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Why do historians have trouble understanding what Queen Elizabeth 1 would have looked like?


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Dear J.M.,

Queen Elizabeth I is a classic example of beauty—or its blemishes—being in the eye of the beholder, many descriptions of her being colored by the preconceptions of the admirer or enemy describing here. At the center of all this confusion is the queen herself who, like David Bowie or Madonna, was largely her own invention. She was a mistress at the art of self-promotion that more than did proud a tradition among her cannier Tudor forebears, Henry VII and VIII. As the newly enthroned monarch of a divided country exhausted from religious strife, regarded as illegitimate by the Pope and two of the most powerful kingdoms in Europe—France and Spain—Elizabeth had to sell herself to maximum effect to consolidate enough power to survive. And frankly, much of that was achieved by the magnificent illusion of “Gloriana,” the radiant, bejeweled red-blonde queen in her royal finery, wedded to nobody but England itself. All very much her creation, aided and abetted by painters, poets and playwrights. All armor that is still difficult to penetrate to this day … but whose very mystery is part of Elizabeth I’s continuing mystique.

For more on this aspect of the queen, click on the links below.



Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History Group
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