This website is an adaption of a prosopography which examined eleven Tudor and Stuart era biographies of Elizabeth and Mary. Historians have long noted the shift during this period from the local histories and medieval chronicles to more national, civic-minded, or political histories. In an era rife with religious tension that often erupted into military action and dominated by autocratic systems of government (some becoming absolutist), a writer's personal beliefs and political environment, along with competition for patronage and publishing success, were the four major influences shaping their discourse. The earliest historical writings had reflected the divisive political and religious situation in the British Isles--the Catholic queen of Scotland, Mary Stuart, and the Protestant queen of England, Elizabeth Tudor. Furthermore, if a piece was popular, others copied and adapted it with impunity, as most regulations that discouraged plagarism would not be implemented in Britain until 1709. Keeping the historical context in mind, a close reading of the sections of these documents that pertained to the lives of Elizabeth and Mary, clearly illuminated and traced three things: the rhetorical shifts that occurred as writing styles changed; intertexutal influence as others adopted the successful writers' methods; and, most importantly, the evolution of myths about Elizabeth and Mary, of which some continue into the present day in popular culture and writing.
Name: Elizabeth Tudor
Variants: Elizabeth I, Queen Elizabeth, the "Virgin Queen," "Gloriana," "Good Queen Bess," etc.
Born: on September 7, 1533, in Greenwich Palace (London).
Died: on March 24, 1603, in Richmond Palace (near London).
Reigned: November 17, 1558 to March 24, 1603.
Parents: Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn
Spouse(s): none. Never married. Had numerous suitors from Sweden, France, England, Spain, and other principalities.
Religion: Church of England (Anglican)
Name: Mary Stuart
Variants: Mary Stewart, Mary of Scots; Mary, Queen of Scots, etc.
Born: December 8, 1542 at Linlithgow Palace, Scotland .
Died: February 8, 1587 at Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire, England.
Reigned: December 14, 1542 to July 24, 1567 (abdicated).
Parents: James V and Mary of Guise
- First husband: Francis II of France (m. April 24, 1558). He died of complications from an ear infection December 5, 1560.
- Second husband: Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley; her first cousin (m. July 29, 1565). He was murdered at Kirk o'Field, Scotland, on February 10, 1567
- Third husband: James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell(m. May 15, 1567). He fled Scotland in June 1567 after a failed attempt to quell an uprising.
Children: A surviving son, James (b. June 19, 1566). Miscarried of twins in July 1567.
Politics: Kinship and Succession
These two female monarchs, from different national and religious backgrounds, were closely intertwined. They were second cousins, which led to complex political events near the end of their lives that profoundly shaped England and their own representation within history. In 1568, Mary Stuart fled into England from Scotland after her subjects had forced her abdication and imprisonment in 1567 due to several debacles Elizabeth kept her under house arrest until 1587, never meeting in person with Mary. In that year, after the Babington Plot had been uncovered in late 1586 (the latest in a long line of failed attempts to assasinate Elizabeth, in favor of Mary, her nearest blood kin), Mary was put on trial. Her execution had a significant impact on the short- and long-term course of English politics. In 1588, the Spanish Armada attempted to invade England, but more importantly for post-mortem reinterpretation of both queens, in 1603, Mary's son James VI of Scotland became the new king in England after Elizabeth died without ever having married or produced a Tudor heir. The mother of the new monarch, along with his legendary predecessor, now both had to be written into histories of the island. Therefore, under the new Stuart dynasty, a marked shift in "biography and history" occurred since both aspects were "largely the same thing in the case of monarchs, so far did the shadow of a king or queen extend over the kingdom." Balanced and savvy rhetorical strategies trumped the earlier polemical writings, and even to the point of making personal beliefs not easily discernible. This political environment rapidly advanced a shift in writing styles, and a rather 'modern' erasure of personal opinion, in addition to the priviledging certain post-mortem reinterpretations of the queens.
Gender & Marriage
In the early modern period, women were considered by society to be subordinate to men, to be ruled from birth to death by a male relative, primarily her father and husband. Misogyny extended into the political realm as well, where women were not supposed to rule over men, and primogeniture or salic law (France's particular term for it) had been adopted to prevent royal women from ruling. These rules gave preference to male children, in order of birth, followed by female heirs, but normally under the expectation that she would be married or marry shortly thereafter.
However, the sixteenth century saw a troubling phenomenon where Spain, France, Scotland, England, and other minor principalities had a female regent (ruling for someone else), or regnant (in her own right) monarch. In some instances, a queen left her throne to another female as well, causing a country to be ruled for several decades by women, as was the case in both England and Scotland. John Knox (Scottish clergyman) and Jean Bodin (French philosopher and writer), among others, considered these female rulers at the least troubling, but normally "monstrous" for inverting patriarchal structures.
Queen Elizabeth of England clearly did not fit any of those gender norms. She never married, never named an heir, actively led her country for nearly forty-five years, declaring that "I know I have a body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have a heart and stomach of king." While becoming a queen regnant when only a few days old, Mary Stuart followed the more acceptable model of marrying, but such marriages did not bring her peace and happiness. In fact, both women faced enormous pressures because of their gender, religous beliefs, and personal choices they made, all of which had definite impacts upon the political situation. Mary's actions eventually forced her to abdicate the throne in 1568 in favor of her two-year-old son, James. Elizabeth faced Parliament, ambassadors, courtiers and public pressure during her long reign, and had to deal with war, rebellion, and inflation. Not marrying but defying social expectations for her gender by actually succeeding rather well at handling the problems she faced, led her to eventual glorification within English discourse.
The complex situation with religion in Scotland and England stemmed from the European-wide relgious fragmentation idue to the Reformation that occurred in the Holy Roman Empire (the region of modern day Germany) during the early sixteenth century. In brief, though, Mary Stuart was raised a Catholic in France. She married Francis I, but shortly after becoming king, he died. Her return to Scotland in 1561, as a widow, now meant that she was a Catholic ruler in increasingly Protestant country.
In 1534, during Henry VIII's reign, England broke away from the Catholic church by declaring the monarch the 'supreme head' of a new Anglican church. His long-desired male heir, Edward VI, died in 1553. Eventually, his sister Mary Tudor, daughter of Catherine of Aragon and an ardent Catholic, succeeded after Edward. The country was in turmoil yet again as she attempted to re-establish the Catholic faith. Her death and her sister Elizabeth's ascendency once again meant religous change, but Elizabeth worked to keep tensions at a minimum. Her famous statement, "I do not wish to put windows into men's souls" showed how her plan to reunite the religiously divided country was based on tolerance. This did not always suit her subjects though, as radical groups continued to grow in size during her reign, along with Catholic actions to assasinate her and put Mary Stuart on the throne.
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