Your cheeky guide to the dynasty

Recap: “Secrets of the Virgin Queen”

Queen Elizabeth I of England, in whose reign t...

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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 Elizabeth 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. Elizabeth 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 Elizabeth 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 Edward 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/Elizbeth 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 Queen + Robert 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!


  Anne Barnhill wrote @

I love the humor you use here! I watched this one, too and was a little disappointed there was nothing new. The boy switch and the other man/woman thing I find ridiculous–ARthur Dudley, I’m not so sure….lots to think about there and I just like the idea of him, even if he was a mere pawn in the England/Spain game. Thanks!

  carly wrote @

Oooh! I had no idea this was on. I probably will miss it on Tuesday as I’m working at that time, but hopefully they’re replay it some other time soon! I have to admit, I don’t really know a lot about Elizabeth. She just doesn’t fascinate me as much as her mother does.

  Bess Chilver wrote @

Haaaahhhaaaa!! Fabulous review!

I have to laugh at their stupid assertion that Elizabeth wore a ruff to hide her adam’s apple! Clearly it wasn’t visible when she wore open ruffs. Or when she was a teenager in that lovely red gown of hers in the later 1540s!

One does wonder why this silly assertions are made!

  Robert Parry wrote @

Thanks for this excellent summary.
In short, it looks like the program did everything other than simply celebrate the life of an extraordinary and clever woman – which is what she was, of course.
Oh well … gets the punters in and sells the ads. Education is never the main brief with this kind of stuff.

  A Different Lara wrote @

Oh Good Heavens. National Enquirer is spot on.

Great recap! Now I don’t need to see it! Ha ha.

  Bridgett wrote @

LOL! ha, again, your humor is really a marvel in your writing! Thnx for sharing.

  Carrie wrote @

Just now seeing this, but I love your humor and the links you put in here. Your link to “She’s a Man” clip had me in hysterics:)

  Ian M wrote @

I just watched this “expose” by the National Geographic (read Enquirer), Almost fell off the couch laughing. What were the producers at “NatGeo” thinking. Loved your recap, funny stuff 😉

  WilesWales wrote @

I located a quote from “The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England,” edited by Antonia Fraser, pg. 204, “Elizabeth caught smallpox in 1562 and seemed near to death. Ministers discussed who might succeed her, which was no longer an academic question, especially as they were ‘nearly as many different opinions as there were counselors present.’ She, of course, did recover, and in my mind as she said to her forces in 1588 at the Spanish Armada, she “might have the heart of king,” but a body like one, too.

This I found interesting as well:
One the web site it said:
“Elizabeth did not early in her reign decide to cut off her hair and paint her face to make herself like the Virgin Mary. While she was always careful in cultivating her public image, the association of her with virginity was a slow process and one that developed over time. It is not until about 20 years into her reign, when it is certain she would not marry, that the legend of the Virgin Queen really begins to emerge. In 1562, the Queen was very ill with small pox, and she may have used heavy cosmetics to hide the faint scars on her face left by the disease. Wearing wigs was merely fashionable.”

So, it has been documented about the hair, face, but the face also means as much to a woman as the face, and this is about the period (and Elizabeth was reported to have worn them before Mary 1’s death), as a fashion statement, and as a cover up as well. Elizabeth had alway been concerned that Mary, Queen of Scots was prettier than she, so English fashion had be a contest to the Scots as they were to France. After all, Catherine de Medici was Mary, Queen of Scots former mother-in-law. Thank you!

  WilesWales wrote @

I have got to laugh at the entire theory, and National Geograph should be ashamed of itself. Money for grant research is given to the best proposal, and I suppose this might have been of use to some foundation, etc., but at least National Geograph got viewers…of any more than that I will not entertain comment…Thank you!

  WilesWales wrote @

National Geograph is usually not very good at history, as they rarely have “real” documentation to back it up. That is why I leave sources(in this comment I cited two sources reply as to why Elizabeth I started wearing a collar after her bout with small pox in 1562, etc.) in my replies as evidence of where I go and what I’m thinking. I do not guess on things, and I might have been wrong about the collar, of which I cannot substantiate. but at least my sources were there. I agree with the AnneBoleynfiles administrator that Eric Ives is “the” source on Anne Boleyn, and so on….Thank you!

  barbalexander wrote @

The National Geography special “Inside the Body of Henry VIII” is quite good, though. It is strange to me that both specials were produced by the same network, given the differences between the specials.

  Anonymous wrote @

I love u’r website so much but It would be better if you clicked on someone
then the picture would go bigger and told u more info

SORRY but u’r website still is awesome!!!

  Stuart wrote @

It isn’t any wonder that she was to remain single after all she’d seen with her dad and his many wives for her to decide not to take a husband and let control over to him! I believe that she was and still is possibly the best Queen that this Country has seen! Held her own when needed but would turn on the female role when she needed to to get what she thought was right for the country. I believe she was a brilliant woman and Queen!

  Anonymous wrote @

i thoroughly enjoyed this program!!!!! Im obsessed !!!!

  Louise wrote @

Too absurd for words. amazing that anyone could believe this nonsense. Henry VIII was not the world’s best father, but even he would have noticed if a boy had been substituted for his daughter. There is no mystery about her staying single, her feelings about marriage were always ambivalent, she had seen the problems that being a married queen regnant had caused her sister. she wasn’t keen on sharing her power. And how could she possibly have had a baby without anyone noticing? Too absurd.

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