Queens Don’t Play: Fear and Gender Equality in Elizabeth’s Court [GUEST POST]

Elizabeth Receiving Dutch Ambassadors, 1560s

Queen Elizabeth I lived during a precarious time for women. Still, she had a knack for handling the men in her life. (Elizabeth Receiving Dutch Ambassadors, 1560s by Levina Teerlinc, Public Domain)

We love a good mystery… especially when it transports us to a time and place we could never go on our own. In Suzanne M. Wolfe’s new novel, A Murder by Any Name, readers are taken to Elizabethan England, where the queen’s ladies in waiting are being killed off one by one, and only one man can find the killer. This premise made us wonder if while researching this story, whether or not Ms. Wolfe discovered any disparities between how the Queen dealt with men versus women. If so, to what extent did fear play a factor in how she dealt with each gender? The author answers all our questions in today’s fascinating guest post. Enjoy! —J&H

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In the sixteenth century, how children and men and women spent their lives and what kind of social interactions they had with the opposite gender depended greatly on their social class.

That being said, all children under the age of seven would have been surrounded by women, who were considered the primary care givers of the very young. Lower class mothers would nurse their own babies and keep them in the home; when the children reached a certain age—around seven—they would be expected, if they were girls, to help their mother with domestic chores. If boys, they would help their father and learn his craft, whether he was a shepherd or a blacksmith. Trades and crafts were handed down to the boys in the family. Girls were expected to learn the domestic arts in order to become wives and mothers in their own households.

Girls in lower classes had much more contact with men than girls raised in noble homes, who were virtually sequestered in rural retreats until they were of an age to attend court. This was to ensure their virginity and, thus, how high a price they could win on the marriage market. Their fathers would make their marriage alliances in order to enhance the family’s wealth and prestige rather than for their daughters’ happiness. Love matches were rare.

Royal children were even farther removed from the ordinary childhood of most children of the era.

When Elizabeth was born, she would have been given a wet-nurse and have been surrounded by serving women who cared for her round the clock in her own apartments and her separate residence of Hatfield House. She would seldom have seen her parents, Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII. At this stage in her young life, she would have known almost no men besides the occasional visit of her father.

As Elizabeth grew older, she was given a male tutor. She would also have had a male steward who ran her household. William Cecil was appointed administrator of the Princess Elizabeth’s lands and became her most trusted advisor. His cousin, Blanche Parry, was Elizabeth’s longest serving gentlewoman and confidante. In other words, as she grew older, she would have come into contact with men more and more as only men were allowed to move in the public sphere. Women were expected to remain behind the scenes in the domestic sphere.

The one exception to this rule in Elizabeth’s life was her sister, Mary. When Mary sat on the throne from 1553-1558, Elizabeth spent the entire five years expecting to be arrested and executed for being a Protestant heretic. Her sister was a staunch Catholic and was determined to return England to the old faith. At one point, Elizabeth was arrested and taken to the Tower. Mary, however, balked at ordering the beheading of her half-sister and Elizabeth was released. But one can only imagine her terror when she looked down from her window on the very place on Tower Green where her own mother had been beheaded years before.

When Elizabeth became queen she would have been surrounded by men in her public role. Only when she retired to her private apartments at the end of the day would she have been ministered to by women. Again, the line between the private and the public was strictly gender-based.

As far as the record shows, Elizabeth enjoyed the company of men and, as queen, had no trouble ordering them around or flirting with them if they were young and handsome. She was a fine dancer and enjoyed the racy volta which involved very close contact with a male partner, so close that the Puritans complained it looked as if the dancers were having sex in public.

It is clear from the frequent shouting-matches she had with her male advisors that she was neither meek nor subservient, nor was she shy of speaking her mind. A highly intelligent woman, she could speak five languages fluently, including Latin. In fact, she was more educated than most of the men she came into contact with and had the reputation for being the cleverest woman in Europe.

