Queen Elizabeth I is notoriously known for her oppositional stance to traditional social conventions of rulership. She has been presented as the queen who modified the opinion on women in early modern England, especially how they were viewed as rulers. It is thought that Elizabeth allowed men to believe in the rulership and educative side of women which in turn, was the first leap in sexual equality of what we know today. Through recent research in this area, it has become only too clear to me that this is not how it played out in reality.
If we turn to the royal court, Allison Heisch interesting brings up that Elizabeth, despite her support of educational institutions and scholarships, never essentially encouraged the ladies of her court to follow learning after her example. In her speeches, the Queen only refers to herself as strong like a man but never states that all women are just as strong as them. I therefore agree with Heisch that she presented herself as the exception to the Law of Nature. This must tie into then, the fact that the opinion of women was not altered as Elizabeth was not seen as a strong woman, she was an embodiment of a man whilst also a mystical goddess of Christianity.
Her promotion of Protestant Christianity was a prime means of connecting herself to her father, a monarch who was widely accepted and supremely popular. She also used Protestantism mixed with humanist thought to promote the image of her being an educated Renaissance prince, a much easier way to rule than being a Queen. A significant part of this was that humanist rulers did not need to inherit, they were chosen for their intellect, ruling through education. Elizabeth’s physical power therefore, was sidestepped by using this approach and presenting herself as a humanist monarch.
The Virgin Queen propaganda was another way around an additional “weakness” of Elizabeth which was choosing to stay unmarried. This regime portrayed her purity positively by relating her to numerous goddesses of the ancient world, but mostly to the Catholic Virgin Mary. This way, Elizabeth was able to not only get away with her unmarried status, but could flaunt it. This is another way in which Elizabeth’s councillors, after blackmailing her to get married due to their great worry, was able to resolve the issue of her status. It is also interesting to note that both of these resolutions got Elizabeth out of two things she didn’t want to do, but in doing so, she had to present herself as something different, something which meant she couldn’t get everything her way in order to be accepted by her populace.
We can see then, that Elizabeth was bound to face problems ever since her proclamation as Queen because of her sexuality, or in real terms, her gender due to its stereotypes of the time. John Knox is an eminent example of the types of contemporary negative views on female rulers in his work ‘The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstruous Regiment of Women’. Within the text Knox criticises female monarchs and it was published in 1558, the year of Elizabeth’s accession as Queen. This unfortunate situation can be blamed on the failure of reigns such as Matilda’s and Mary I’s of whom, even more unfortunately, was the reign right before Elizabeth’s. Mary’s reign was a too-recent reminder of the weaknesses of women as rulers. This is what John Knox would argue, at least.