Elizabeth I:  The Conference Papers

Elizabeth:  The Gender Queen

I wrote this paper for presentation at the annual meeting of the Elizabeth I Society, which met in conjunction
with the SouthCentral Renaissance Conference in Corpus Christi Texas, inMarch 2010.  Because I was unable to
attend, this paper was read for me by my friend and colleague, Catherine "Cat" Howey Stearn

How many of you consider gender to be a useful category of historical analysis?

Nearly a quarter of a century ago, feminist historian Joan Wallach Scott posed this question in a
groundbreaking article in the
American Historical Review.  As the interpretive wheel continues to
spin, increasing numbers of scholars are saying “no” to Scott.  This is quite a change from my salad
days as a graduate student, in the previous century, when gender emerged as the methodological
portal for feminist reinterpretations of the life and career of Elizabeth I.  As this century unfolds,
there has been an inevitable backlash.  In the works of your friend and mine, Susan Doran, and,
more recently, in Jeri McIntosh’s work on the pre-accession households of Mary and Elizabeth
Tudor, and a forthcoming edited volume on Elizabeth and Mary by Anna Whitelock and Alice Hunt,
the importance of gender as an analytical tool for understanding Elizabeth has been subject to
scholarly scrutiny concerning its utility as an analytical category.

Like the rest of you, I am only interested in locating the objective truth wherever it may be found.  
However, I freely admit that I have invested heavily in the concept of gender as an analytical quality,
which I deployed with undisguised relish in my doctoral dissertation, and revised, my first book,
Lioness Roared:  The Problems of Female Rule in English History
(2006).  I was an enthusiastic convert
to gender analysis, which I applied to studies on the twelfth century Empress Matilda, Queen Mary I,
the Stuarts queens Mary II and Anne, Queen Victoria’s Bedchamber Crisis of 1839, and her current
majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.   It is in the introduction to
The Lioness Roared that I discuss the
relationship between gender and Elizabeth, where I make the rather bold claim that explanations for
Elizabeth’s successes and failures through time have reflected changing perceptions of socially
constructed gender roles for men and women in the public spaces of civil and political societies.  The
main difference I noticed between Elizabethan histories and those of England’s other female rulers
was that describing the historical Elizabeth usually involves explaining, or arguing against, what is
usually considered a success story.  Yet whether toasting or trashing her achievements, political
historians in general have had difficulty squaring Elizabeth’s success as Queen with the fact that she
was a woman, subject to pressures to reconcile acceptable female behavior with the office of king.  In
fact, a number of eminent scholars of Tudor history have identified this fundamental problem, but
lacked a methodology with which to pursue it.

Long before feminist scholars invented the term gender analysis, historians from the Victorian era to
the present day have been groping for a mode of analysis that explains Elizabeth's success as a
female ruler within the context of a male dominant society.  Elizabeth, of course, ranks among
England’s greatest monarchs.  However, the most successful of the male kings of England; Henry II,
Edward I, Henry V, or Elizabeth’s own father and grandfather, do not have their successes explained
as unusual for the male gender.  Instead, it is implicit in historical studies that successful male kings
embodied male gendered virtues and abilities; only when less successful male kings lost their
thrones was there a discussion of their deficiency of masculine kingly power.  In contrast, historians
throughout the twentieth century have moved towards the conclusion that Elizabeth’s mastery, or
lack of it, had to be explained within the context of her gender, that is, of how a woman was able to
confront, manipulate, and transcend the structures of male dominated politics.  This process has been
under a constant state of refinement among historians since the Victorian era.

We will start with the Victorians.  Agnes Strickland, whose
Lives of the Queens of England was
published over the course of the 1850s, lumped queens consorts and queens regnants together.  So,
Elizabeth was examined in the same historical context as England’s queen consorts, and suffered in
the comparison.  To Strickland’s disapproving Victorian eye, Elizabeth displayed blatant masculine
characteristics, such as intellect, cunning, and energy, in effect transgressing acceptable female
behavior.   Strickland’s contemporary James Anthony Froude, in his five volume
The Reign of
also used contemporary notions of gender to knock Elizabeth off the pedestal of historical
greatness, minimizing her success by his emphasis on her natural female failings; her indecisiveness,
her distaste for military glory, as well as her legendary temper.     

