The Need to Strip Elizabeth I of Her Gender


First published on January 18, 2015.

I am fascinated by the history of fashion.  What people wear and wore is more than couture, it is about society.  There are so many aspects of it that are absolutely fascinating.  And – there are so many aspects of it that are basically censored.  They don’t fit with our ideas of what and how people should look and act.  Quite interestingly, here in this country, there is a problem with bare boobs.  According to Angela McShane Jones from the University of Warwick, it was quite common for women of the 16th Century to bare their breasts in public.  It was also quite common during the era leading up to the French Revolution.  In many ways, the so-called Victorian era of prudery, which inspired and still controls our own ideas of what is proper and not, stems, not from modesty, nor the demands of modesty – at least not in the beginning.  It was more a fashion reaction to the styles of the Regency and Empire period, which were originally of very light, thin, and often transparent material.  Once again it was not about modesty.  The adaption of drawers was not about modesty.  Until ‘drawers’ became high fashion, women rarely wore anything under their clothing – from the dawn of history on.  Not long before the Battle of Waterloo, the most devastating volcanic eruption in in 1300 caused what was known as the Year Without a Summer.

Princess Elizabeth
Princess Elizabeth

It was so cold, women needed to wear something under their light weight gowns, just to keep warm.  At least the upper class woman did.  England was just experiencing the beginnings of the industrial revolution.  As the middle class both in England and the US became more and more powerful and wealthier, women wore what the upper class women wore.  They were the prudes.  Today, we are still following their version of propriety.  It puts the Elizabethan era in perspective.

“…”In the 1600s it was fairly commonplace for women to bare their breasts in public. The fashions were initiated by court members and Queens, then replicated by ordinary women, and common prostitutes. 17th century fashion, rather than demeaning women, could be empowering. The extremely low cut dresses w ere designed to encourage men to look but not to touch. They empowered some women to use their sexuality.”…”

Contrary to popular opinion, the women of the Regency/Empire period were not the most modest individuals.  Life was not all Jane Austen, who, BTW,  appeared to be involved in a long-term lesbian relationship, spending summers at the shore with her friend.  During that time, it was the custom to swim in the nude, with both genders.  During the Tudor years, even the queen went around bare boobed.  Heck, way back when, Eleanor of Aquitaine, as Queen of France, road topless into Jerusalem.  One of the tales is that she wanted a divorce from her husband, who later became known as St. Louis.  Besides, she had her cougar eye on a young hottie named Henry.  He became Henry II of England.  She once again became a queen, and mother of Richard the Lionheart, and so forth and so on.

The Young Woman as Queen
The Young Woman as Queen

There is a method in my madness. Steve Barry, a writer who has spun some very good yarns, best-selling ones, thinks that Elizabeth I was a man, in drag.  He bases his theory on an incident where he thinks that the child, Elizabeth died.  Her terrified nurse replaced her with the only childshe could find, who looked like Elizabeth – a boy.    Unfortunately, for Barry, the portrait of the glorious woman, the young queen, is not one of a man.  Part of Barry’s argument includes the discussion of several of the later portraits, which were high-necked, showing no cleavage, and discusses her hairline and facial features, ignoring the styles in make-up, for her day.

“…And yet the many corroborating details around this extraordinary tale about the Bisley boy were enough to convince the 19th-century writer Bram Stoker, most famous as the author of Dracula. He included the story as the final chapter in his book, Imposters. Stoker had heard persistent stories that a coffin had been discovered by a clergyman at Bisley during the early 1800s, with the skeleton of a girl dressed in Tudor finery, even with gems sewn onto the cloth. It seemed to chime with local legends persisting for centuries that an English monarch had been, in reality, a child from the village.
Above all, Stoker believed, it was the most plausible explanation why Elizabeth, who succeeded to the throne in 1558, aged 25, never married.

The Middle Aged Elizabeth
The Middle Aged Elizabeth

Her most urgent duty, as the last of the Tudor line, was to provide an heir — yet she described herself as a Virgin Queen, and vowed she would never take a husband, even if the Emperor of Spain offered her an alliance with his oldest son. She stayed true to that oath, provoking a war which almost ended in Spanish invasion in 1588. But Elizabeth did not waver — and never even took an acknowledged lover.  She was fond of proclaiming that she was more of a king than a queen.

‘I have the heart of a man, not a woman, and I am not afraid of anything,’ she declared. Her most famous speech, to her troops at Tilbury as the Spanish Armada approached, was cheered to the skies as she roared: ‘I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England, too.’

American author Steve Berry believes Elizabeth could have been telling the literal truth — that she had the heart of a man, because her body was male. He has spent 18 months researching the conspiracy for his novel The King’s Deception, a Dan Brown-style thriller set in 21st-century London….”

Elizabeth's London
Elizabeth’s London


Topless Fashion
Topless Fashion

New research from the University of Warwick reveals that Queens and prostitutes bared their breasts in the media of the1600s to titillate the public, and that the exposure of a single breast in portraits and prints was common in portrayals of court ladies. While Janet Jackson’s action of baring her right breast at the Super Bowl earlier this year was considered outrageous, such exposure in 17th century media wouldn’t have raised so much as an eyebrow.

