dudley says simply, stretching out his hand to her. ‘Come, Elizabeth’.
He commands her by name before the whole court? – Cecil demands of him in stunned silence.
But Elizabeth goes to him, like a well trained hound running in to heel, puts her hand in his and lets him lead her from the hall. Dudley glances back to Cecil and allows himself the smallest smile. – Yes – the smile says. – Now you see how things are.-“
More importantly, both Cecil and Dudley in the process of their personal dealing with Elizabeth actually bring out the fact that notwithstanding her ‘manly transactions’ at court, she is a woman vulnerable to the feminine weaknesses that have their manifestations in tears, hurt and longings. Against her popular portrayal as a ‘cold fish’, she is seen capable of human emotions when she professes her love to Dudley and surrenders her honor for his pleasure. She frees him from her ‘affiliation’ when her open and generous favoring of him becomes his “death warrant”, but unhelpfully displays her ‘hunger’ for him in return of his evident longing. Similarly in Cecil’s case, she breaks down into “a muffled sob” when he resigns from her Privy Council in protest to her weak policies. Till he returns to his chief advisory role, for all Dudley’s comforting, the Queen is seen ill at ease, without her guiding “Spirit”. She is seen stalking about her palace like a “vexed lioness” “in a frenzy of worry and distress” that “rides her like a hag”. In another instance, Gregory makes Dudley the mouthpiece for assessing Elizabeth’s early mental state as a queen, when amid a conversation with his sister Lady Mary Sydney, he says –
“I see her [Elizabeth] holding herself together by a thread…she is afraid for her own life, she is afraid for her country, and I imagine she is utterly terrified that she is going to have to take us into war with the French…And this time the war will be on English soil in England.”
She assumes all the regalia and symbols of male rulership yet it is her majestic femininity that telling sets her apart from the male rulers. By that means she keeps the female image, with its general connotation of weakness and timidity, which is bound to win sympathy and achieve her goals; while still stressing that her authority is as high as that of a prince possessing virility.
Interestingly, it is the conflict of ‘royal interests’ between the arch enemies, Cecil and Dudley that negatively defines the shortcomings of Elizabeth’s sex-
“ ‘I would see you as one of England’s players’, he [Cecil] returns [ to Elizabeth]. ‘I would see you play the part of a great queen’ – And I would rather die than trust Dudley with the script – he adds to himself.”
Much to the disappointment of Feminists, who claim Elizabeth I as a path-breaking monarch operating in public life on what seems her own terms, Gregory portrays her as a petty pawn in the inter-play for dominance between two matchless charismatic courtiers – wherein the stage is set as a combat between political ambition and the need to align themselves to the monarch’s ‘amity’. They behold her as –
“A woman [who] cannot know what men endure, she cannot rule as a king would rule. A woman can never learn the determination of a man made in the image of God.”
Marked as a woman naïve in the treacherous intricacies of the Tudor court and thus ‘impressionable’, they ‘impel’ her to retain her patronage of their respective camps that will impart the seal to one’s political supremacy over the other. Sadly, her skin deep androgyny baffles the misogynistic mosaics of both Dudley and Cecil.
The title itself sets the tone of the novel: the word ‘lover’ in standing to the Virgin could be applied to both Dudley and Cecil and more importantly to the English State itself. Throughout the novel, Elizabeth refers to the former as “Eyes” and latter as “Spirit”, showing those attributes in her character these two men represent, passion and prudence respectively. Because they stand at the two opposite poles of human tendencies, they are continually in conflict with each other – a friction that largely defines Elizabeth’s unorthodox gender construction. Dudley is her lover in the sense of ‘sinful pleasure’ and mental respite – they are “born for each other, born to be together”; whereas Cecil is that lover who defends and protects her against the threats to her fortunes, “her greatest advisor and friend”. Interestingly, while she plays lover to them, Elizabeth I, in inclined gestures sacrifices her reputation and self-will, yet it is the Kingdom of England that unconsciously gambles out the priceless compromises from her.
It is the Altar of this state that chisels her of life and the sweet pleasures and desires that accompany it. The gender anxieties that attaches imminent injury to her person and office drive her to the ‘neutral’ remedy available close at hand and herein steps the instance which oracles the Queen’s astute and unconditional preference for Virginity, (although historically a much questioned notion in the novel itself) a weapon she devises to place herself in positions of unusual advantages. For the good of England she merges into the public weal any personal self she might have, and in effect works an innovation in Tudor political theory , producing the Queen’s one body, the ‘body politic’ which has subsumed all else of her. She plays wife and mother to her Kingdom, deriving her sovereignty from the stronger and more positive socio – ethical sanctity. Thus, for the Queen, it is her kingdom which emerges as her lover – her fuel to go on with the treacherous drudgery of court life and her strength to brave all the betrayals.
