What the Tudors, Anne Boleyn and Queen Elizabeth I Can Teach Women About Modern Day Empowerment

   Atelier de Lesfressange (Series XXIII) Featured Image 

Queen Elizabeth the I (The Virgin Queen), was a Queen who was known for her policy, loyalty to her country and her courage while in power for nearly over 4 decades in England during the 15th century. What we know about Queen Elizabeth and her mother Anne Boleyn is that power for women is fragile.

The First Female Witch and Her Daughter

When studying the history of the power dynamics in mid-century Europe, you find that historically women have merely been sexual pawns in the hands of men. Their entire name, value and social position in society was based upon their value sexually. For women like Queen Elizabeth I, power was only bestowed based upon the title and status of the woman’s father. However, if you were a woman who mastered the art of attraction, seduction, and manipulation you might find yourself in the hands of power. No one knew this better than Anne Boleyn herself. However, it was her intelligence, high-ambition, and eagerness to advance that wound up being her downfall. Anne Boleyn was a catalyst for the Protestant Reformation which divided the nation of Scotland, England and Wales into a civil war, which resulted in immense bloodshed and carnage, between the protestant and catholic church during the 14th and 15th century. This disastrous social and political turmoil sprung from a love affair Anne and King Henry the VIII had, while King Henry was married to Katherine of Aragon for nearly 23 years. Katherine of Aragon was a Spaniard and held deep political and religious ties to the Catholic Church.

(Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII)

However, even before the consequences of this disastrous tryst made its mark on the social and political history of England and Anne was cast as a traitor of the state.

The Boleyn family had been in the hands of kings counsel from their early adolescence, with Anne’s sister, Mary, being the first mistress Henry had taken a liking too. Mary, beautiful, sweet and fragile was not as cunning and beguiling as Anne. And during mid-century Europe, there was nothing more important than the bloodline of a Monarch to be secured with the birth of a male son. Mary and Katherine failed to produce either for Henry the VIII (And even if Mary had because she was not wed to Henry the church could not see him as a legitimate heir to the throne.)

Therefore, Henry began looking elsewhere to a woman who could procure him the future of the Tudor bloodline. Anne promised King Henry that she would produce a male heir to the royal family if he annulled the marriage between him and Katherine of Aragon. King Henry, in-lust, listened to Anne and ex-communicated himself from the Catholic Church by annulling his marriage and creating the first-ever Church of England. He also wed Anne Boleyn and made her the Queen of England for three years, until he had her sentenced to death for crimes of treason.

Among these crimes Anne was charged for incest, treason against the state and witchcraft. However, during her marriage to Henry, Anne gave birth to a female who she named Elizabeth (who ultimately became the Virgin Queen – Queen Elizabeth the I).

(The divine mask slips: Queen Elizabeth I in old age, weary after a lifetime of inaction (English school)

At least four marriages later and 3 dead siblings, Queen Elizabeth was anointed Queen of England in 1588.

There is a larger backstory to Queen Elizabeth rise to monarchy, including King Henry sexually abusing the child and disowning the child sentencing her to a childhood of imprisonment until his death. However, those were the times – I guess. 

The Historical Importance of Anne and Elizabeth

There is an important historical narrative between this mother and daughter. Although, Elizabeth never really grew to know her mother because her father beheaded her when she was a child. It is said that Elizabeth paid homage to her in privacy. When Elizabeth stepped into power during the 16th century, she was aware of her mother’s reputation amongst the people and only publically admired her father’s leadership.

However, one strange quality Elizabeth made in her life was remaining a virgin and never marrying. There are many theories as to why Elizabeth never married and ended the Tudor bloodline from her being a man, devoting her life to the nation of England and refusing to give power to another man. However, understanding the fatal history of Anne’s rise to power, it makes me wonder: 

Was Elizabeth’s refusal of marriage a political act in of itself? 

If Anne was a woman who rose to power through sexuality (a means very common amongst women who had no official power of their own), could Elizabeth’s choice to remain “pure” represent a secret promise or symbol of respect for her mother’s life?

Women during mid-century England had no will or ability to say no to men. Even during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the majority of the politicians who counseled her were men and whose choices only reflected their personal political philosophies. Maybe, Elizabeth felt the only way these men would see her as an equal was if she remained: sexless.

 In history, we’ve seen what sexuality has done to queens like her cousin Mary Queen of Scots, who lost her crown due to her ambitious nature and ill-willed choices concerning the men she associated herself with. In fact, both Mary Queen of Scots and Anne Boleyn were unloved by the people of England due to their whore-like nature.

For me, it is so interesting trying to deconstruct the construction of power and sex in the political makeup of mid-century England. 

However, Queen Elizabeth has become somewhat of a personal hero of mine (Not even including the amount of good she did during her reign in England).

And I think that is because Queen Elizabeth represents a woman who made a sacrifice for women everywhere. She learned from her mother’s mistakes and even hurt her father by ending the Tudor monarchs and never producing an heir to the throne.

It might possibly be the one thing that would have made King Henry turn over in his graves, along with every other man on her counsel.

She was a birthmark to what could have been a transcendence in social power for women in Europe i.e., Queen Elizabeth the II. 

What this Means for Social Power, Sexuality and Women

For me, Queen Elizabeth I is a woman who saw sexual purity as a tool of power. I know I have struggled with this ideology for quite some time. Feeling connected to her on many levels, it is hard for me to not want to dissect her behavior from the lens of my personal choices and experiences. Unfortunately, we have evolved from a history that associates sexuality with power. This is why women strive, yearn and even beg for marriage. It is so hard for me not to listen to some of my female clients and not want to deconstruct their need for male attention.

I believe this stems from a deep need for the female to feel valued and worthy about her place in society. If she is wed and she has children, then she is doing what women do. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with this narrative, however, what if women thought about power and privilege the way a man does? The way Queen Elizabeth I did?

Power is something we as females don’t naturally aspire too unless it is through the association of our powerful husbands. However, what if just for a minute, while we’re learning more about ourselves in a society that seemingly, hardly, realistically reflects mid-century Europe, could we tap into the narrative of Queen Elizabeth?

A woman who was born into power but through chance and luck secured the throne. Even more so, through dedication, will, ambition and a place of good intention stayed a monarch and queen for more than 40 years. She did not give up her ambition for love unless it was someone worthy. This is my ask of women. It does not mean we have to stop looking for love, but when looking at a history that never really associated marriage with the act. It appears that marriage has oppressed us literally from excelling socially in society.

So what I am saying is: Find yourself, love yourself and become a QUEEN. And stop making marriage the hallmark status of your relationship.

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