Happy Birthday Queen Bess!

 

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If you read my blog regularly you already know about my big obsession with Queen Elizabeth I.  Born on this day, September 7, 1533, she was one of England’s greatest monarchs, successfully ruling for forty five years.

Bess, however, started out as an unlikely candidate for the throne. She was the daughter of King Henry VIII and Queen Anne Boleyn. With a shaky upbringing that included her dad Henry beheading her mother Anne when Elizabeth was just three years old, the girl went in and out of favor with the King.  Her title changed often. The precocious child  was aware of this, often questioning her caretakers:

“For why yesterday I was the Princess Elizabeth and today only Lady?”

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When Henry died, Bess was third in line for the crown. Her brother Edward became king at the tender age of nine and ruled until his untimely death just six years later. Her older sister Mary then reigned for five years. Mary, a devout Catholic, was often at odds with Elizabeth, a staunch Protestant. When Mary died in 1558, Bess  finally took the throne.

The new queen was twenty five years old, highly intelligent, tall, red haired, lovely and possessing much of her father’s strong will.  Her status (bastard or not a bastard?)  was still considered questionable. Nonetheless, Bess became a much beloved monarch.

Fun facts:

Elizabeth served time in the Tower of London, arrested for treason after she was wrongly accused of plotting to overthrow her sister Mary. It was, ironically, Phillip of Spain, Mary’s husband, who pled for Elizabeth’s release.  His intentions were not entirely noble, as he knew his own wife was sickly and he planned to gain favor with Bess and wed her after Mary’s inevitable death. Needless to say, Bess refused him.

Her nicknames were Gloriana, Good Queen Bess and The Virgin Queen.

The Virgin Queen was also an astrological Virgo! She had many typical characteristics of the sign — pragmatism, good money management, discretion and concern for others.

Although most historians agree that Bess actually was a virgin, she had a long romantic involvement with her courtier and horse master Robert Dudley. This caused rumors and gossip. However, although there was great anticipation  for her to be wed, Bess never married and produced no heirs. (At least not any legitimate heirs that we know about.)

The whiteness of her skin, as it appears in many portraits, was achieved through a makeup combination of eggshells and lead. (Yes lead! Its effects were apparently unknown at the time.)

Painting of Queen Elizabeth I of England Elizabeth 1_original.j

She spoke Latin, French, German and Spanish.

She loved sweets. One of her favorite foods was sugar coated violets. Her dental health suffered because of this and Bess eventually had a mouth full of rotten teeth.

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Regarding her so-called marriage plans, Bess was a master at bait and switch. She would often ‘consider’ marriage proposals, but only to gain political favor with a particular country. Once peace was established, she would send suitors on their merry way.

Bess often claimed she was ‘married to England’.  She proved this to be true in her political actions. She once even tried to arrange a marriage between her cousin Mary Queen of Scots and her own love interest Robert Dudley — because she wanted Dudley to serve as a spy and keep track of the Scottish queen’s activities.

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This suggestion caused the insulted Dudley to leave court in a huff.  He then married Lettice Knollys,  Bess’ lady in waiting,  and did not speak to Bess for years.

What exactly was Queen Elizabeth’s aversion to marriage? Consider the circumstances.  Her own father beheaded not only her mother, but also her cousin (Catherine Howard, Henry’s fifth wife) and several other kinsmen. Her relationship with Dudley was wrought with scandal and threats to her power. Sleazy Phillip of Spain tried to worm his way into her affections for political gain.  My guess, she only ever equated marriage with danger. She saw it as an institution that threatened her realm and her life.

Bess was a lover of plays and supported Shakespearean drama.  She herself was a musician, accomplished at the lute and virginals.

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She, along with her secretary Sir Francis Walsingham, created the most notorious spy operation of Renaissance England.  Walsingham undermined several plots to overthrow Elizabeth, including a Catholic scheme involving Mary Queen of Scots.  Bess’ network of spies, which included Christopher Marlowe, often were turn coats — former Catholics who switched sides but remained savvy to Catholic networks and thus reported plans to Walsingham.

