Heaven's Second Maid

Ellen Pryor
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British monarchy today is likely to be identified with the reigns of its three great queens — Elizabeth the Great, Victoria, and Elizabeth II. However a reflection on the life and reign of the eponymous Elizabeth Tudor reveals the extraordinary gender limitations she faced because of social and religious norms. She inherited the throne by virtue of her father's will in 1559, one year after the publication of 'The First Blast of the Trumpet Against that Monstrous Regiment of Women' by John Knox. Experience with female monarchs at home and abroad had been limited, and contemporary problems were blamed on gender. In girlhood and upon her accession, Elizabeth's virginity was a focal point for her suitability as a wife and breeder of kings, denoting her status as property to be controlled. As her reign progressed, she deliberately assumed the virgin status assigned to deities, and her virginity symbolized her own control of her life. Throughout her life her reputation was subjected to stresses seldom faced by male rulers, and the need to maintain her image from assault even after death dictated post-mortem preparation of her body.

Keywords: Elizabeth Tudor's Biography, Women's Roles in Tudor England, Symbolism of Virginity, Distrust of Female Monarchs
Stream: History, Historiography, Sexuality, Gender, Families
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Heaven's Second Maid

Ellen Pryor

Associate Professor, Rockland Community College, State University of New York

In on going preparation for my teaching assignments, I have spent the previous seven summers in classes and research activities at Cambridge University oriented around women's roles as defined by literary and artistic artifacts, and British social history. I completed requirements for the Cambridge University Certificate of Continuing Education with my paper on Elizabeth Tudor tracing two paradoxical definitions of virginity as they evolved in her girlhood, life as queen, and posthumous reputation. The paper was presented at the Oxford Round Table Forum on women's issues in August, 2004. The invitation to participate in that forum was a recognition of my career long academic interest in women's literature and social history. In 1999 I received my fourth National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Award to study at Georgetown University. My area of interest was the interpretation of the Koranic verses about gender roles by modern Islamic states to further their political agendas. This work was followed by a Faculty Resource Network Seminar at New York University, and has been a topic for my classes in Gender Roles, and Pluralism and Diversity in America. In 1980 I was a visiting professor in the People's Republic of China, shortly after it opened to the west. After my return to the United States, I shared insights gained there about the problems women faced adapting to the New China in several professional venues.

Ref: H05P0527