Her historical significance is held in high esteem: exalted in song, memorialized in plays by luminaries like Shakespeare. You’ve seen thrilling portrayals of her by such legendary ladies as Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench, not to mention BUST Oct/Nov 2010 cover goddess, Helen Mirren.
She’s widely celebrated for her doggedness, her quick wit, her artful proficiency, and above all, her ability to bring balance and harmony to her own beloved country.
So it’s no surprise that now, half a millennium after her reign, Queen Elizabeth I of England has been accused of not actually being a woman.
Steve Berry’s new historical thriller, The King’s Deception, revolves around this very dubious plot point – that during her auspicious forty-year rule, Queen Elizabeth I was, in fact, a man dressed in drag.
As reported by the Daily Mail, according to Berry, the book unearths “the biggest deception in British history.”
He claims that the real Elizabeth I, daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, died from the plague at age 10 in a “manor house in the Cotswold village of Bisley in Gloucestershire.” Elizabeth’s governess Lady Kat Ashley and guardian Thomas Perry were terrified of Henry VIII’s wrath at not being able to keep his precious daughter alive – so they scrambled for a plausible solution.
The Queen's mom and pop, looking suspicious.
Knowing that they would likely be brutally tortured and executed for their failures, the two conspired to hide Elizabeth’s death, and found somebody to act in her place. Realizing that there were no girls of the deceased princess’s age nearby, they recruited a gaunt young boy who had been Elizabeth’s companion during her stay in the village, dressing him in her clothes.
As Berry tells it, the boy fooled the king. “The courtiers buried the real Elizabeth Tudor in a stone coffin in the manor grounds. [T]hey decided their best hope of protecting themselves and their families was to teach this Bisley boy how to be a princess.”
"The Queen" The Prequel: The Skirts Have Eyes.
So what proof does Berry actually have for this far-fetched conspiracy theory of (Drag) Queen Elizabeth?
Why, the fact that she was simply too smart to be a woman, of course!
Her tutor, Roger Ascham, was bewildered by her intelligence. “The constitution of her mind is exempt from female weakness, and she is embued with a masculine power of application.”
Berry also brings light to the fact that the Queen always wore heavy make-up and ill-fitting clothes, which the novelist attributes to the necessity of hiding Elizabeth’s male body, not to the fashion of the period. Also, as Buzzfeed points out, it would have been quite impossible for her to hide her figure, as “the Queen’s body was in many ways public property. Her ladies in waiting dressed her and assisted her in the bathroom.”
Granted, those sleeves could hide a lot. But does she have enough bows?
Finally, Elizabeth I famously never married. There are many reasons given for this fact historically, some by Elizabeth herself. First of all, the Queen’s familial past seems like enough to put a girl off marriage forever: her mother was beheaded at her father’s orders, not to mention that besides Boleyn, King Henry had five other wives, which often lead to discord in his life.
Elizabeth said publicly that instead of being married to one man, she was wedded to her kingdom, speaking of “all my husbands, my good people.”
Speculation holds that she tried to bring stability to England, and did not want to involve herself in the convoluted politics of marriage. Her decision to remain single inspired a cult of personality as the Virgin Queen, which has been commemorated in art through the years. Perhaps Elizabeth enjoyed this title, seeing as it allowed her to escape the Madonna/Whore binary that patriarchal culture dictates?
However, the reason that The King’s Deception highlights is that Elizabeth couldn’t possibly get married, because then her status as a man would be exposed. Watch Berry's explanation for that here.
It’s disappointing to see that society is still so suspicious of strong female leadership that we’re willing to question 500 years of history and cast doubt upon Elizabeth Tudor’s gender. But on the bright side, at least Berry’s novel is bringing more attention to something that we should always remember: how badass Queen Elizabeth I truly was.
Photos via Buzzfeed, Hulton Archive, Daily Mail, LeicesterGalleries.com.