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Archive for Elizabeth I

Exhibition Halls and Historic Documents? Kids Love ‘Em!

I was planning on getting to the Folger Shakespeare Library’s “London: 1500-1700” exhibit sometime in September, once school had started back up and I was on one of my solo trips into the District. Alas, my kids (ages 10 and 9) wanted to do a D.C. day before school started back up and I figured I’d work in a stop at the Folger since we were starting out on Capitol Hill.

We grab a quick lunch at We, the Pizza because I cannot be on Capitol Hill without a stop there. Then we head a few blocks north and sit in the Folger’s Elizabethan gardens to finish up our handmade coconut sodas and enjoy the shade,  because it’s about 95 bloomin’ degrees and the sun’s brutal. Welcome to August in D.C., people.

My daughter has quite a good eye for photography so I like to let her go off with the camera and catch her shots. I thought this was a nicely-framed one of the knot garden as well as the side doors and balcony:

I am in front of the doors reading the bronze plaque which describes all the lovely plants in front of me. And it looks as though that might be Comedy and Tragedy over my head, getting a laugh at my expense? (By the way, for a closer look at any of the pics in this post, just click on them.)

So in we go to the exhibit, and I’m wondering how long these kids will last surrounded by all this veddy veddy old parchment and such. Surprisingly they are into it, checking display cases and reporting back with “Mom, there’s a Henry VIII document over here!” and “Here”s a drawing of Edward VI!” so perhaps I have done my job after all. Or perhaps they’ve just surrendered having having heard me start many of their days with “Hey, guess who was born today in 15-something??”

My daughter insists that I take a pic of this, mostly because it is so pretty:

This is the lease for 3 tenements and a wharf from St. Margaret’s Parish to Thomas Glover, a waterman, for a period of 50 years as long as he didn’t use it for brothel houses or that sort of unsavoury thing.

Nearby is the page from John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, showing the pope being suppressed by Henry VIII:

I’m quite excited to see this in person as I’ve seen it so many times in print of some sort. The book is, of course, a history of the Reformation from the Protestant viewpoint, if you can’t tell by the king’s planting his slippers all over the pope’s back.

Because I’m a handwriting nerd as well as a history nerd, I am loving this list of  “moneye payd for stuf” in the move of the Office of the Revels (read: fancy bits like tents and masks and other entertainment items, for use in royal celebrations and progresses) to Blackfriars. Henry VIII had appointed Sir Thomas Cawarden in charge of all this “stuf” in 1544. God only knows what this says but I thought it was dramatic and gorgeous:

Anne Askew’s own recounting of her first interrogation was published in 1546 as the book you see below.

The top begins “The First Examination of Anne Askew,  latelye mar-tyred in Smythfelde.” The left side says, “Psalms 116 / The verity of the Lord endured forever” and the right seems to be “Anne Askew stood fast by the verity of God to the end.”

Not to get too far off-track here, but I often ponder the popular view of Anne’s martyrdom versus the fate of Catherine of Aragon. Of course we can’t compare the outcomes of the two women’s lives. But more often than not, Anne is put on a pedestal for being “so brave and strong” whilst sticking to her faith, and Catherine is mocked for “being stubborn” in holding onto hers. I don’t take sides and I know there are exceptions, but this is what I hear and see primarily. But that’s a post for another day.

At one point my kids decide to step out of the exhibition hall and into the gift shop, then come rushing back to tell me about something I “have to see.” Well here it is:

Yep, stacking dolls of Henry and the Magnificent Six!

Now for the sweet finish to our Folger visit: On my previous visit, a docent told me that the Folger houses a wonderful portrait of Elizabeth I in their Founders’ Room. Sadly for me, there was a meeting going on in that room at the time I was there, so I couldn’t see it. I take a chance this time and we’re able to check it out! Feast your eyes:

This is the Plimpton “Sieve” portrait, by George Gower, dating from 1579.  (As I’m quite limited by my point-and-shoot and the lighting in the room, you will probably want to click  here for a zoomable digital image of the painting.) In the queen’s left hand is, yep, a sieve. It’s a reference to the Roman vestal virgin Tuccia who advertised her v-card by being able to carry water in a sieve.  I’ll bet Tim Tebow never thought of that approach.

Her coat of arms sits above her left shoulder and the globe sits above her right shoulder, with “I see everything and much is lacking” in Italian below it. I am loving her crown, though not so much the black and gold striped scarf hanging from it. In typical Gloriana fashion, the dress is bejeweled to the hilt and looks like it weighs about 100 pounds. All in all, a stately portrait for a lady who always had a statement to make!

(As soon as we walk into the room, my observant son immediately recognises the dress from the display case on the lower level of the Folger; it holds a replica that actress Michael Learned wore in the Folger’s production of “Elizabeth the Queen” in 2003.)

There are many other items in the exhibit, of course. I’ve shared with you some of the Tudor-era treasures but there are others from that period, as well as lots from the post-Tudor years until 1700. But I don’t want to give away the farm because I’m hoping you’ll be able to see the exhibit for yourself; it runs through 30 September.

* Special thanks to security guard (and crime fiction writer) Quintin Peterson for escorting us to the Founders’ Room to view the queen’s portrait, graciously answering all our questions, and giving us additional background on the Folger itself.

** Have you come along with me to the Folger’s “Vivat Rex” exhibit? You can do so here.

*** Why not take an 8-minute trip through Tudor D.C. with me on YouTube?

Recap: “Secrets of the Virgin Queen”

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

Image via Wikipedia

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!