The kernel of her femininity is virginity, an unprecedented phenomenon in 16th century Europe; although in this case it is more evidently used as imagery than in the physiological context of the word. Cecil’s constant emphasis on an ‘unstained’ reputation for the scandalous young Queen symbolizes him as her feminine sense of ‘great-souled’ concern for one’s honor – unblemished public esteem. This can also be looked as a point of assertion of difference from the other monarchs and specifically Elizabeth’s own father whose debaucheries were by no means veiled. Henry VIII’s fervent want for a male heir and his marriages to realize this ambition have long since been the subject of profound interest for historians and allows a glimpse into the dynamics of the Tudor court where the sexual attributes of an individual are used as nothing more than a currency for facilitating ambition. Even Robert Dudley is established as a man ruled by his passions and the stand taken by Cecil not only puts him diametrically in opposition to Dudley but also emphasizes the discomfort and a desire to steer the Queen away from the usual trappings of the court and the misuse of power as oft manifested. She has to be viewed as the epitome of English virtue – Protestant, chaste, militarily strong and full of nerve – so as to be the most ‘attractive exemplar’ to her foreign suitors. Historians contend though he does not directly mould Elizabeth I’s image as the ‘Virgin Queen’, his affirmation of it and propagation creates an unspoken rule for her to conform to it. His authorization of Amy Dudley’s murder propels the image –the murder disqualifies Dudley as a royal suitor and alienates Elizabeth from her ‘one true love’, which must have been the reason why she never marries. The Queen free from the ‘dishonored bondage’ becomes once more the ‘beloved virtuous queen’ – the image she is seeking to establish and Cecil sways the public opinion in favor of the likeness.
Her political language and clothing in the early years of her reign sets the tone for the strong image that is to persist for eternity. Her personal womanly virtue of virginity coupled to that of matri politicus (political motherhood) reinforces the ‘divine sanctity’ and legitimacy of her governance. For instance, the ‘Sieve Portrait’ of 1580 casts the Queen as an imperial virgin who brings a golden age to the land of England, as an Astraea, the virgin of justice. Her virginity aids her marriage negotiations that are famously known to history as the ‘Marriage Game’: a delicate, politically fraught balancing act aimed at strengthening England’s alliances with other continental rulers. On the other hand, this chastity and the refusal to indulge in a foreign matrimony come as a connotation of the independence of England from foreign disturbance and contamination. Her public representation becomes that of a warrior who risks both life and reputation to repeal an ‘enemy aggressor’. Years later the so – called ‘Cult of Elizabeth’ thrived on her image composed of female virtues and the ‘manly and kingly’ prowess. The dishonest sand-clock deprives Cecil and accredits her as the patentee of this unique and supreme icon of Englishness, for –
“…he folds it up and seals it in three places with a blank seal. He has left it unsigned. Cecil only rarely puts his name to anything.”
It is in reference to two events of the period, among others, that the essence of virility in the Queen’s androgynous nature, portrayed with such pallor in the novel, comes to the reader’s concentration. The first is the ruthless dealings of the recurring offensives of Catholicism against the sanity of the official Faith, and the second is the cold blooded murder of Amy Dudley. The first months of her reign sees the countrywide imprisonment of ordained Roman Catholic bishops, and the strict enforcement of Protestantism besides the execution of prominent bishops without a batted eyelid. But nothing is crueler than her encouragement to the Cecil-commissioned murder of Lady Dudley. After the death, the country goes strife with rumor that the Queen has killed for lust. The alibi, fortunately, is something else. Elizabeth I treasures her throne and life above all others. After her secret betrothal with Dudley, she notices the breeding ambition in him. His earlier mendicancy for her affection gets replaced by impossible demands of a published betrothal, a divorce and the de facto kingship of England. Elizabeth, who had hitherto turned a deaf ear to Cecil’s warnings, now sees the threat to her sovereignty. Cecil also perceives the endangerment of his political career, should his arch rival be king. Consequently, both conspire to end another Dudley generation in disgrace –
“ ‘You have to save me from him without him ever knowing that I have said one word against him.’
‘There is a way’, he [Cecil] says slowly. ‘But it is a very dark path.’
‘Would it teach him his place?’ she [Elizabeth] demands. ‘That his place is not mine.’
‘It would put him in fear of his life and humble him to dust.’
Elizabeth flares up at this, ‘He never fears’, she blazes. ‘And his spirit did not break even when his whole family was brought low.’
‘I am sure he is indefatigable’, Cecil says acidly. ‘But this would shake him so low that he would give up all thought of the throne.’
She pauses. ‘And it would not fail.’
‘I don’t think so’. He hesitates. ‘It requires the death of an innocent person.’
He nods. ‘Just one.’
She does not pause for a moment. ‘Do it then.’ “
She ‘simply and remorselessly’ hands over her betrothal Dudley signet ring to a ‘hesitant’ Cecil to carry out his task. She even “sets a hare running” by initiating a gossipy conversation with the Spanish ambassador De Quadra prior to the murder of Lady Dudley –
“ ‘Sir Robert will soon be a widower and free to marry’, she says, keeping her voice low.
She nods. ‘His wife is dead of an illness, or nearly so. But you must tell no-one about it until we announce it.’
‘I promise I shall keep your secret,’ De Quadra stumbles. ‘Poor lady, has she been ill very long?’
