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  • From Virginals: Elizabethan Interiors, and: Lion's Cub, and: The Queen's Bodies, and: Epic, and: The Late King's Picture, and: Virgin, and: Master, and: Monster
  • Gail Griffin (bio)

from Virginals: Elizabethan Interiors

Queen Elizabeth I was born in 1533 to Henry VIII andhis second wife, Anne Boleyn. After Anne's execution,Elizabeth was bastardized, removed from the successionto the throne, removed from her father's court, and laterimprisoned by her sister, Queen Mary I. Her life in dangeron many occasions, Elizabeth became queen in 1558,at the age of twenty-five, and ruled, unmarried and childless,until her death in 1603. [End Page 87]

Lion's Cub

Although I may not be a lion, I am a lion's cub.

—Elizabeth to Parliament, 1574

Elizabeth, age nine, is brought to court and reconciled with her father by his last wife, Katherine Parr, 1543

Kat Ashley told me he must love mefor my hair that is like his.

So when I stood at his feet I was gladfor a sunbolt from a high window

thinking it might light my hairand draw his eyes.

I studied the carpet, saying the PaterNoster over in my mind.

Look at me, girl, he said and Iraised my eyes. He was bigger

than Zeus. The new queen's eyessmiled down. He studied me.

She may be the scholar you say, madam,he said. But damn me

if she does not have the black eyesof the whore her mother.

Quomodo succedunt tua studia Latina, filia?    [Do you study your Latin, girl?And I answered him: [End Page 88]

Proficere semper studeo, domine,     [I strive always to improve, for I knowscio enim te peritissimum existimari.     [Your Grace is a great proficient.His little mouth twitched.Yet she has the fair hair of Our house. [End Page 89]

The Queen's Bodies

I am but one body naturally considered, though by His permission a body politic to govern.

—Elizabeth's accession speech, 1558

If the king has two bodies,how many has the queen?

One is a gateway for sinwhere the devil sits paring his nails.

Another is a kingdom, a motherlandturbulent with children.

One is the bastard spawnof a black-eyed six-fingered witch.

Another bears the imprint of a kingborn to rule as horses are to run.

Yet another is a feeble, faulty thing,born to obey.

One bleeds, though rarelyand sparsely, while

another must have a fruitful wombor breed chaos and death.

The one that meets the ravening worldresplendently upholstered—

that is an artifice wroughtby many hands.

How am I to governthis fractious multitude? [End Page 90]

There is one other, quaveringin bed beneath her nightdress,but she shall be locked away. [End Page 91]


Those who have seen her do not promise her long to live.

—Billes de Noailles, French ambassador, 1554

Your majesty should note that she is not likely to have a long life.

—Guzmán de Selva, Spanish ambassador, to Philip II, 1665

Between outrage and oblivionI persist in breathing.

In this strait passage I contain my lifeand anchor me in God.

He left His hand on me,this constellation of pockmarks,

to keep me ever mindfulthat my life is His.

He brought me to the very edgeand back, as when I lay

in the Tower expecting death.Twice then has He given me my life,

which I take to meanHe wishes me to live it.

Those who expect I'll prove a briefepisode in the chronicle of the time

will be disappointed. I am nothingshort of an epic. I go on. [End Page 92]

The Late King's Picture

She must have been thoroughly schooled in the manner in which her father conducted his affairs. She is determined to be governed by no one.

—Spanish Ambassador de Feria, on their first meeting

She could put forth such alterations, when obedience was lacking, as left no doubt whose daughter she was.

—Sir John Harington, Elizabeth's godson

As a girl I feared to stare at himand so this became...


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