But if the Victorians disdained Elizabeth, twentieth century scholars, by and large, fell in love with
her, even when they had a hard time understanding her.  The noted twentieth century Tudor scholar
G.R. Elton considered the first truly modern biography of Elizabeth to be Mandell Creighton’s,
Queen Elizabeth, published in 1899.  Unlike Strickland and Froude, Creighton set out to write a
success story.  However, in doing so, Creighton detached Elizabeth from any identification with
sixteenth century womanhood, contrasting Elizabeth’s abilities with those of her siblings who
preceded her on the throne; the underage Edward VI, “the prey of self-seeking and unscrupulous
adventurers,”  and the pathetic Mary I, “an appendage of Spanish power.”(p. 29) Yet after negotiating
the treacherous waters of her sibling’s reigns, Elizabeth simply bursts on the scene in his narrative, as
a Renaissance Athena, “exceptionally fitted to occupy the post of ruler.” (p. 29)  Nevertheless,
Creighton’s Elizabeth is schizophrenic; references to her being a “Queen and a woman” appear
routinely throughout the text, without a clue to what the term “a Queen and a woman” actually
means. .  Has anyone ever heard a historian use the term, “he was a king and he was a man?” Part of
the problem was that Creighton was unable to see one woman as queen moving through a variety of
public and private spaces, but a split personality constantly shifting between performing what he
perceived to be the contradictory roles of ruling queen and woman.   Thirty years later, J. E. Neale, in
his still influential
Elizabeth I (1934), also wrestled with the genie of Elizabeth’s gender.  Neale's
Elizabeth was also a success story, whose political successes are explained by her ability to rise above
her supposedly biological imperfections as a woman.  Conversely, Elizabeth’s shortcomings as a
monarch are explained by other, unmistakably ‘natural’ feminine traits.  This model created
heightened dramatic contrast and complexity for Neale’s narrative, as he notes, “the country had
already made its first experiment of a woman ruler; it was anything but a happy augury for the
second.” (p. 63)  Neale delighted in contrasting Elizabeth’s abilities with those conventionally
assigned to women in post-Victorian social mores, citing her superlative humanist education as the
primary means by which she overcame the natural limitations of her gender.  So far so good, but
Neale could not resist documenting initial disbelief, by chief minister William Cecil and Philip II of
Spain, that Elizabeth could rule effectively unaided, noting that “However they disguised their
belief, statesmen held government to be a mystery revealed only to men.” (p. 67)  So bolstered by her
rigorous education and keen mind, which was capable of harnessing her feminine emotions, Neale’s
Elizabeth emerged as the dark horse who won the race between herself and the male politicians who
wished to dominate her.

Mid twentieth century political historians accepted Neale’s rather embryonic gendered premises, but
saw no need to expand upon them any further.   The earlier noted G.R. Elton in his book
Under the Tudors
(1965) also had some thoughts concerning Elizabeth’s greatness and its relationship
to her gender, writing, “Elizabeth’s character was of steel, her courage utterly beyond question, her
will and understanding of men quite as great as her grandfather’s and her father’s.  She was a natural-
born queen as her sister had never been- the most masculine of all the female sovereigns of history.  
At the same time she nourished several supposedly feminine characteristics.” (p. 262)  Elton went on
to note that “Her parsimony has already been explained as the careful housekeeping of a poor
queen”, a gendered reference to a woman’s ‘natural’ abilities at housekeeping.   Yet Elton, noting the
very same qualities in Elizabeth’s grandfather Henry VII, saw no need to apply any gendered quality
to his assessment of the parsimonious first Tudor.  But to any problems that Elizabeth faced because
of her gender, Elton is nearly silent, making one more reference to the gendered qualities of her rule:

 Tudor rule depended in the first place on a full, even fulsome,
 recognition of the prince as the visible embodiment of the state.  
 Elizabeth maintained this tradition by carefully cultivating her
 own appeal as a queen and a woman. (p. 382)

Like Crieghton’s, Elton’s Elizabeth was a split personality, torn between queen and woman; as he
concluded his brief discussion of the topic:  “What really matters, of course, is Elizabeth’s ability in
politics- her standing as a Queen rather than her pretty obvious failings as a woman.”  (p. 262)  

But in the final two decades of the twentieth century, an interpretive shift began to develop.  In his
1988 work,
Elizabeth I, Christopher Haigh concocted a form of historical affirmative action, and
considered the particular problems Elizabeth faced as a female ruler:

 The reign of Elizabeth saw a constant testing of the political power
 and the political skills of the Tudor monarch.  Her task could hardly
 have been more difficult.  And she had to achieve all this despite an
 appalling political handicap; she was a woman in a man’s world. (p. 171)

Haigh’s Elizabeth is much less the success story, his interpretation suggests it was her gender that
held her back from total success, portraying Elizabeth as a conservative, suspicious, high wire act,
whose very survival was the rational end in itself.  As Haigh injected a thoughtful consideration of
gender into Elizabethan political studies, feminist historians had already begun to reassess Elizabeth’
s performance within the context of gender analysis.  This analytic shift also questioned the Elizabeth
as success story model; in a ground breaking 1980 article in
Feminist Review, historian Alison Heich
lambasted Elizabeth for her nonfeminist accommodation to male dominant political structures.   In
response, Susan Bassnet, in her work,
Elizabeth I:  A Feminist Perspective (1988) argued that
understanding contemporary notions of gender present in Tudor society were crucial to interpreting
Elizabeth’s responses to the encroachments of a male dominant political society to her prerogative.   
In doing so, Bassnet implicitly accused historians from Strickland to Neale of presentizing their own
contemporary notions of gender and imposing them upon their assessments of Elizabeth’s