In expensive portraits and cheaper engraved prints the exposure of both breasts tended to be restricted to court ladies who were known as mistresses. But, the exposure of one breast was a different matter- depictions of court ladies as St Catherine, for example, could involve the exposure of a single breast.

Further, court ladies and ‘town misses’ actually wore extremely low cut décolleté fashions that revealed breasts and, sometimes, nipples. While royal breasts were not usually depicted in high art, they may well have been shown. A dress designed by Inigo Jones to be worn by Charles I’s wife Henrietta Maria would have fully revealed the Queen’s breasts, if worn…”

The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England
The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England

According to Barry:

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 5.26.46 PM

“…If her secret was betrayed, the country could be plunged into civil war. There was no obvious heir, and Mary’s former husband was now Britain’s greatest enemy, Philip II of Spain. Certainly, Cecil was surprisingly stoic about the queen’s determination never to wed.  Publicly, Elizabeth sometimes claimed that people needed to feel their monarch was wedded to the whole country, rather than one man. On other occasions, she hinted that the debacle of her father’s six wives, and her mother’s death at the block, had put her off marriage for life. If those reasons sound flimsy, the queen’s determination to control her image was iron.  She wore thick make-up and heavy wigs at all times: no one was permitted to see her without them. And she controlled her succession with equal ruthlessness.

On her deathbed, she commanded that the crown must go to her cousin’s son — James VI of Scotland, whose mother was Mary Queen of Scots. But the command itself was cryptically worded: ‘I will have no rascal to succeed me, and who should succeed me but a king?’ Was there a hint in those words that for 45 years the figure on the throne had herself been a ‘rascal’, playing a part? Author Steve Berry believes there is only one way to discover the truth. After Elizabeth died in 1603, there was no autopsy.

Instead of a magnificent state funeral for the monarch the nation called ‘Gloriana’, the queen’s bones were interred with those of her sister in Westminster Abbey. Berry points to the recent DNA analysis that proved that remains discovered under a Leicester car park were those of Richard III, who ruled a century before Elizabeth…”

Where do we begin?  It is important to note, first, and foremost, that Elizabeth liked to go around topless.  Unless the boy chosen to replace her was a fortuitous hermaphrodite, or had other disorders, then Barry has a problem.  He also ignores fact.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a wild and crazy historical theory.  They’re fun, but it only goes so far – you need proof.  This theory is dead on arrival.

What we know:

  • “..But the rosy colour on her cheeks …suggests a more bashful and flirtatious side to the monarch.
  • On her lips, she applied red.
  • With poor dental care in the period, the monarch was forced to have many teeth removed as she aged.
  • Queen Elizabeth I is widely believed to have mixed red dye with mercuric sulphide for her red lips – and possibly her rosy cheeks.
  • It was dabbed on after she pasted white lead and vinegar over her face and neck.
Portrait of Elizabeth Painted After Her Death
Portrait of Elizabeth
Painted After Her Death
  • Kohl, a black lead sulphide, was used to outline her eyes to make them appear whiter and brighter – a trick still in vogue today.
  • She plucked her hair line back by about an inch to increase the size of her forehead, and also plucked her eyebrows to make them appear more arched and fair.
  • With poor dental care, she was forced to have teeth removed – which she hid by stuffing rags in the gaps.
    To hide the appearance of hollow cheeks – caused by the loss of teeth – she reportedly stuffed rags in her mouth.
  • Arched brows and a high hairline were also in vogue, and Elizabeth – like many others at the time – plucked her hair daily. Emphasising the look, she wore a wig which pulled her hairline back.
  • Kohl was used to outline the eyes, making the whites seem brighter…”

There’s another serious problem here.  It is as though the author cannot accept the fact that one of the two greatest monarch in the history of the UK was a woman.   Fact is, any list of the great monarchs of the UK and the two two are Elizabeth and Victoria. Not only was Elizabeth I one of the greatest monarchs the UK has known, but she is one of the greatest in history.  Her spirit, her love of literature, science, exploration, and sheer greed literally changed the world, and literally created the modern world we know today.

She was known as the Virgin Queen.  Was she?  We will never know.  It is entirely possible that she was – or knew a heck of a lot about birth control.  Her mother was a scandal, executed with hints of adultery.  Elizabeth could not afford to go down that road.  It is entirely possible she was cold blooded enough to forgo a more romantic life and marriage simply to save her own hide.  She saw what marriage did to her sister, Mary.  The very process of marriage to Phillip II of Spain diminished Mary as monarch.  Barry thinks the reason Elizabeth did not indulge in marriage was due to the fact that she was a he.

One wonders why men must do their utmost to destroy the role of women – today.  Once again, it all boils down to bare boobs.  Witnesses were on record stating that Elizabeth I of England had women’s breasts, and everything else women did. You can’t get more positive than that – I guess.