The Dark Side of the Cult of Elizabeth
\I ,.,
Gloriana, the Virgin Queen, Astraea, Cynthia, Belphoebe, Elissa,
"Eliza Queen of Shepherds all," good Queen Bess-the glowing
epithets cast their light down the centuries and
fill thousands of pages of
scholarship devoted to the greatness of Elizabeth Tudor and to the glories
of her reign. Not one of the scholars whose essays appear in this collection
would question that greatness or diminish those glories. What we seek to
illuminate, however, is another, darker discourse, the less famous dis-
course of disrespect and dissent which also existed from Elizabeth's trou-
bled days as a princess and into the decades after her death. In the
Rainbow portrait, that representation of youthful power painted even as
Elizabeth was a dying old woman, the motto reads "non sine sole iris":
no rainbow without the sun. This is unquestionably true; there can be no
rainbow without the sun, and in that picture the queen is unquestionably
the source of light. But where there is sun, there is also shadow. The
famous anecdote of Elizabeth hearing a painter explain the techniques of
chiaroscuro, then insisting that she be painted in full sunlight in a garden
speaks to the queen's own realization that shadows could be dangerous. In
these essays we will recover-from the shadows of contemporary docu-
ments and artifacts-the contrasting rhetoric of dissent, criticism, and
disrespect which permeated all aspects of Elizabeth's life, reign, and post-
humous representation.
When I was calling around among Elizabeth scholars, trying to fill in
what I perceived as holes in this table of contents, I encountered several
versions of the startled response of one scholar whose work on the Tudor
court I admired: "Oh!" he exclaimed after I thought I had explained the
project to him, "I really wouldn't want to say anything
about Eliz-
abeth." This response speaks to two important and easily misunderstood
points about the topic and this collection. Elizabeth's perennial popu-
larity-due in part to her undoubted accomplishments and virtues and
also growing from her status as a cultural anomaly-has always cast her
in an unrealistically golden light; indeed, the tacit assumption in both
Previous Page Next Page