Two works of the early 1990s, Susan Frye’s
Elizabeth I:  The Competition for Representation (1993),
and Carole Levin’s
The Heart and Stomach of a King (1994), aptly represent the marriage of social and
political history that Bassnet advocated.   Discarding the dichotomy between success and failure that
had long dominated Elizabethan historiography, Frye and Levin’s lines of inquiry explored topically
the various significant gendered aspects of Elizabeth and her rule.  In Frye’s work, the symbolism
inherent in public spectacles and literary allegories is deconstructed to illustrate the complicated
gendered pressures Elizabeth faced over the course of her reign.  While political historians identified
Elizabeth’s chief problems as marriage and succession, the Protestant religious settlement, Mary,
Queen of Scots, and the continental religious polarizations that led to war with Spain, Frye
uncovered a constant battle, over the course of her entire reign, between Elizabeth and her ministers,
parliaments, and politically concerned male subjects to construct an effective representation of female
kingship.  Carole Levin also uncovered potent evidence to demonstrate how Elizabeth’s efforts to
maintain her authority as a female king were an ongoing, career-spanning process.  Levin attempted
to deliver on what was only hinted at in Creighton or Neale, and ignored in Elton, namely how
Elizabeth was able to reconcile being a queen and a woman.  In Levin’s analysis, Elizabeth erected a
formidable arsenal of tactics to ward off the numerous competing pressures present in sixteenth
century English society that were antagonistic to female rule, as she detailed Elizabeth’s efforts to
counter the enormous pressure to marry by constructing herself as king and queen simultaneously.  
In reaching this theoretical threshold, Levin reassembled the Elizabeth of Creighton, Neale, and
Elton, torn between being a queen and a woman.  But this process was complicated and
contradictory.  As Levin noted, taking on visual and symbolic aspects of kingship and queenship
tended to confuse a society unused to such gender-bending tactics.

In the works of both Levin and Frye, a facet of Elizabeth’s reign which previous scholars only hinted
at emerges, of an Elizabeth keenly aware of paternalistic attempts to undermine her authority, and
her own ability to adapt socially constructed gender roles, male and female, to bolster the unstable
authority of a female king.  Indeed, Frye’s and Levin’s most potent contribution to Elizabethan
historiography is the notion that Elizabeth had to work much harder than her male predecessors; to
mitigate deeply embedded social antagonisms to female rule, and to construct sometimes
contradictory representations of appropriate modes of female rule for public consumption.  This
process preoccupied Elizabeth's entire reign, and overlay all of the major problems identified in
conventional political histories.

Why Elizabeth Never left England

(The following paper was presented at the annual meeting of The Elizabeth I Society, in conjunction
with the South-Central Renaissance Conference, in St. Louis Mo., in March 2011.  It is a shorter
version of an essay co-written with Carole Levin, and included in my edited volume
The Foreign
Relations of Elizabeth I.