Bess was such a good spymaster,  she even wore dresses to advertise the fact! Note this famous portrait:

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Upon closer examination, we see that the detail of the fabric is decorated with tiny ears and eyes! This was to send the symbolic message: “I see and hear you” and more importantly “Don’t betray me.”

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She never quite gave up her obsession for Robert Dudley. After her death, a letter was found among her most private belongings, hand written by Robert, with a note from Bess labeling it his last letter to her.  She is said to have called out his name on her deathbed.

Elizabeth is still considered one of England’s best monarchs. Her great accomplishments include defeating the Spanish Armada, restoring prosperity to the realm and keeping relative peace in the country despite great religious divides. She died in 1603 of natural causes.

Elizabeth I has been portrayed by some of the world’s finest actresses, including Flora Robson, Bette Davis, Vanessa Redgrave, Glenda Jackson, Cate Blanchett, Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, and Anne-Mare Duff. This fun montage gives a sampling, hope you like it!

Happy Birthday Bess!

 

 

 

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Anne Boleyn, Women’s Martyr

 

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On May 19, 1536, Anne Boleyn, Queen of England and second wife of King Henry VIII, was executed by beheading, after being held prisoner in the Tower of London for four days and declared guilty of high treason.  The formal charges against her were adultery, incest and plotting to kill the king.  (Most historians agree these were bogus accusations.) However, Anne’s actual crime was miscarrying two babies and not being able to provide a male heir to succeed King Henry.

As we know, Anne had given birth to a daughter named Elizabeth who later became queen, one of the strongest monarchs ever to rule Great Britain. King Henry, of course, would never live to see this. Henry, in his quest to bear legitimate male heirs, notoriously married six times, broke with the Catholic Church and changed the trajectory of Great Britain’s future. He divorced two of his wives (Catherine of Argon and Anne of Cleves) and sent another two to the block — Anne Boleyn and her cousin Katherine Howard.  All of these woman had committed the crime of not bearing a son.

Why all the fuss over a male heir?

Apparently, the laws had strictly adhered to a thing called ‘male preference primogeniture’ which meant, in essence, boys came first. Girls became rulers only if there were no available boys to take over.

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Females had a slim right to the throne, but it was complicated: “Male-preference primogeniture accords succession to the throne to a female member of a dynasty if she has no living brothers and no deceased brothers who left surviving legitimate descendants. A dynast’s sons and their lines of descent all come before that dynast’s daughters and their lines. Older sons and their lines come before younger sons and their lines. Older daughters and their lines come before younger daughters and their lines.”  — Wikipedia

This archaic practice was in effect for over 900 years. It began with the Norman Conquest and stayed strong all the way up to 2011 (yes, 2011!)  when sixteen Commonwealth leaders finally agreed to change the succession laws. In 2013 a formal a act of parliament changed the established ‘male preference primogeniture’ to ‘absolute primogeniture’, thus allowing female babies an equal part in the royal heritage .

Great Britain, what took you so long?

If only they had been so enlightened 500 years earlier! They would have put an end to Henry’s worries, saved Anne’s head and certainly given Elizabeth a much easier reign…

As it turned out, Anne’s daughter ruled England for over forty years.  She defeated the Spanish Armada, stabilized religion, avoided a lot of unnecessary wars and brought peace and prosperity to the land.

She was known as ‘Gloriana’ and ‘Good Queen Bess’.

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Here is an interesting documentary about Anne’s execution. (Running time about 30 minutes.) Hope you get a chance to watch!

 

 

 

 

Anne Boleyn Speaks

 

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To say the King fancied me is an understatement. To say he loved or adored me is misleading as well.   In truth, King Henry the Eighth was obsessed with me. Obsessed in a way most would consider quite unnatural.  This of course was no fault of his own. He was but human.  Yet his obsession would lead to the transformation of an entire empire.

