Elizabeth I: the monarch behind the mask
Anna Whitelock looks beyond Elizabeth I's carefully crafted image as an all-conquering Tudor beauty and finds a balding, frail woman, scarred by pox, crippled by headaches and plagued by bouts of depression
In 1586, Queen Elizabeth I declared: “We princes, I tell you, are set on stages in the sight and view of all the world duly observed; the eyes of many behold our actions, a spot is soon spied in our garments; a blemish noted quickly in our doings.”
Elizabeth’s “doings” – the state of her health, her actions and behaviour – were the subject of international speculation. Her ‘private’ life was of ‘public’ concern. Her body was held to be one and the same as England. The stability of the state depended on the queen’s wellbeing, chastity and fertility.
An elderly, unmarried queen with no heir raised fears. Over the course of her reign the physical reality of Elizabeth’s weak, female and ageing ‘natural body’ had to be reconciled with the unerring and immortal ‘body politic’. As we’ll see over the following pages, the ‘real’ Elizabeth grew ever more estranged from her public image.