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Reviewed by:
  • The Image of Elizabeth I in Early Modern Spain ed. by Eduardo Olid Guerrero and Esther Fernández
  • Matthew Ehrlich (bio)

Elizabeth I, English Reformation, Phillip II, Spain 16 th-17 th centuries, Spanish Armada, Lope de Vega, Miguel de Cervantes, Pedro de Ribadeneira, Anglo-Spanish relations, Black Legend

Review of The Image of Elizabeth I in Early Modern Spain. Edited by Eduardo Olid Guerrero and Esther Fernández. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 2019. 391 pages + xviii. $65.00. Hardcover.

There are many reasons to lament academic Anglocentrism. Narratives of English cultural and historical primacy, an enduring legacy of British global imperialism, still determine much of the scholastic production worldwide, though they now often serve a dialectical role, engendering critical and comparative analyses that challenge or complicate this hegemony. The Image of Elizabeth I in Early Modern Spain seeks to contribute to this latter goal, complicating the prevalent Anglocentric understanding of the remarkable Elizabeth I as one of the oldest, most durable, and cherished figures at the core of the English national mythology.

Traditional English historiography has tended to characterize Elizabeth as a beloved, charismatic, and powerful monarch whose pivotal reign (1558–1603) launched England toward the heights of global economic, political, and cultural dominance it would enjoy as the imperial core of the British world empire by the nineteenth- and early-twentieth centuries. Thus, abundant literary and historical scholarship has been produced regarding Elizabeth and her reign, but, as Susan Doran notes in her forward to this volume, contemporary scholars in Britain and America have done so "largely from an Anglocentric perspective" (xi-xii), even when researching subjects that might otherwise suggest a comparative approach, such as the central role that conflict with Spain played in shaping Elizabeth's political agendas and English mentalités. Precisely here, though, Anglocentric attitudes have typically fallen back on the anti-Spanish propaganda articulated first by Elizabethans, the so-called Leyenda Negra [Black Legend], a set of tropes that, in the assessment of Ramiro de Maetzu, tarred Spain and Spaniards as "inquisitorial, ignorant, [End Page 111] fanatical, incapable of being among the educated peoples, the same now as before, always ready for violent repression and the enemy of progress and innovation."1 Glibly, this characterization meant that, from the late sixteenth century on, everybody "expected the Spanish Inquisition"—and virtually nothing else. The reduction of Spain to an early-modern cartoon villain has prevented past Elizabethan scholars from gaining a fuller and more nuanced picture of their subject, however, and has long outlived its usefulness.

The editors of this volume therefore take a promising step toward addressing this imbalance by shifting the perspective to Spanish attitudes and representations of Queen Elizabeth. They urge contemporary British and American scholars to engage with unfamiliar Spanish sources and perspectives, seeking to narrow the wide gap that has developed in Spanish and Anglophone historiography since the sixteenth century. Of course, it is a fact that Spain under King Phillip II, after decades of increasing tension and conflict, became the primary existential threat to Elizabeth and Protestant England (Leyenda Negra aside), culminating in the massive undertaking and chaotic failure of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Given how sinister the threat of Spain appeared to Elizabethans, one might guess that the reverse was also true, and that "the image of Elizabeth I in Early Modern Spain" was, on the whole, negative. This is essentially correct. Nevertheless, the literary scholars and historians whose chapters compose this volume reveal a great deal that is surprising. Foregrounding textual and visual analysis with up-to-date historiography and critical theory, the volume's contributing authors complicate our perspective, not limiting themselves to Anglo-Spanish relationships during the parallel reigns of Elizabeth and Phillip, but engaging with a wider range of themes essential to understanding early modern Europe.

Eduardo Olid Guerrero's introduction positions the Hapsburgs and the Tudors as Europe's most important competing dynasties. Despite their political and religious differences, "the two aesthetic and performative monarchical styles were most likely mutually influenced by a keen and competitive awareness and on occasions even respect for the adversary" (1). Given the widespread circulation of printed and visual mediums now possible...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1553-3786
Print ISSN
1531-0485
Pages
pp. 111-119
Launched on MUSE
2020-11-12
Open Access
No
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