    Like her siblings Edward VI and Mary I, Elizabeth I never left England to visit other realms in the
British Isles and the European continent during her reign.  It is tempting to imagine what might have
happened if Elizabeth had left England to visit the larger world that lay beyond the island fortress
that was her kingdom.  It is a question akin to other, ultimately insoluble interpretive problems, such
as the depth of her religiosity or why she never married.  Similar to her unmarried state, the fact that
Elizabeth never left her realm was never a conscious, clear cut decision- it simply worked out that
way for a number of compelling reasons.
   Following her accession (17 November 1558), Elizabeth was keenly aware of the dangers she faced
as queen. Like her sister Mary, the unmarried Elizabeth had no direct heir, other than those
designated in Henry VIII’s will.   While many of her subjects celebrated her accession as a
providentially sent English Deborah, to the monarchs of Catholic Europe, Elizabeth was not a
legitimate monarch.  Within England, if her contemporaries agreed on anything, it was that an
unmarried female ruler needed much more help ruling her kingdom, and much more protection from
physical danger than any of her predecessors, the kings of England.   Contemporaries also expressed
great anxiety concerning what might happen if she died prematurely, while there was utterly no
consensus within Elizabethan political society concerning who would wield the royal prerogative if
the Queen were in any way incapacitated or removed from the realm.   
   Had Elizabeth stepped foot outside her kingdom, she would have had to appoint a regent.  But
whom could Elizabeth appoint that would have been acceptable to both her Privy Council and her
subjects at large?  Elizabeth lacked a consort as well as adult male royal relatives.  This left either her
chief nobles or her councilors.  Her closest male relative, Thomas Howard, fourth duke of Norfolk,
conservative in religion and lacking the requisite leadership qualities, would have been a divisive
choice, while the only other preeminent noble choice, Henry Fitzalan, earl of Arundel, was also
unpalatable for similar religious predilections and political limitations.  
   This left her councilors.  Especially in the first few decades of the reign, William Cecil, created Lord
Burghley in 1571, whose social origins were from the middling level of the gentry, would not have
been acceptable to the nobility as a sole regent.  Neither would royal favorite Robert Dudley, created
Earl of Leicester in 1564, who Elizabeth had wished to name as regent when she was stricken with
and nearly died from smallpox in 1562.  In other words, there was no one, either by birth, position, or
achievement, who towered even slightly above Elizabethan political society to serve as a sole viceroy
should there be an occasion for the queen to leave the realm.  This situation actually suited Elizabeth
nicely, as the queen had no desire for any individual to play the role of either rising sun or her own
winding sheet.   But while the lack of a clear cut regent may have satisfied the queen’s taste in power
dynamics, it precluded her from quitting the realm.  
   Elizabeth’s councilors considered even traveling to York to be risky venture, considering the
conservative religious climate in the northern shires, and Elizabeth never ventured that far north.  
When Elizabeth had expressed interest in a face to face meeting with Mary Queen of Scots soon after
her arrival in Scotland in 1562, her council strongly opposed the measure.  Mary’s subsequent forced
abdication in 1567 and flight to England the following year ended any chance of Elizabeth even
visiting her northernmost shires.  As a Catholic heir on English soil, Mary was in exactly the same
position as Elizabeth during her sister’s reign, a viable religious alternative to the current occupant of
the throne.  From this point on, Elizabeth never considered a face to face meeting with Mary.  The
Catholic threat to Elizabeth that Mary represented was compounded by the Revolt of the Northern
Earls in 1569 and the issuance of the papal bull Regnans in Excelsis in 1570, which declared Elizabeth
deposed and absolved her Catholic subjects from their allegiance to her.  
   One of the ways that Elizabeth could have neutralized Mary’s threat was by taking a husband and
bearing her own heirs, something her councilors, parliaments, and subjects continuously urged upon
her the first twenty five years of her reign.  However, potential suitors needed to come to her, as she
clearly stated that she would not dream of marrying a man she had not seen, and it was hardly
befitting a woman to initiate courtship, even if she were a queen.   King Eric of Sweden begged to be
allowed to come to England in the early years of her reign, but Elizabeth refused.  But Elizabeth did
suggest that the Austrian Hapsburg Archduke Charles and the French Duke Henri of Anjou come to
England for her to meet, which both of these potential suitors ultimately declined to do, though it is
highly doubtful that Elizabeth actually wanted them to make the visit.  When Spanish ambassador
Guzman de Silva teased Elizabeth that Charles might actually be in England as part of the imperial
entourage, Elizabeth nearly fainted.   Anjou’s younger brother, however, Francis duke of Alencon
and later Anjou, did come to England in 1579 and 1581 to pay court to a queen old enough to be his
mother in a series of negotiations that may have been the closest that Elizabeth ever came to actually
   So Elizabeth remained in England, exploiting her position as an entirely English queen in both her
domestic and her foreign policies.  Unlike her sister Mary, the daughter of a foreign consort who
married outside of the realm, Elizabeth emphasized her position as entirely, or “mere” English as the
daughter of both an English father and mother.  As she informed her parliament of 1566,
     Was I not borne of this realm?  Were my parents born in any
     foreign country?  Is there any cause I should alienate myself
     from being careful over this country?  Is not my kingdom here?
Unlike her sister or her cousin Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth could not count on the support of
powerful foreign relatives to bolster her position in England- she literally had no choice but to court
the popularity of her own subjects.  This process began with her coronation procession of January
1559, in which Elizabeth’s active engagement of the people of London who lined the streets to see
their new queen set in motion the creation of a widespread perception that she loved her people.   
Her stance as a “mere” English monarch, coupled with her seemingly lack of desire to leave her
realm, were policies fully consistent with the desires of her increasingly xenophobic subjects at large,
feelings exasperated by the religious polarizations of the later sixteenth century.  Ten years into her
reign, Spanish ambassador, Guerau de Spes betrayed his frustrations with Elizabeth’s subjects as he
observed that “the English hate the very name of foreigner.”   In contrast, Elizabeth made sure
foreign correspondents, who often accompanied her on her summer progresses, were able to see how
much Elizabeth’s subjects esteemed her, which they could pass on to their royal patrons back in
Europe, a form of psychological weapon during the first quarter century of Elizabeth’s rule, when
England could not have successfully rebuffed the efforts of European Catholicism to remove her
from her throne.    By 1585, the Protestant king Henri of Navarre (later Henri IV of France)
acknowledged Elizabeth’s signal domestic advantages, “seeing that she is in a sure port, while others
are tossed at sea . . . “
   Although she never left her kingdom’s shores, Elizabeth enjoyed her annual summer progresses.  
While she never traveled to certain areas in England, such as Yorkshire, Cornwall, Devon, or to any
place in Wales; she did visit twenty-five of the fifty-three counties of her realm, in trips that averaged
between forty-eight and fifty-two days.  Elizabeth’s summer progresses were important forms of
queenly multi-tasking, placing part of the burden of maintaining her court on her well heeled
subjects, who vied for the opportunity to earn the prestige that came only with a successful and
satisfying royal visit and entertainment.   But as she travelled from town to town, she showed herself
liberally, accepting gifts, listening to orations, and speaking ex tempore, inspiring loyalty in her
subjects and allowing her to perform the kind of political theatre that clearly brought her immense
pleasure.  In 1568, the Spanish ambassador reported,

     She was received everywhere with great acclamations and great joy

     as is customary in this country; whereat she was extremely pleased

     and told me so, giving me to understand how beloved she was by

     her subjects and how highly she esteemed this, together with the fact

     that they were peaceful and contented, whilst all her neighbors on all

     sides are in such trouble.   

