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6. Elizabeth as King and Queen Probably the most vital question for Elizabeth at her accession and throughout her reign was whether as a woman she could rule successfully.1 This question echoes through the pressure on her to marry, through her religious role as sacred monarch, in the rumors around her sexuality, and in the belief in male pretenders. At the beginning of her reign Nicholas Heath, Archbishop of York, argued against Elizabeth becoming Supreme Head ofthe Church because she was "a woman by birthe and nature." Yet his speech had another component that in many ways undermined this argument; he also stated that by the "appointment of God she [is] our sovaraigne lord and ladie, our kinge and quene, our emperor and empresse ." In this section of his speech, at the very beginning of the reign, Heath described Elizabeth as having two identities simultaneously, one male and the other female, both incorporating sovereignty.2 Though female , Elizabeth was also in part "kinge." In some ways Heath echoed the 1554 Act Concerning Regal Power, in which Parliament during Mary I's reign made clear to all "malicious and ignorant persons" that despite the fact that "the most ancient statutes ofthis realm being made by Kings then reigning, do not only attribute and refer all prerogative ... unto the name of King," a woman could rule in her own right, that "the regality and dignity of the king or of the Crown, the same [was] the Queen." Constance Jordan suggests that this act states ofthe queen that "politically she is a man." The construct implies something a bit more complex than that, however. Rather, it is stating that a woman as queen has the same rights as a male monarch. It may mean that politically she is a man or that she is a woman who can take on male rights. She may be both woman and man in one, both king and queen together, a male body politic in concept while a female body natural in practice. There are several possible interpretations . Yet the act does seem to suggest an aura of monarchy that goes beyond traditional representations of power as only male. A queen has as much right as a king to rule. "The same all regal power, dignity, honour, authority, prerogative ... belong unto her Highness ... in as full, large, 122 Chapter 6 and ample manner as it hath done heretofore to any other her most noble progenitors, kings of this realm." The Act of 1554 may be suggesting that when a woman is on the throne she is both king and queen, an idea more explicitly stated by Heath.3 We might well understand Heath's speech as the encapsulation ofthe medieval concept of the king's two bodies. The construct was current in the later Middle Ages and lawyers and theologians gave it new meaning in the reign ofElizabeth. The idea grew out ofthe difficulty ofseparating the body politic from the person of the monarch. While individual kings died, the crown survived. With a woman on the throne, the importance ofseparating the individual sovereign from the ideal ofking became more difficult and more crucial. In the Elizabethan age the theory was presented in a newly gendered fashion, though we must be careful not to overstate the theory of the king's two bodies as a totally accepted political truth. Marie Axton reminds us that it "was never a fact, nor did it ever attain the status of orthodoxy; it remained a controversial idea." Axton argues that by rs6r the English common lawyers found it necessary "to endow the Queen with two bodies: a body natured and a body politic. ... The body politic was supposed to be contained within the natured body of the Queen. . . . The Queen's natural body was subject to infancy, infirmity, error and old age; her body politic, created out of a combination offaith, ingenuity and practical expediency, was held to be unerring and immortal ." Joel Hurstfield argues that some references to the theory during Elizabeth 's reign "cannot establish for it any strong claim on the outlook or interests of Englishmen of the 1590s." To further complicate the question ofgender and power, Renaissance political theory often presented the tyrant as effeminate, or womanish.4 The theory of the two bodies proved useful to some of Elizabeth's councillors both in justifying her to foreign courts and in their own dealings with their often recalcitrant queen. In explaining Elizabeth's shifting views on marriage...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780812207729
Related ISBN
9780812222401
MARC Record
OCLC
44965901
Pages
264
Launched on MUSE
2014-03-10
Language
English
Open Access
No
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