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4. Wanton and Whore Elizabeth's contemporary, Henry IV of France, was known for his sense ofhumor. Henry, originally a Protestant, had converted to Catholicism in 1593 when it was clear that the French country as a whole would never accept a Protestant king. On that occasion he claimed that "Paris is well worth a mass." In the 1590s Henry is supposed to have joked to a Scottish marquis that there were three questions that would never be resolved: the first was, how valiant was Maurice ofOrange (a leader in the Dutch resistance against the Spanish) who had never fought a battle; the second was, what was Henry IV's own religion; and the third was "whether Queen Elizabeth was a maid or no." 1 The three topics jokingly mentioned by Henry IV deal with some of the most important facets ofthe Renaissance princely persona: courage on the battlefield, which often had to do with how honorable a ruler was seen to be; religion, and serving as a religious figure for the people; and the sexuality of the monarch and the reputation for chaste behavior. The first two issues Henry discussed he applied to male monarchs, while the last, sexuality, the French king mentioned as of most concern for the woman ruler. For Elizabeth, however, presenting herself as a courageous leader and a religious figure were as important as the way she dealt with questions surrounding her sexuality. In both these areas gender played a significant role in how Elizabeth both presented herselfto, and was perceived by, her people.2 But the questions about her sexuality were those asked the most intensely throughout her reign. Perceptions of gender and role expectation influenced Elizabeth's public and private images in terms of courage, religion, and, most especially, sexuality , and the ways these images were shaped reflected the insecurity caused by female rule, especially that of a woman who refused to marry yet had many suitors and favorites.3 Beliefs about Elizabeth's sexual behavior disturbed many of her own subjects as well as foreigners, but this concern was expressed in terms quite different from those involving the sexuality of a male monarch. While questions, comments, and gossip about Elizabeth's sexual behavior had begun long before she became queen,4 attention to her behavior Wanton and Whore 67 intensified once she ascended the throne, and continued throughout her reign, even when she was in her sixties. Nor did it end with her death. This solicitude over Elizabeth's sexual capacity was a means for the people to express their concern over a female monarch, and also a way ofexpressing the hope she would fulfill her womanly function, and have a child-a son who would reverse the dangerous precedent of a woman ruler. Especially in the last two decades of the reign, when Elizabeth was too old to marry and have a child, the rumors served as a focus for discontent and fear for the succession. Elizabeth was deeply loved by her subjects but her refusal to follow the feminine gender expectations of passivity and acquiescence , her refusal to consider the need ofa named heir, caused great fear. Every time the queen was ill the fear over the succession intensified. Comments , questions, and hypotheses about the queen's health and about her sexuality became intertwined as the reign progressed. People wondered if there were some problem about Elizabeth's health that made her refuse to marry and have a child. But if she were to die without a named successor the country could be left in chaos. By not marrying, Elizabeth also refused the most obvious function of being a queen, that of bearing a child. Nor would she name a successor as Parliament begged her to do, since Elizabeth was convinced this would increase, rather than ease, both the political tension and her personal danger . Until her execution in 1587 Mary Stuart would have been the most logical heir by right of primogeniture. She was, however, Catholic. After she was forced to abdicate the throne of Scotland in 1568 and fled to England the situation became even more problematic for Elizabeth. Elizabeth kept Mary as an enforced "guest," whose freedoms were more and more limited as Mary conspired to have Elizabeth assassinated and herselfplaced on the throne ofEngland. Elizabeth feared any named successor would be the focus of all potential dissatisfaction. Instead Elizabeth tried to calm fears with vague promises and hoped the future would somehow take care of itself...


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