Three years later, after the Ridolfi plot was uncovered, which planned to assassinate Elizabeth and
replace her with Mary Queens of Scots, Elizabeth refused to cancel her summer progress, indicative
of not only how important it was to her to both see and be seen by her subjects, but for foreign
observers to know this also.  
   Elizabeth, in fact, received an overwhelmingly positive press from the foreign ambassadors
resident in her court.  As Nate Probasco has demonstrated, the drama inherent in Elizabeth’s funeral
like reception for the French ambassador, Bertrand de Salignac de la Motte-Fénélon, following the St.
Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572 was primarily meant to convey the queen’s attitude back to a
royal audience back in France, with predictable results on a rattled Charles IX, hardly Elizabeth’s
equal in the complexities of diplomacy.   Nearly twenty years later, Elizabeth staged an impromptu
performance for her court, occasioned by the ill-advised oration by a Polish ambassador, who
received a sound drubbing in ex tempore Latin that was reported all over Europe, reminding her
contemporaries of her princely majesty, even in the last decade of her reign.   As Ilona Bell has noted,
Elizabeth well knew that her words to ambassadors were scrutinized in foreign courts- as the
ambassadors recalled their memories of their audiences with Elizabeth, the drama, spectacle,
clothing, and personality that surrounded Elizabeth’s words undoubtedly colored their responses to
their royal patrons.   
   Given the relative novelty of female rule and England’s relative weakness against its more
powerful European neighbors, Elizabeth believed that some of her power and safety for her
kingdom came from the mystique that she created as a domestic icon who never left her realm.  
Within England that meant allowing more of her subjects to see her and develop their loyalty.  
Conversely, in her relations with other nations, Elizabeth’s mystique came from not being seen.  
Barely half a decade into her reign Elizabeth’s fame as an autonomous ruling queen was such that
she was visited by the Swedish princess Cecilia, sister of Elizabeth’s spurned suitor King Eric, who
travelled land and sea while pregnant in order to meet the already legendary virgin queen in person.
Representations of Elizabeth as Solomon visited by Cecilia as the Queen of Sheba seeking wisdom,
underscored Elizabeth’s identification as a wise and learned queen.   Henry VIII had also been
represented as an English Solomon in written texts and iconography, visited by the Queen of
Sheba.   While Henry was the Solomon who left his realm to consort with his fellow monarchs,
Elizabeth was the more authentic Solomon who remained in her kingdom for others to travel to and
partake of her wisdom.  As Linda Shenk has explained, Elizabeth’s developing international persona
as a learned queen encompassed an imperial image for European consumption of a female Solomon
superior in knowledge and virtue as well as a champion for European Protestants.    
   Images of Elizabeth were also exported to the European continent, in the form of portraits as well
as coins.  These forms of representation were perhaps the most far reaching and influential.  Far more
people saw the queen’s image than ever saw her in person.  One result was that those abroad who
had not seen Elizabeth very much wanted to know if the portraits they saw were genuine likenesses
of the queen.  Both Thomas Radcliffe, earl of Sussex, and Frances, lady Cobham, assured the French
royal family that the images they saw were truly Elizabeth.  As Anna Riehl Bertolet points out, Sussex
and Cobham became “the ambassadors in whose power lies not only the truthfulness of the image,
but also the very formation of the concept of Elizabeth’s real face in the viewer’s minds.”   
   Elizabeth and her governments did their best to exercise control over how her image was
represented to the rest of the world, a not altogether successful task.    In 1598, a German traveler,
Paul Hentzner described the aged Elizabeth, “wrinkled . . . her teeth black,“ wearing “false hair, and
that red,” as an old woman.   In her court, however, residents, including ambassadors, never officially
recognized that the Queen was subject to the aging process.  As the ageless icon of courtly love,
Elizabeth’s portraits, which circulated in the courts of Europe, also served to keep the image of
Elizabeth as eternally youthful.  Louis Montrose has described how Elizabeth’s image was exported
to chieftains in Ireland, while a Dutch representation from the 1580s displays Elizabeth as Diana
slaying Pope Gregory VII.   As Brandie Siegfried has explained, the cleanup of the base elements of
English and Irish coinage broadcast to Europe and beyond not just the queen’s image, but the
solvency of her finances, and, by analogy, the vigor of her rule, without having to step foot out of her
realm.   Elizabeth’s contemporary image even made it to the new world, as Walter Raleigh distributed
coins stamped with Elizabeth’s image to the indigenous peoples of Guiana in return for their
“obeisance” to the Queen.   
   Yet late in Elizabeth’s reign there was at least a whisper of a suggestion that Elizabeth was willing
to leave her realm if necessary.  In 1595 the English were greatly concerned that Henri IV was
considering a truce with Spain.  Diplomat Henry Unton felt rather desperate at the cold reception the
French king gave him, and “let him know her majesty can be contented to come to a Conference with
him . . . . or give him any other convenient satisfaction.”   If Elizabeth had ever dreamed of visiting
the European continent, this occasion could have provided her with the opportunity to do so.  But of
course Elizabeth did not come to France to meet with Henri.  Like her many offers to marry when the
time was right earlier in her reign, at the end of it Elizabeth stayed in England, her realm.

