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

This c1610 painting shows an elderly Elizabeth. The queen used "gems and pearls" to divert attention from her decaying body, says Anna Whitelock. (The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)

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.

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