‘Oh yes’, Elizabeth says carelessly. ‘So he assures me. Poor thing.’ “
The signet ring with a personal letter attached to it harbors enough trust in Lady Dudley to wait for her husband in the lonely mansion of Cumnor Place and in here Cecil’s hired assassin murders her. In a way Amy Dudley is the victim of her husband’s fatal ambition, a fact that this infidel husband himself acknowledges –
“If I had absolute power as she [Elizabeth] does I would probably have used it, as she has….And she knows that we both want that [English Throne] more than anything in the world.”
When Robert Dudley realizes Elizabeth’s order and motive behind the murder, he himself feels the abhorrence radiating from her arrogance, “wicked power-seated confidence” and “remorseless will” and along with him the reader sees the emergence of an unscrupulous and ambitiously zealous monarch who would stops at nothing to retain and consolidate her position on the throne. Other happenings in the novel such as the ‘death’ of Mary de Guise (delivered by the hand of Cecil) and Elizabeth I ‘silently’ discarding Dudley’s pushy demands in Scotland to faithfully adhere to Cecil’s peace – settlement provide the portraiture of a Queen who rules by the dictates of her ‘kingly’ conscience. Her status as a monarch overrides her status as a woman, and she harps at it, making it evident that she is not an advocate of greater gender egalitarianism. As Cecil’s most loyal disciple, she adheres to his advice to rule the kingdom by the ‘heart’ and ‘stomach’ of a king – courage and ruthless determination. In Tudor England, the heart is the seat of courage, prudence and royal identity and the stomach is the organ for doing violent or distasteful deeds deemed necessary, like bloodshed in certain circumstances. Metaphorically, at the end of the novel, Cecil becomes the instrument of her heart and Dudley becomes the victim of her stomach. However rivals they are, they unconsciously initiate the ‘manhood’ in the Queen that is to define her for life. Verily, Cecil’s amused thought does echo the conclusion of a reader turning over the last leaf of this Tudor epic–
“So often when he [Cecil] thinks Elizabeth the weakest of women, he sees that she is the most powerful of queens.”
Philippa Gregory is well known for her controversial portrayals of historical characters in her novels. In ‘The Virgin’s Lover’, she suggests as facts several unequivocal events that historians have found reason to dispute, such as the cause of Amy Dudley’s death as well as the exact extent of the intimacy between Robert Dudley and Elizabeth I. True her conjectures face the conviction of ‘un-licensed historicity’ but they achieve their desired dramaturgy . The themes of intrigue, ambition, passion and diplomacy run rampant in the book and amongst these many hustles, the author chalks out the birth and evolution of the Virgin Queen in her infantile womanhood. May be, Gregory’s narration is molded to be the envoy of a four hundred and fifty year old confession from the Gloriana herself wherein she becomes the outstanding example of gender manipulation in public representation under the creative pressure that the perils and extremities of her early regal years place upon her. Against popular opinion, she is ‘deconstructed’ as the inscriber and not the dictator of her representation edicts – the role has been responsibly passed on to both Cecil and Dudley. They leave no stone unturned in seeking justification for her sovereignty in every crucial register of her time and culture, thereby defining the measure of her rule as omnipotence. Having found such justification – popular, secular, sacred, masculine as well as feminine – they give her the scepter to be indifferent about the factor of gender in relation to her fitness for her royal office. They indeed, form the steps of Elizabeth’s ‘primrose path’ of metamorphosis, to the ‘Virginia’.
- Wiesner, Merry E. Beik, William. Blanning, T. C. W. Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe. England: – Cambridge University Press, 1993. Print.
- Doran, Susan. Monarchy and Matrimony: The Courtships of Elizabeth I. London and New York: – Routledge, 1996. Print.
- Gregory, Philippa. The Virgin’s Lover. Great Britain: – Harper Collins Publishers, 2007. Print.
- Hutton, Ronald. A Brief History of Britain: 1485-1660. London: – Constables & Robinson Ltd., 2010. Print.
- Doran, Susan. Elizabeth Engendered: Presentation and Practice, 1986. Web. http://www.history.ac.uk/ihr/Focus/Elizabeth/Doran_Chapter_7.pdf
- Elliot, Kimberley. “Eliza’s work, war, praise”: Representations of Elizabeth I in Diana Primrose and Anne Bradstreet, Web. http://www.womenwriters.net/editorials/elliott.htm
- Mueller, Janel. Virtue and Virtuality: Gender in the Self-Representations of Queen Elizabeth I. Chicago: – The University of Chicago Press, 2001. Print (Article and Lecture). http://fathom.lib.uchicago.edu/1/777777122145/2848_virtuevirtuality.pdf
- Lin, May – Shine. Queen Elizabeth’s Language of Clothing and the Contradictions in Her Construction of Images. BIBLID 1683-9794 ﹙6﹚ 38. pp.89~130, June, 2010. Web. http://www.his.ncku.edu.tw/chinese/uploadeds/383.pdf
- Elizabeth – the Virgin Queen (Part I) [BBC] (2003)
- Tudor Scandal – Elizabeth I, Killer Queen [National Geography] (2010)