Governed by NO ONE

Governed by NO ONE

by marlies|dekkers

Flame-haired, brave-hearted and always dressed to dazzle, Elizabeth the First, also known as England’s ‘Virgin Queen’, is one of the most unforgettable women in history. Her glorious reign is known as The Golden Age ~ a period that saw the birth of Shakespeare, the defeat of the Spanish Armada and the emergence of England as a world power. It lasted almost 45 years; Elizabeth’s legacy as a feminist icon however, has already spanned nearly 5 centuries. “My sex cannot diminish my prestige.”

Born on 7th of September 1533 at Greenwich Palace, she was not yet three when her father, King Henry 8th of England, had her mother, Anne Boleyn, beheaded on false charges of incest and adultery. For that short period of time, Anne had been a doting mother, insisting on breastfeeding Elizabeth herself, against all protocol. Nearly 10 years later, Katherine Howard, the King’s fifth wife and stepmother to the feisty princess, was also executed. Elizabeth swore to her dearest friend Robert Dudley (who would turn out to be the love of her life): “I will never marry”.
Instead, at 25, Elizabeth became Queen of England -the second female ruler in the country’s history- and married her people. Throughout her reign, she would be under continuous pressure from all sides to take a husband. ‘There is a strong idea in the world that a woman cannot live unless she is married!’, Elizabeth would complain. She always had the same response however: flashing her coronation ring like a wedding ring, The Virgin Queen would declare: “I am already bound unto a husband, which is the kingdom of England.”
And so, Elizabeth ruled alone and she ruled splendidly. “She is determined to be governed by no one,” Spanish ambassador Feria warned his king in a letter. Thanks to her strategic genius and uncanny ability to select the best advisers, she managed to overcome her society’s deeply ingrained prejudice against female sovereigns. Under her rule, England would defeat the might of Spain, win the respect of Europe, and establish a religious compromise that has lasted until this day. England would rise from an impoverished nation to become one of the greatest powers in the world.

Elizabeth herself became a legend in her lifetime: the Virgin Queen who would rally her troops on horse, dressed ‘as an armed Pallas in a white velvet dress and silver breastplate’. The woman behind the legend however, was just as fascinating: a studious intellectual who read and conversed fluently in 7 languages, but who was also an excellent horsewoman and hunter. Elizabeth’s greatest passion was dancing; when she performed a controversial dance called La Volta, she would leap into the air ‘with a high magnificence that astonished beholders’. In Tudor times, magnificence was regarded as being synonymous with power and greatness, and luckily, Elizabeth loved clothes. Her wardrobe was rumored to contain more than 3000 gowns, and she would deck herself with so many jewels that, when she stood in candlelight, they would glitter so much that they dazzled observers. A glamorous power move.
No wonder this formidable, complex personality has been portrayed more often in film and on television than any other British monarch, by actresses ranging from Sarah Bernard and Cate Blanchett to Judi Dench who won an Oscar for her brief but brilliant portrayal in ‘Shakespeare in Love’ (1998).
A few weeks before her death in 1603, Elizabeth’s coronation ring, which had become painfully embedded in her swollen finger, had to be sawn off –a moment that symbolized to her the end of a sacred union, the marriage of a queen to her people. She knew her final moment could not be far off and she was right. By the time she passed away, at age 69, Elizabeth Tudor was referred to as Her Sacred Majesty. ‘God save the queen’? Well, this Queen had become a goddess herself.

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