NOV / DEC 2015: BY RACHEL SEXTON
It is well known by now that the term “renaissance” translates to “rebirth” and it is fitting that the word is now used to refer to the period in Europe from the 14th to the 17th centuries which saw a flourishing of ideas and culture. Though the concept of a rebirth was supposed to bring to mind the advances of the ancient period, the Renaissance progressed society in at least one way that was quite new—women in positions of power. Women had been the daughters, sisters, mothers, and wives of rulers before this era and often acted as regent for underage sons who would be future monarchs but it was during the Renaissance that the idea of a woman in charge in her own right would be set as a historical precedent. Near the end of the Renaissance, England’s Queen Elizabeth I would become history’s most significant examples of a powerful female ruler.
The circumstances of Elizabeth’s birth and later ascendance to the throne are obviously just as well known as her reign itself. Her father was Henry VIII whose love life made him notorious. He was single-minded in his pursuit of a male heir, so much so that he broke with the Catholic Church in order to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and marry Anne Boleyn who would give birth to Elizabeth. Anne would be beheaded before Elizabeth’s third birthday. Though she was a King’s daughter, Elizabeth actually assuming the crown was a distant possibility due to the fact that Henry had a daughter from his first marriage, Mary, and a son from his third marriage to Jane Seymour, Edward. After Henry’s passing, the sickly Edward died as well. Though Edward named a distant cousin, Lady Jane Grey, his successor, she was deposed. Mary was only shortly on the throne until her own death. Elizabeth was now queen as the only Tudor heir left.
Elizabeth I assumed the crown at the age of 25 and reigned for nearly 45 years. Perhaps the most important fact about her time as a monarch is the fact that she never married or had children. She kept all the power she wielded in her own hands until she died; she seemed to know that in a patriarchal world, any husband she took would become the ruler instead of her. Her reign has also been called “the Golden Age” and the reason why is what firmly sets it as a part of the Renaissance. In the military arena, England’s defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 ranks as one of the best victories in the country’s history and its maritime dominance under explorers like Francis Drake was well established. Drama in England reached a staggering peak as well, with the Bard himself, William Shakespeare, and also Christopher Marlowe working during this time.
In terms of screen time in film and television, Elizabeth I gets a vast share. The year 1998 was a particular high point with regards to this; it saw the release of two films in which her character was a significant part. Elizabeth is a sumptuous production covering her coming to the throne and early years of her reign. Though historically inaccurate, the drama is deliciously presented. After initial setbacks, the audience sees a consolidation of power for the new Queen play out that rivals those in organized crime stories like The Godfather. Cate Blanchett plays Elizabeth and her performance is stunning. The other film is Shakespeare in Love and an aging Queen takes a small but commanding role in the narrative. Played by Dame Judi Dench, Elizabeth is on screen for less than 10 minutes but viewers sense her imperiousness, mischievousness, and love for art. The quality of both productions cannot be overstated: Shakespeare in Love won the Oscar for Best Picture that year and both ladies were nominated for Oscars in their respective categories, with Dench winning in hers.
Queen Elizabeth I remains one of the most powerful women of the past, and is a true Renaissance queen, reigning near the end of that period and being an unshakable part of the growth of culture that defines that time. Other women wielded power during the Renaissance, such as Mary Queen of Scots and Catherine de Medici, and England has had Queen Victoria and the current Elizabeth II on the throne since, but in the scope of history Elizabeth I still rules. ♥
Rachel Sexton is from Ohio and has a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Arts. She loves her parents and her dog Lily. She has to have acting, film, reading, and dance in her life. She is described as quiet and her biggest vice is cupcakes. Her hobby is editing fan videos.