William Fleetwood and
The Itinerarium ad Windsor

he following paper was presented at the annual meeting of the Queen Elizabeth I Society, which
meets in conjunction with the South Central Renaissance Conference, in New Orleans, Louisiana,
March 10, 2012)

    Only recently have I begun to examine the life and career of William Fleetwood (1525-1594),
historian and antiquarian, lawyer, perennial member of the House of Commons, and for over two
decades city recorder of London during the reign of Elizabeth I.  Among the most notable, as well as
obscure, of his manuscript writings was the
Itinerarium ad Windsor, a narrative account of a leisurely
journey on horseback from London to Windsor shared by Fleetwood and Robert Dudley, Earl of
Leicester and Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, during the spring of 1575.  According to Fleetwood,
the trio discussed how and why women should be able to possess and execute the kingly office, and
their dialogue included a rather startling discussion of the events leading up to Mary I’s second
parliamentary session, which enacted a curious statute known as the Act Concerning Regal Power,
which offered a constitutional description of the rights, privileges, and limitations of female rule
firmly within the parameters of English kingship.  Until recently, the work only existed in three
extant seventeenth century manuscript versions.  
    I first encountered The Itinerarium ad Windsor in the summer of 1999, while in London
performing research for my doctoral dissertation and subsequent first book,
The Lioness Roared.  As I
contemplated how the English kingdom comprehended the accession of Mary I in 1553 as England’s
first female king, I wanted to find some kind of legal and constitutional justification for female rule,
and all roads appeared to lead to the
Itinerarium ad Windsor.  So, I spent several days painstakingly
transcribing BL Harley 6234, one of the three extant versions.  Whoever made this copy had terrible
handwriting, and I really did not get all of the Itinerarium down on paper. Following my research
trip, I returned home to begin a job as a part-time adjunct at California State Polytechnic University
in San Luis Obispo California.  During new faculty orientation, I became friends with a newly hired
tenure track professor in the Rhetoric department who had done her doctoral work at the University
of Iowa, where she had worked with Dennis Moore.  I was familiar with Moore’s work on sixteenth
century queenship, so I emailed him, asking him some questions about the Itinerarium, and he was
kind enough to reply, and in the course our correspondence it came out that he was working on a
critical edition of the Itinerarium manuscript.  So I just came out and asked him if I could look at it,
and he was kind enough to say yes, and it was of immense help to me to have a draft of his critical
edition as I wrote my chapter on the first year of Mary I’s reign for my dissertation.  
    Nine years later, in the course of my scholarly pursuits, I once again had occasion to look at the
word copy of the Itinerarium that Dennis had sent me, and I wondered what he had done with this
critical edition.  So I tracked him down, and as it turned out, he had not done anything at all with it.  
So I proposed to him that he complete it, and let me build a book of contextual essays around it.  But
he was not so sure about this, and he took a lot of wooing, but eventually “maybe” turned to “yes,”
and with the wooing process over, I began compiling a slate of contributors to write essays for this
volume, including J.D. Alsop, Sarah Duncan, and Carole Levin, while Dennis labored to finish his
critical edition.  However, I struck out with every single scholar I approached to write a biographical
essay on Fleetwood himself, so I simply decided I would do it myself.
    Fortunately for me, I already had some experience with figuring out Renaissance figures like
Fleetwood, because for the last few years I had been researching and writing on the colorful and
charismatic figure of George Ferrers, Tudor Renaissance lawyer, courtier, historian, poet, and
entertainer extraordinaire.  Within the Tudor hot house communities of lawyers and historians that
both men were a part of, Ferrers and Fleetwood surely knew each other; both enjoyed the patronage
of Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, although Fleetwood’s primary patron was William Cecil, Lord
Burleigh, while Fleetwood’s daughter Elizabeth married Sir Thomas Chaloner, whose father, Thomas
Chaloner the Elder, was one of Ferrers’ literary collaborators and closest friends as well as the tutor
for Leicester’s bastard son.  Yet another connection between the two men was Thomas Sackville, Lord
Buckhurst, one of the participants in the Itinerarium discussion, who was also a contributor to later
editions of the perennially popular volume,
The Mirror For Magistrates, which featured Ferrers as a
substantial contributor.  Both Ferrers and Fleetwood had followed a career trajectory common among
the sons of the provincial gentry, studying law at the universities before arriving in London to join
one of the Inns of Court, which functioned as finishing schools for the perennial waves of young
men who came to the capital city to find a place within Tudor political society.  For Ferrers and
Fleetwood, advancement came with the acquisition of a powerful patron- for Ferrers, Thomas
Cromwell, and for Fleetwood, Thomas Audley, both of whom had survived the fall of their joint
patron, Cardinal Wolsey.  But despite these similarities, these two men were worlds apart in terms of
career advancement.  Ferrers was charismatic, vivacious, essentially apolitical, and lacking any overt
or discernible religious passions.  Instead, Ferrers was much more interested in being a successful
courtier, scholar, and literary artist rather than using his legal training to pursue an administrative or
judicial career.  
    Like Ferrers, Fleetwood also was noted for his wit and his poetry, and he proved successful in
cultivating the patronage of the great rivals Leicester and Burleigh, as Ferrers had earlier cultivated
Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII, and Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset.  But in marked contrast to
Ferrers, Fleetwood was a diehard Puritan and a lifelong jurist whose religious convictions and legal
training informed both his world view and his understanding of the nature and purpose of history.  
He was born in and around 1525, or perhaps ten years later, the son of Robert Fleetwood of Heskin in
Lancashire.  The Lancashire Fleetwood’s did well in the Henrician land grab that followed the
dissolution of the monasteries, which undoubtedly provided the resources to send Robert to
Brasenose College, Oxford, for his legal training.  Fleetwood left Oxford without taking a degree, and
established himself in London by the mid 1550s. This was a particularly tumultuous period of
English history, especially for a Protestant like himself, as the accession of Mary I, England’s first
ruling queen, whose primary goal as Queen was to reunite the English Church with Rome, presaged
a Counter-Reformation.  Nevertheless, Fleetwood rode out Mary’s reign without incident as he
aligned himself with two imposing and well entrenched civic organizations, the Merchant Taylor’s
Company, which admitted him as a freeman in 1557, and the Middle Temple, where he was made an
autumn reader in 1563.  The two positions nicely reinforced each other in Fleetwood’s professional
life, as the Merchant Taylor’s took advantage of his legal skills on a number of occasions in the 1560s,
employing him as steward for a number of the company’s manors all over England, and retaining
him as counsel in their suit against the Cloth Worker’s Guild in 1565.  The measure of Fleetwood’s
early legal success was his election to the House of Commons for the borough of Marlborough in
Mary’s final parliament in 1558.  Fleetwood subsequently served as a knight of the shire for Lancaster
in Elizabeth’s first two parliaments, and following his election as City Recorder of London in 1972, he
sat in all subsequent parliaments for the city until his retirement.  Fleetwood also served as a justice
of the peace for a number of shires spread all over England over the course of his career.  
    It was Fleetwood the magistrate that brought him the most notice from his contemporaries.  
Whether motivated primarily by religious passions or a fierce dedication to the preservation of law
and order, Fleetwood proved himself a vigorous enforcer of the penal laws against vagrants, papists,
and Jesuits.  As early as 1559, when he served as a visiting ecclesiastical commissioner for parliament,
he began to establish a reputation for administrative thoroughness.  In 1576, in fact, he busted into
the Portuguese ambassador’s chapel to arrest supposed spies, which landed him a short stay in the
Fleet.  Nevertheless, his due diligence kept him in the good graces of municipal government, which
made him serjeant at law in 1580, while in 1588 he prepared a report on the proceedings taken against
Jesuits, and in the following year, a treatise on the right of sanctuary for criminals in the churchyard
of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a textbook example of Fleetwood’s use of his scholarly training as a historian
and antiquarian for blatantly contemporary political purposes.  This of course was known to his
contemporaries, and Fleetwood was identified as “Leicester’s mad recorder” in the scurrilous anti-
Puritan tract,
Leicester’s Commonwealth.
    But most of Fleetwood’s extant published work is hardly this exciting, consisting mostly of dry
legal commentaries, as well as the eight volume
The office of Justice of the Peace (1658) and a transcript
of a public speech, titled “An Oration made at Guildhall before the Mayor, concerning the late
attempts of the Queen's Maiesties evil seditious subjects,’ 15 Oct. 1571,” as well as verses added to
Thomas Chaloner's “De Republica Anglorum instauranda,” (1579), and William Lambarde's
‘Perambulation of Kent.” (1576)  But most of Fleetwood’s literary works remain in manuscript form,
such as ‘Observacons sur Littleton’ (Harl. MS. 5225), and “De Pace Ecclesiæ,” which is no longer
extant but mentioned in the preface to The office of Justice of the Peace.  
    And, of course, the
Itinerarium ad Windsor.  In this particular work, Fleetwood can be seen to be
advancing both the agenda of his patron , the Earl of Leicester, who comes across in the Itinerarium
as intellectually inquisitive, as well as the interests of his queen, whom he considered to be enduring
a particularly vulnerable period of her reign, as an aging unmarried queen without a recognized
successor.  Because Fleetwood undoubtedly possessed compelling reasons for writing this work, it is
entirely possible that the dialogue described in the Itinerarium is a fictitious fabrication, and we
simply have to take Fleetwood at his word that this conversation actually took place.  Some scholars,
such as David Loades, have dismissed the Itinerarium as politically motivated fantasy, while others,
such as J.D. Alsop, while allowing that the conversation may not have taken place, have nonetheless
looked for a more sophisticated explanation for Fleetwood’s motive behind its writing.  
    When all these considerations are taken into account, the timing of the Itinerarium seems highly
auspicious for the message it creates.  1575 was the year of Kenilworth, the nineteen day extravaganza
thrown by Leicester for the Queen that represented his final campaign to win Elizabeth’s hand in
marriage.  In doing so, Leicester deployed a team of A-list talents to write plays and passages, such as
George Gascoigne and George Ferrers, who wrote the lady of the lake’s oration which greeted
Elizabeth immediately upon her arrival.  But three months previous to Kenilworth, in March, is when
the Itinerarium’s conversation allegedly took place.  Leicester comes off as grave and learned in the
Itinerarium, while the historical discussion of female rule built an argument that the Queen could
hardly find fault in, as Leicester inquired of Fleetwood and Sackville,