And, of course, she was Queen of England, which gave her almost unlimited power. Any man, whether an earl or a cook, was her subject and sworn to obey her commands on pain of death.

Interestingly, if she had married she would have been expected to be subservient to her husband even though she was the queen. This was based on the scriptural admonition by St. Paul for wives to obey their husbands.

Perhaps this was one of the reasons Elizabeth never married. She had seen, first hand, what a husband and king could do. She had lost her own mother, an anointed queen, when her father had tired of her and had signed her death warrant. And, as a young girl, she had seen Catherine Howard executed in the same way. It would not be unreasonable to deduce that she deeply mistrusted the institution of marriage and decided, early on, that she would never put herself under the power of a man. Her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, had made a series of disastrous marriages and had lost her crown and, ultimately, her life for it.

To Elizabeth, a wife was powerless; a Virgin queen was all powerful. In the end, Elizabeth decided to wed her country and keep the men of her court firmly under her foot. Not only was she the first Queen of England, she was one of the longest reigning and is considered one of the greatest monarchs ever to sit on the English throne—a great irony in view of the fact that Henry VIII had her mother executed because she could not bear him a male heir.

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Suzanne M. Wolfe's A MURDER BY ANY NAME

Crooked Lane Books

ABOUT THE BOOK

When a brutal murder threatens the sanctity of the Elizabethan court, it’s up to a hot-tempered spy to save the day.

The court of Elizabeth I is no stranger to plotting and intrigue, but the royal retinue is thrown into chaos when the Queen’s youngest and sweetest lady-in-waiting is murdered, her body left on the high altar of the Chapel Royal in Whitehall Palace. Solving the murder will require the cunning and savvy possessed by only one man. Enter Nicholas Holt, younger brother of the Earl of Blackwell—spy, rake, and owner of the infamous Black Sheep tavern in the seedy district of Bankside. Nick quickly learns that working for the Queen is a mixed blessing. Elizabeth—salty-tongued, vain, and fiercely intelligent—can, with a glance, either reward Nick with a purse of gold or have his head forcibly removed.

When a second lady-in-waiting is slain at Whitehall, the court once again reels with shock and dismay. On the trail of a diabolical killer, Nick and his faithful sidekick—an enormous Irish Wolfhound named Hector—are treading on treacherous ground, and only the killer’s head on a platter can keep them in the Queen’s good graces.

Suzanne M. Wolfe

Suzanne M. Wolfe

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Suzanne M. Wolfe grew up in Manchester, England and read English Literature at Oxford University, where she co-founded the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society. She served as Writer in Residence at Seattle Pacific University and taught literature and creative writing there for nearly two decades. Wolfe is the author of three novels: A Murder by Any Name, The Confessions of X, and Unveiling.

Thirty years ago, she and her husband, Gregory Wolfe, co-founded Image, a journal of the arts and faith. They have also co-authored many books on literature and prayer including Books That Build Character: How to Teach Your Child Moral Values Through Stories, and Bless This House: Prayers For Children and Families. Her essays and blog posts have appeared in Image and other publications. She and her husband are the parents of four grown children. They live in Richmond Beach, Washington.

For more information, please visit Suzanne M. Wolfe’s website. You can also find her on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

HFVBT_Logo_Banner TwitterA MURDER BY ANY NAME
By Suzanne M. Wolfe
326 pgs. Crooked Lane Books. $26.99

Purchase A Murder by Any Name at one of these fine online retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Chapters, IndieBound, Kobo and Powell’s.

A Murder by Any Name is brought to you in association with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

About Suzanne M. Wolfe
I'm a Brit by birth, an author, a wife, and a mom (not necessarily in that order). I studied English Literature at Oxford University, worked as a teacher and writer in residence at Seattle Pacific University for nearly 20 years, and in the midst of it all, I managed to write three novels and raise four kids. These days I live in Richmond Beach, Washington.

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