Elizabeth I: ‘less than a woman’?

Historian article

By Tracy Borman, published 24th November 2022

Tracy Borman examines the femininity of the Virgin Queen.

Elizabeth I is often hailed as a feminist icon. Despite being the younger, forgotten daughter of Henry VIII with little hope of ever inheriting the throne, she became his longest-reigning and most successful heir by a country mile. In an age when women were viewed as the inferior sex in every single respect, Elizabeth brought her male-dominated court to heel, famously declaring: ‘I will have but one mistress here and no master!’ Refusing to marry, she became the Virgin Queen of legend, seeing off rival claimants, vanquishing the Armada and establishing England as a world power.

Of course, the word ‘feminist’ would not have been understood by Elizabeth or her contemporaries. It would be another 300 or so years until the likes of Mary Wollstonecraft and her fellow ‘Bluestockings’ would begin to advocate the idea that women should be recognised as the equals of men. But even if feminism had been around in Tudor times, the Virgin Queen would have had none of it, if her many speeches are to be believed...

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