      why the Queene our mistris should have and execute the like
      and the same prerogative sand other regall preheminences as
      have bene given onely by Parliament unto Her Highenes’ most
       noble progenitors being kings . . . .

Fleetwood and Sackville’s dialogue can be seen as a prologue to Kenilworth, building a rock solid
legal justification for female rule as it creates an image of Elizabeth’s queenship both autonomous
and sovereign; as if to tell the Queen that marrying Leicester would do nothing to compromise her
royal authority in any way, and allow her to become the “mother” to the heir that her kingdom so
earnestly desired from her.  Ironically, this was accomplished by a description of the events leading
up to Mary’s second parliamentary session, which met in the spring of 1554 and enacted both the
queen’s marriage treaty to Philip of Spain, and the Act Concerning Regal Power, which declared that
ruling queens possessed the same rights and privileges as their noble progenitors , the kings of
England, as well as the same limitations upon their prerogative.  This particular concern was
engendered when Mary was presented with a book that argued that because all the statutory
limitations placed upon English kingship only applied to kings, and not ruling queens, Mary could
assume the unencumbered royal prerogative of William the Conqueror, and do ‘what she list.”  But
according to Fleetwood, Mary was unimpressed with this logic, and threw the book into the fire as
her Lord Chancellor drafted the legislation that became the Act Concerning Regal Power.  
    This brings us to the matter of the individual who allegedly wrote this disingenuous treatise and
so incensed Queen Mary.  He was never identified by name, but, according to the Itinerarium, the
individual was Cromwell’s man, had done time in the Fleet, been arrested upon Mary’s accession but
was soon released, and although a man “of no grete compass’ was nonetheless both skillful and
wise.  While both James Alsop and Dennis Moore have pondered the individual, “the chancellor of
the dukedom of Mediolum,” who delivered the treatise to the Queen, the individual who actually
wrote it remains to be identified.  I think it was George Ferrers.  This is my case.  Ferrers first
powerful patron was Cromwell, and in 1542 while sitting as MP in the commons for Plymouth, he
was arrested for debt, causing Henry VIII to make his famous pronouncement of the theoretical
relationship between king and parliament as he affirmed the right of immunity from prosecution for
sitting members of parliament.  During Edward VI’s reign Ferrers later attached himself to the Dukes
of Somerset and Northumberland, from whom he enjoyed favor and patronage, most notably his
“reign” as Lord of Misrule over Edward’s final two Christmas courts. . According to the online John
Foxe project, Ferrers was arrested shortly after Mary’s accession in August 1553 only to be present at
her coronation two months later.  The Following January Ferrers fought bravely for Mary during
Wyatt’s revolt.  However, Ferrers was also involved in writing essays for a volume entitled a memorial
of suche princes, the proto-type for the later Mirror For Magistrates, which Stephen Gardiner
censored prior to publication, in all likelihood because its primary contributor was William Baldwin,
a Protestant hot-head who had written a number of anti-Catholic tracts during Edward’s reign.  The
following year, Ferrers failed to attend parliament after leveling some rather wild accusations against
John Dee and others for trying to forecast the date of the Queen’s death.  It is hard to understand why
Ferrers would have behaved like this unless it was seen as some kind of last ditch attempt to regain
favor with the Marian regime following the censorship of the memorial and perhaps the ill advised
treatise given to the Queen in the spring of 1554 that had upset her so.  Why Ferrers?  Ferrers
possessed both the historical knowledge and the legal training to write such a treatise- he had
translated Magna Carta into English back in 1534, and much later, during the 1571 parliamentary
session, Ferrers allegedly penned a tract in Latin outlining the English succession from the
Lancastrians and Yorkists down to Mary Queen of Scots, by then in protective custody in the north of
England.  It was during this session that Ferrers and Fleetwood once again came face to face as both
were appointed to the House subsidy committee.  The reunion was probably not all that cordial, as
Fleetwood was determined to see Mary Queen of Scots brought to justice while Ferrers served as an
informant for John Leslie, Bishop of Ross, Mary’s chief agent in England.  If there was any animosity
between them, it was probably muted by the fact that both men enjoyed Leicester’s favor, and four
years later, both men were engaged in employing their talents for Leicester’s political purposes,
which is perhaps the reason why Fleetwood chose to keep the identify of his Itinerarium mystery
man a secret.