It is true I was beheaded. But my kind never dies. We dwell in the weft and weave of all we once were.   I am in the creaks of staircases, the plaster of palace walls, the jewels of the crown.  My tale, albeit tragic, is one of pride and power.

My  influence remains, even to this day.  But I will start at the beginning.

Everything  about King Henry was exciting. He was a man of risk and bold adventure.  His palace was  magnificent; floors of dark oak, velvet draperies and crystal chandeliers.  He wore robes of sable, chains of gold, ruby rings. I  was no stranger to luxury,  having  lived a good deal of my life  in the French court where I served as a handmaiden to the Queen Mary and  Princess Claude. When I came to Henry’s palace I determined I’d have the finery of a queen, for nothing else would do.

In my French education I had learned courtly ways, the manners and expectations of the high born.  I knew, only too well, the fate of girls who gave favors to a king.  Once bedded, never wedded.  I liked to say that as a joke though it was not really funny.  Such had been the  fate of my sister Mary, a concubine, once mistress to the King, but later tossed  aside with a bastard in her womb.  Mary Boleyn is remembered as nothing more than a  whore. I vowed such would never happen to me!

And so it was, when King Henry took a liking to me, I determined I would have no intimacy with him until he’d wed me in a proper church.   In his lust Henry pursued me and I teased him. Oh how I teased him!  For I knew the truth;  a woman’s tease is the most powerful thing in all of this world.

 

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One small problem was, of course, that Henry was already married. His first wife,  Queen Catherine of Aragon, refused to grant him a divorce. Indeed, the Pope  himself refused to grant Henry a divorce!   And so Henry, after much distress and mounting desire for me, decided to finally break from the Church of Rome.

“Damn the Pope, damn them all,” he declared. “I will have you, Anne Boleyn! I will have you, even if I must create my own church in order to do so!”

And that was exactly what Henry did; he created his own religion, declared himself divorced from Catherine and became the sole ruler of both church and state.  All this was, of course, the result of  my masterful seduction.

We  were wed far away from the palace at the white cliffs of Dover. After that, and only after that, did I agree to share Henry’s bed. It was then also that he noticed my sixth finger, the tiny web of flesh that grew from my hand.

 

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I was an expert at hiding it, wearing long sleeves that slipped far past my wrists.  It was an unsightly thing but it was my branding. It spoke of my true identity. Times being what they were, executions rampant, we witches lived in the shadows.

King Henry, however, was  infatuated and made no matter of my finger. To him it was a mere peculiarity, a fetish. He invented ways to incorporate it in our sex play and I daresay it pleased him immensely.

 

 

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Soon, much to Henry’s delight,  I fell pregnant.

More than anything in the world, Henry wanted a son. A legitimate male child could be the only proper heir to the throne of England. So said the law.  In his hope and anxiety Henry convinced himself that our child was a boy.  And so, when my daughter, the red haired Elizabeth arrived in this world, wailing with a voice as big as the sea, Henry was mortified.

“The next child shall be male,” he said crisply.  This even before he first held Elizabeth in his arms.

The next child. Ha!  Little did my husband know, there would be no next child!  I’d make sure of it.   What followed were a series of miscarriages and stillbirths.  With each one Henry despised me more.

A son.  Oh, I could very well have given Henry a son!  It took no more than a poultice of rooster’s blood placed under a man’s pillow for seven nights in a row.  (After which he must be fed snake meat, precisely seven hours before the act of intercourse. Any proper witch knew this!)  It was a simple spell.   My own mother had used  it to conceive my brother George. It worked without fail.

Why did I not use it, you ask?  Why not indeed?  I had the future of England in my very hands!  But you see, that was precisely my reason; the future of England.

Three years passed and I bore no more children.  It was then that Henry decided he’d need a new wife.  He set his sights upon  the Lady Jane Seymour. She was a mousy little thing, hardly a comparison to the likes of me.   But my fate was already cast and I knew Jane would be Henry’s next wife.

