Saturday, April 19, 2014
Q IS FOR QUEEN ELIZABETH I
Many years ago, when I was the world's nerdiest tween, I became obsessed with reading about the Tudors. I was mostly focused on Henry VIII and his various and sundry wives, but his daughters were pretty fascinating in their own right (his son Edward died too young to do anything very memorable, except to try to bypass the laws of succession and cut out both his sisters, but clearly that didn't work). My approach to the Tudors arose from a fascination with their celebrity, and was anything but scholarly, but here's what I do know about Elizabeth: she became Queen of a very divided England at the age of 25, and she stayed Queen until her death about 45 years later, and for all of that time, she totally beat the boys at their own game. What an incredible power player she was! She spent almost her entire life navigating the narrow shoals between Catholics and Protestants; between ever-shifting political camps; between warring and land-grabbing European nations; and through constant local intrigues and plots against her life. Despite ceaseless pressure from various factions, she never married (although reportedly her lovers were legion) and never had children, thereby eliminating the possibility of any serious rivals for the throne. Elizabeth was evidently one of the very few people in history placed in a position to rule a country who was entirely capable of doing just that. She brought 45 years of much-needed stability (relatively speaking) to England, initiated a period of religious tolerance (again, relatively speaking; her sister Mary had burned Protestants at the stake), refused to become embroiled in any more wars than strictly necessary, and basically made no irreparable mistakes. Oh, and she was also a patron of the arts, which flourished during her reign. Ever heard of Shakespeare, for example? How many leaders, from any time in history, could credibly make all of those claims?
Yeah, Elizabeth Regina, Good Queen Bess, the Virgin Queen. You go, girl!
p.s. As I was trying to work tonight on my current book, which is set in Ireland in the 16th century, it suddenly struck me that I'm being hypocritical in my praise of Elizabeth. Although I believe everything that I wrote about her to be true, there was certainly a dark side, and it was starkly revealed in her policies toward Ireland. Basically, throughout her reign, she supported the subjugation of the Irish people to England, the theft of Catholic land to be given instead to English Protestants, and eventually the torture, exile, and/or murder of Catholic priests. By 1607, four years after Elizabeth's death, Gaelic Ireland had been put to death too. I would have been remiss not to add this sad historical note here.