Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Dr. Bob Prescribes: The Triumphs of Oriana

Queen Elizabeth I
Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603)

In yesterday’s Music History Monday post, I mentioned a very few of the virtually countless sins that would cause me to be drummed out of today’s academia. Among those I have indulged in the past – and which would undoubtedly get me into trouble in the present – would be making humorous light of Queen Elizabeth I’s presumed virginity. OMG, I’d be accused of unrepentant virginism and such campus advocacy groups as “Students for Celibacy” and “The Chosen Chaste” would have my hide.

Still, inquiring minds want to know: was “Good Queen Bess” the virgin everyone made her out to be, or did she in fact “make the beast with two backs” (Shakespeare’s imagery, not mine) or, perhaps, periodically indulge in a match of hide the salami?

(THAT’S why I wouldn’t last 10 minutes in today’s academia.)

Elizabeth (1533-1603) began her reign on November 17, 1558, at the age of 25. She gave her first speech to Parliament in early 1559, during which she stated that it would be “sufficient” for her to “live and die a virgin.”

Elizabeth’s was a bold and calculated statement, particularly given that her greatest responsibility as queen was to produce an heir. But seeing that they didn’t have artificial insemination back then (or turkey basters; OMG, another reason why I would last in today’s academia), producing an heir would have necessitated that Liz be married. And in fact, for Elizabeth, it was marriage that was the issue, not her virginity. So when Elizabeth told parliament she would “live and die a virgin”, she was very likely using the word “virgin” euphemistically. What she was saying was that “I will live and die unmarried.

What was Elizabeth’s problem with matrimony?

King Henry VIII (1491-1547)
Dad: King Henry VIII (1491-1547)

We need look no further than her family and formative experiences growing up. Her father, Henry VIII, married six times, and as the doggeral goes, Henry’s six wives were:

Divorced, beheaded, died;

Divorced, beheaded, survived.

Of the two of Henry’s wives to have “lost her head”, one was Elizabeth’s mother Anne Boleyn. Anne went to the block on May 19, 1536, when Elizabeth was just 32 months old. The other was Catherine Howard, who was executed on February 13, 1542, when Elizabeth was 8 years old. Of her four other stepmothers, two were divorced and tossed aside, one died in childbirth, and the other – Catherine Parr – did indeed manage to survive Henry’s death in January 1547. She married 6 months later, and died 14 months after that, on September 5, 1548, due to complications from childbirth. Elizabeth was two days shy of 15 years old when Parr died.

One need not be a mental health professional to understand Elizabeth’s misgivings regarding the dangers of marriage and childbirth.…

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