There were many in the palace who turned against me.  Many  who spread lies and rumors. By then all knew of my sixth finger. They accused me of witchcraft, saying I had charmed the King into our very marriage.

It was true, of course, that I was a witch. That much I could not help, being born into the line of Howard on my mother’s side. Every female of the Howard line inherited some measure of the witch blood. I had been graced with plenty.  My daughter Elizabeth had even more! For this reason I knew she must be queen.  She would command the winds and the seas. With her psychic powers and gift of sight she would become the best spy in all the world.  Elizabeth would use her power for goodness and treachery alike,  for all is fair in love and war.

Once I had birthed Elizabeth nothing else mattered. In fact, I would have been quite content to age gracefully, take my place as consort, outlive my husband and watch my daughter rule gallantly.

But no.  Henry would not have it.

He needed a reason to execute me and having nothing better to accuse me of, he chose adultery.  For my part, I had always been faithful. And yet, Mark Smeaton, my  court musician was accused of bedding me.  This was quite outrageous!   Master Smeaton was a lover of men, he cared only for men, that was plain as the day is long. He had not an inkling of interest in my flesh nor that of any woman.    Despite this he was my good friend, keen to serenade me, frequently relaying the gossip of the palace.  Such brought his downfall.

 

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Another accused was my brother George. My own brother!  Although I had lived at French court and I will admit to many peculiar tastes in the bed chamber —  incest was certainly not among them!  George was horrified.

 

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Under the King’s law Mark and George were tortured, and torture back then was quite gruesome.  The rack, thumbscrews, the iron maiden and strappado.  The twisting and popping of fingers, pricking of blades, arms dislodged from sockets. Stretching of flesh till torsos were disfigured  beyond recognition. Blood poured and wails of pain resounded until finally Mark and George confessed to vile acts they had never committed.

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And me?  My fate was to be the executioner’s block.

My husband, in his grudging mercy, had been kind enough to bring a skilled executioner from France; one so swift with a sword that my head would be gone before I realized he had sliced me.  My death, however, would not be a true death.  I knew this and made a joke of it till the very end.

 

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Years later, when my daughter Elizabeth finally took her rightful place on the throne, she employed a magi by the name of Master John Dee.

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This was much to my delight, for Master Dee, being skilled in all manner of conjuring and summoning, was one of the rare beings who could contact my spirit and allow my return to the earthly plane. And so it was I reunited with my Elizabeth!  I appeared to her in the flesh, for the crossing of dimensions is quite easy if one has a proper conjurer.  (The afterlife is not so very different from this life as humans know it; although it is a good deal easier and far more fun. )

 

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Elizabeth had also employed a privy council, a collection of old gentleman, gray haired and sensible. From these she ostensibly took direction.  Yet it was I who truly advised her.

It was I who told  Elizabeth never to marry.  A husband, I cautioned, would take all her power. And most likely  her head as well!  (You see I am quite the jester. Perhaps I missed my calling in life.)   But in seriousness,  Elizabeth would have no man to command her!   And if any questioned this decision, she would merely claim she was ‘wed to England’.   That silenced their criticisms.

It was I who advised Elizabeth on war and peace, economics and all matters of state. My daughter served a reign of over forty five years. During that time she brought England to glory, winning wars, sustaining a solvent treasury and establishing the strongest navy in all the world.

My only regret was that Elizabeth had birthed no legitimate heir. There had been babies born to her, oh yes!  Boys and girls alike, delivered in secret, hidden by midwives. My daughter was a woman of passion. No virgin she, despite what historians claim.  The Howard line was kept alive by Elizabeth!   But upon her death the crown had no recognized successor.  Elizabeth’s council  decided upon  James of Scotland.  For my part I had no say in it.

Alas, James was a poor ruler, no friend of the people, certainly no diplomat.   To make matters worse, James  had put more witches to death than any other monarch in the history of Great Britain!

