See that neck ruff above? The programme “Secrets of the Virgin Queen” offers one possible theory as to why Elizabeth I wore it. I love a good secret, so let’s see what National Geographic has for us…
1) The Bisley Boy — Legend has it that preteen Princess Elizabeth escaped plague-ridden London to stay at Overcourt hunting lodge in Bisley but died there anyhow. Her temporary guardians buried her near the local church and replaced her with a young local ginger boy disguised as Elizabeth. His stint carried on longer than originally planned when (s)he went on to become the monarch. Bram Stoker even got in on the act a few hundred years lately by including the Bisley Boy story in his book Famous Imposters.
So was there any truth to the “She’s a MAN, baby!” accounts? The case behind the assertions states that Liz wore high ruffs to hide an Adam’s apple and wore so much makeup she was, in fact, “Drag Queen Elizabeth.” She was very athletic and could outride both women and men on a horse. And she had very long fingers. How the fingers-part proves anything is beyond me. Liz also forbade a postmortem on her body, so surely she was hiding manly bits? Personally, I think she wanted to carefully guard her privacy in death as she had in life. She was such a control freak I doubt she would have wanted anyone poking around her corpse even if she had the body of Adriana Lima.
2) Anne Boleyn’s alleged affairs — Guilt by association? This part of the special isn’t as much about Elizabeth’s “secrets” but rather about her mother’s adultery/incest charges and subsequent shortening by about 8 inches.
As an aside, I am wondering where they got the portraits they are using for this special. A lot of them are…unflattering, to say the least.
3) Thomas Seymour — When Liz was a teen, her latest stepmother in a long line of them was Catherine Parr. After Henry VIII’s death, Catherine married that reportedly-slimy Seymour brother, Thomas. Have more respect for yourself, girl! Anyway, the handsome Tom put some moves on his young stepdaughter over a period of months. Holy. The best recorded incident (from Elizabeth’s report to Kat Ashley) occured one morning when he approached her while she was still in her bed, tickled her, slapped her bum playfully, there was romping around, and it is making me sick just to write this.
There’s no evidence of how far this “flirtation” went and ever-private Elizabeth denied it all under questioning. You can hardly blame a teenage girl for enjoying the attentions of a hot older man (even if he might be a creep and married to your stepmother?). We’ve all been there, falling for the cad. So I blame only Seymour for this icky bit of Elizabethan history, if this is accurate.
Cue a severe-looking Mary I drifting about some hallway while the narrator talks about her succeeding Eddie VI. Why is she always portrayed as a harsh brunette? Her father was ginger and her mother had golden blonde hair. Sheesh.
4) Testicular feminization (now called complete androgen insensitivity syndrome) — In short, this is the deal when a fetus with an XY chromosome doesn’t respond to male hormones enough to resemble a male externally, so at birth it resembles a female. There are no internal female sex organs, however there are testes in the abdomen. Similar to Secret #1, this Secret suggests that because the queen was unmarried, never had children, was successful and ambitious and athletic, had long fingers, and didn’t want an autopsy, she could have been in this boat. Elizabeth Cady Stanton is rolling in her grave right about now.
I am noticing during commercial breaks that the National Geographic channel is now referring to itself as “NatGeo.” Aloud. “Nat-GEE-oh.” Oh dear.
5) Robert Dudley — Ah yes, the One Who Got Away. Who apparently didn’t mind that he was in love with a hermaphrodite. (Just kidding.) Elizabeth has been quoted as saying to him, “You are like my little dog: When people see you they know I am nearby.” The 16th-century early warning system for single queens. Sure, the Dudley/Liz pairing could have been all so romantic and he could have been The One for her, except for the inconvenient fact that he was already married. Not that he saw his wife all that much, living at Tudor court and all.
His marriage was a moot point after his wife, Amy, fell down the stairs in their house and died. Oh the rumors! Did Robert have her killed? Was she killed by those who disapproved of the queen’s relationship with her “little dog”? Or did Amy commit suicide? In any case, her death was the final nail in the coffin, so to speak, of the Liz/Rob relationship.
6) Arthur Dudley — In 1587, a young man washed ashore in Spain and was arrested as an English spy. He told them he was (dun-dun-dunnnn) Arthur Dudley, son of Robert Dudley and none other than the queen of England. He had a long and wildly inventive story but it is widely believed that it is all a hoax.
In closing, the special tells us that Elizabeth loved being called a virgin as she aged. I suppose this is something that would set her apart from, say, the Kardashians. It was interesting to see the “secrets” all wrapped up in a tidy, hourlong package like this, although I do think a number of them are more “National Enquirer” than “National Geographic.”
You can catch the programme here if you missed it!