By Mark Rohrs
Master’s Thesis: University of Central Florida, 1978
Abstract: Elizabeth Tudor succeeded to England’s throne during a time when misogynist societal ideology questioned the authority of a female monarch. Religious opposition to a woman ruler was based on biblical precedent, which reflected the general attitude that women were inferior to men. Elizabeth’s dilemma was reconciling her femininity with her sovereignty, most notably concerning her justification for power, the issue of marriage and succession, and the conflict over the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.
The speeches Elizabeth presented to Parliament illuminate her successful solidification of her authority from a feminine gendered position. She established and reinforced her status through figurative language that presented her femininity as favorable to ruling England, ultimately transcending her womanhood to become an incarnation of the state. Elizabeth’s speeches reflect her brilliance at fashioning herself through divine and reciprocal imagery, which subsequently redefined English society, elevating her to the head of a male-dominated hierarchy. By establishing her position as second to God, Elizabeth relegated all men to a status beneath hers. Elizabeth’s solution to the perceived liability of her gender was to recreate herself through divine imagery that appropriated God’s authority as her own. She reinforced her power through a reciprocal relationship with Parliament, evoking the imagery of motherhood to redefine the monarchy as an exchange rather than an absolute rule.
Introduction: Despite the misogyny of her time, Elizabeth Tudor was a woman who presided at the top of a male hierarchy and successfully reconciled her rank to her gender. She solidified her position as England’s monarch through her skillful use of imagery that justified her authority from a feminine position. Elizabeth elevated her personal femininity to a divine status through figurative language that portrayed her as second to God through her subservience, substantiating her claim with images of her as handmaid, virgin and mother. She redefined the hierarchical order as God, herself, and Parliament, presenting herself as a woman who possessed the necessary attributes to rule a kingdom. She diminished her threat to the existing male hierarchy through maternal imagery, defining her relationship with Parliament as an exchange of love and care rather than an absolute rule. She separated her femininity from her body politic, transcending her womanhood to become an incarnation of the state. She reinforced her authority by enveloping her personal accomplishments within her language of reciprocity, which she in turn framed with imagery associating her with the divine.