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His line obviously could  not be permitted to last!   And so it was I cast a spell, and James’ sons were usurped from the throne.  England was thrown into civil war.  All this could have easily been avoided if only they had left a witch in charge!  Foolish men.

Yet our power would be restored.

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In the twentieth century, another great female would come to power.  This woman would  be descended through the line of Howard. (Leave the blood work and DNA to a genealogist. It is complicated! Suffice it to say, this is true and none should challenge me on this fact! )

This new queen would also serve a term of over forty five years.  By the end of her reign England would once again be restored to peace and prosperity.

This new monarch would  be called Elizabeth.

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This post is in response to the Daily Prompt Obsessed

Queen Bess Commands the Wind

 

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Could Queen Elizabeth I, who was in many ways a force of nature herself, actually command the elements?

Here is a scene from one of my favorite movies Elizabeth: The Golden Age.  Queen Bess confronts her ambassadors about impending war with Spain. As it turned out, Bess did command the wind — she had the last laugh when fierce hurricane-like gusts actually overtook the Spanish Armada, bringing victory to England.

Was Bess a witch?  You decide 🙂

 

 

This post is in response to the Daily Prompt Wind

Confessions of an Anglophile on 4th of July

 

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This blog was inspired by Tony Burgess’ post Happy Treason Day, Ungrateful Colonists!

Treason day indeed…  Now don’t get me wrong. I love apple pie and freedom just as much as the next guy.  But truth be told, I often do feel like a treasonous American.  All my life I have been an Anglophile and felt a bit out of place here in my home country. I  blame it on Shakespeare. Or more specifically, Franco Zeffirelli. I saw  his Romeo and Juliet movie when I was a little girl.  I then became obsessed with England, Shakespeare, and all things Elizabethan.

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I also blame it on Lewis Carroll, his tales of Alice, powerful queens, rabbit holes and  mad tea parties.

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Oh yeah, and I really blame it on the Rolling Stones!  Once they hit town I was completely hooked, sold, crossed over.  A total traitor to the New World 🙂

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When I was 17 I got my chance to go to the UK for the first time. It was my senior class trip,  a memory I still hold dearly.  First time to see Stonehenge, the Tower and those stoic soldiers who never blink an eye.  First time to ride the Tube and hang out in pubs with scruffy backpackers from all over Europe.   Since then, whenever I could scrape together enough money, I’d hop a plane and head back to England. I still love everything about the place — the gardens,  the dense lavender meadows, the cobblestone streets. And especially the pretty cottages where I’d love to live one day.

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I have been fortunate enough to visit the stomping grounds of all my heroes. Oxford, Canterbury, Stratford,  Liverpool, Abbey Road.  Over the years friends have gravitated to me who were just as Anglophilian as myself. We have theories that all of us have lived past lives in England, which I am certain is true.

This always made me feel a bit guilty.  American by birth but British in my heart.  Since the Revolution, other wars (specifically WWI and II) have brought England and the U.S. together, inextricably bound against our common enemies.

 

As I sit typing this my neighbors shoot off an endless barrage of homemade fireworks. (It is illegal here, yeah.)  My cat cowers in the bathtub, his poor ears shattered.  I once knew this guy who made homemade fireworks every Fourth of July.  Roman candles, bottle rockets and sparklers that exploded like land mines.   One year he actually blew off his own testicle. (True story, I swear!)

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I have an English friend who tells me that even if  his country had the liberal gun laws that America has, they would not be shooting them as often. “Why not?” I ask.  “Because we are a polite society,” he says.

Now I hear that England has left the EU. We shall see where this decision will lead them, but one thing is for sure: they are marching to the beat of a different drum, just like their sons and daughters of the American Colonies. Maybe we are not so different after all.  As for me, I will always embrace America, the land of my birth. But I will also embrace England, the land of my heart, hopes, imagination and lavender dreams 🙂

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Hope everyone had a safe, sane and fantastic Fourth!