Queen Elizabeth I

Wendy J Dunn

Elizabeth I relished interacting with men

I remember reading many years ago about how Elizabeth the First didn’t like women. She had no time for women. She only enjoyed the company of men. It is true Elizabeth relished interacting with men, flirting with handsome men, bossing them—and proving she was far more intelligent than them. She was a woman well able to navigate and dominate her world — a world designed by men for them to dominate. She surmounted her world so well legends started: Elizabeth was not a woman at all. That the real Elizabeth had died young, and her fearful household had swapped the dead girl with a lookalike male youth. My first forays into Tudor research soon brought home to me the importance of Elizabeth Tudor’s relationships with so many women in her life. Anne Boleyn may have died before Elizabeth was three, but she left the raising and shaping of her young daughter in strong and nurturing hands. Most of these strong hands belonged to women. Many of the women who formed a protective knot around Elizabeth after her mother’s death also knew Anne Boleyn. Some of them were her kin. They knew the injustice of her death, and what had been important to her. That she would want her daughter educated well and prepared for her ‘royal’ future. Another queen also deserves thanks for Elizabeth’s education—another queen who desired to have her daughter educated well and prepared to rule too. By the time Anne Boleyn became queen, Katherine of Aragon’s efforts to improve the educational opportunities for women for the sake of Mary, her daughter, had borne fruit. The next generations of the Tudors shone with women writers, translators, and book lovers. A lover of learning from her earliest years, Anne Boleyn benefited from Katherine of Aragon’s female leadership too. Anne also encouraged her women to read and think. The women who cared for the infant Elizabeth ensured she knew this too. Elizabeth never acted ashamed of who her mother was.
Queen Elizabeth I
Elizabeth I

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Queen Elizabeth I
Queen Mary I

Mary Tudor

Mary Tudor was seventeen when Henry VIII erased her legitimate birth and sent her to live in the household of her infant sister Elizabeth, then his only daughter acknowledged as a princess. Intelligent, Mary spoke Latin, French and Spanish fluently. She—also like her younger sister — loved to dance and inherited her father’s musical gifts. She likely did not burden Elizabeth with the shame of her mother’s death in these early years. Fond of children, desiring marriage and motherhood, Mary may have been one of Elizabeth’s earliest teachers. In 1536, Mary wrote to her father, ‘My sister Elizabeth is well, and such a child toward, as I doubt not your Highness shall have cause to rejoice of in time coming’ (Borman 2010, p. 49). Blanche Parry was another woman part of Elizabeth’s early life—claiming she had rocked Elizabeth’s cradle. A woman proud of her Welsh blood, Parry never married, but served Elizabeth from infancy to long into her reign. Close to the queen and one of the four women who served Elizabeth in the royal bedchamber, Blanche may have been the reason Elizabeth gave permission to translate the Bible into Welsh in 1588 (Richardson 2007). Catherine Champernowne, better known as Kat Ashley, was another of these women who were with Elizabeth from her childhood. Kat, as Elizabeth called her, was Elizabeth’s governess and first teacher. Thomas Seymour‘s grooming of her teenage charge and his subsequent execution led to Kat’s imprisonment in the Tower for a time, but she was still the woman closest to being Elizabeth’s mother figure.
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Catherine Parr

The next closest was Catherine Parr, her father’s last wife, and the woman Elizabeth did call mother. Catherine embodied the result of Katherine of Aragon’s efforts to improve education for women. Catherine Parr was the first English queen who also was a published author. She ensured Elizabeth had the best educators possible. They not only encouraged Elizabeth’s natural love of learning in her formative years but prepared the ground for Elizabeth to revel in learning for the rest of her days. There is one last woman I believe also vital to Elizabeth’s shaping, her cousin, Catherine Knollys nee Carey. History keeps Catherine’s time with Elizabeth hidden in its shadows whilst leaving hints that Catherine, who was around ten years older than her cousin, was part of Elizabeth’s childhood. She was an important part of Elizabeth’s life from the day Elizabeth became queen. Like all the women mentioned in this article, her death left Elizabeth heartbroken. Elizabeth’s women mattered to her. They were necessary to her. We have them to thank for the queen who ruled England for over forty years.
Queen Elizabeth I
Catherine Parr
Queen Elizabeth I

Wendy J Dunn

Wendy J. Dunn is an award-winning Australian author, playwright and poet. Her first Tudor novels were two Anne Boleyn novels: Dear Heart, How Like You This? and The Light in the Labyrinth. Wendy’s most recent publications are two novels inspired by the life of Katherine of Aragon: her Falling Pomegranate Seeds duology: The Duty of Daughters (a finalist in the 2020 Chaucer award) and All Manner of Things (2021), silver medalist in Readers’ Favorite for historical personage, long listed for 2021 Chaucer Award, a Silver Medalist in The Coffee Pot Book Club Book of the Year Award (Tudor and Stuart category) and a Gold medal in the Historical Fiction Company awards for fiction set in England, Ireland and Scotland.
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