Kimberly Elliott

December 1999

"Eliza's works, wars, praise": Representations of Elizabeth I in Diana Primrose and Anne Bradstreet

     The Cult of Elizabeth has seemingly become popular again in the twentieth century. Recently, there have been numerous examinations of the life and works of Gloriana ranging from the most popular movies to the most scholarly editions. Whether she is represented as the young, beautiful queen or the mother to her people, she still seems to command our attention four hundred years removed. It is hardly surprising then that her image, writings and authority would govern several works during her lifetime, and that the popularity of these works would continue—if not increase—in the seventeenth century. Much attention has been placed on the works penned in her honor during her lifetime, but only a small concentration of work examines the numerous writings and visual prints celebrating the late queen. Even less attention has been paid to early modern women writers and their portrayals of Elizabeth. By focusing on two of these female authors, I will examine the ways in which Elizabeth's image and identity are shaped and reshaped to fit the intentions of these women. How is Elizabeth recreated in the minds of these women and for what purposes is she used in these texts? What does it mean for a female author to praise Elizabeth?

     There is undoubtedly a separation between these female authors and the "Late Queen of Famous Memory": one of status, authority and time. The obvious disparity between the status of a female monarch and that of a female author engenders a circumstance in which Elizabeth is accepted as an author, while others of her sex are marginalized. If women authors are not "allowed" to write in the public or political spheres, does the subject of Elizabeth (since she was pervasive in these affairs) allow them entrance into those realms? What can be gained from the subject of the queen in the age of kings? I will be focusing on these two mid-seventeenth century women writers praising Elizabeth I in order to examine the various ways in which these authors represent the queen not only as monarch, but also as female. Diana Primrose's "A Chain of Pearl. Or a Memorial of the peerless graces, and Heroic Virtues of Queen Elizabeth of Glorious Memory" and Anne Bradstreet's "In Honour of that High and Mighty Princess Queen Elizabeth of Happy Memory" are both written decades after her death, but focus on many of the same images and concerns. By analyzing these texts, I hope to demonstrate that the image of Elizabeth created by these authors complicates the traditional view of gender identity in the seventeenth century. By "complicates" I mean that evoking the name of the late queen creates an unusual notion of "female": one that carries androgynous—if not masculine—characteristics. If Elizabeth is a woman whose virtues are to be praised, then are these virtues the equivalent for all women of the early modern period? Is the queen's identity as female exceptional or example? Does she "overcome" her womanhood to become a great monarch or is her reign proof that a woman can rule successfully? I by no means want to suggest that I am the first to examine this notion.1 However, I contend that previous studies of these texts have, for one reason or another, failed to consider various essential factors: the historical contexts of these works, the rhetoric of these texts and the full implications of these authors' arguments. I hope to piece these concerns together in such a manner that fully realizes the potential of these two texts. These works offer unique instances of what some have termed "protofeminism," but I contend that Primrose and Bradstreet glorify Elizabeth using traditionally masculine imagery and traits, and therefore, complicate their representation of feminine virtues. Primrose's text cannot be considered protofeminist because she sets Elizabeth up as a role model for women only in terms of religion and nationalism. This text suggests only that Elizabeth used her power against foreign, Catholic powers to preserve the English nation and to fight papists; the late queen does not advocate, however, these women taking up their "pearls" and using them against their English men. Although Bradstreet uses many of the same masculine images, her portrayal of Elizabeth is that of a queen that vindicates womanhood and is a testament to their virtues. Bradstreet uses the late queen as a champion of women, not just of the Protestant religion and politics. 
 

The Cult of the Virgin Mary and Elizabethan Nostalgia

     In any study of the representations of Elizabeth, one cannot escape the Cult of the Virgin Mary and its relation to the queen. There has been much study of the matter with varying conclusions. One potent example of Elizabeth cast as the Virgin Mary is "The Humble Petition of the Wretched And most contemptible, the poore Commons of England, To the blessed Elizabeth of famous memory" printed in July 1642. This pamphlet contains a plea from the "poore" to the ghost of Elizabeth to intercede for them and ask God if he will deliver them from their suffering.2 This author's use of Elizabeth as an "intercessor" obviously points to a connection between the late queen and the Virgin Mary. Moreover, Peter McClure and Robin Headlam Wells have suggested that contemporary thought on the queen's death was that "the 'chosen' day of Elizabeth's death, 24 March 1603" had fulfilled her destiny to become the next Virgin Mary since she, as one inscription reads, "came into this world the Eve of the nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary; and died on the Eve of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary" (qtd. 65-66). Helen Hackett finds, however, much of this rhetoric to be a construction by scholars in that "it assumes an over-simplistic model of the reformation: that it happened virtually overnight, and throughout England . . .. We cannot therefore think in terms of a whole nation abruptly ceasing to venerate images of the Virgin Mary after the Elizabethan settlement and looking elsewhere for a symbolic 'virgin mother' figure" (Hackett Rediscovering 32). Primrose's blatant anti-Catholic sentiment and Bradstreet's Puritan upbringing do not allow them to see Elizabeth as a Marian figure, but their backgrounds do provide for their opposition to the Stuart monarchy.

     In order to understand these texts we must first look at the political environment in which they were created. Julia Walker has suggested that some early Stuart depictions of Elizabeth had the purpose of "eras[ing] the shadow of a generally popular queen by representing her as unnatural, alone, powerless, and ingloriously dead" (270). However, this theory has met with much opposition. Much of the thought now centers on the theory that Elizabethan nostalgia only turned against the successive monarchy in the last years of James' reign. Curtis Perry believes the early nostalgia for the queen was transformed from merely contributing to the people's frustration with James, to being the actual "vehicle" for their "emergent dissatisfaction" and that "[t]his change . . . has made it tempting retroactively to read opposition into early Jacobean productions of Elizabethan nostalgia" (111). This is not the case for Primrose and Bradstreet, whose texts clearly show dissatisfaction with the current Carolinian regime. By the time these texts were printed, Elizabeth had become the model for an effective, generous ruler. At the beginning of the Civil War, Elizabeth "was viewed as the epitome of English virtues—Protestant, chaste, militarily strong and full of nerve—by a Puritan regime which chose conveniently to forget her treatment of the Puritans of her own day" (Woolf 169). H. R. Trevor-Roper's classic text, Religion, The Reformation and Social Change, asserts that in the 1620's the English had seen nothing but economic recession and spiritual defeat: "When they looked back on history, Englishmen saw Queen Elizabeth giving leadership, strength, victory to European Protestantism. Now, when they looked out they saw only feeble English intervention and then withdrawal into timid neutrality" (246). The Puritan regime looked for a more inclusive form of government and found it in "the 'mixed monarchy' of Queen Elizabeth . . . and ultimately Cromwell would try to return to it, with himself instead of a Stuart as king" (Trevor-Roper 280). 

     The portrayal of the late queen in the mid-seventeenth century in some ways does not fit the actual Elizabeth. It is common knowledge that Elizabeth vehemently controlled her image and it is this image that survived her. Moreover, the numerous elegies and biographies shortly after her death helped to shape the image of the "blessed queen of famous memory." One of the first, and most popular biographies of the queen's life, a work that is often held up as an anti-Jacobean text, is Camden's Annales. D. R. Woolf counters this notion: "Camden's Annales, published under the king's auspices, consistently depicts the young James VI as a careful disciple of the great Queen, and her worthy successor (172-3).3 Another reason why Elizabeth seemed to have the aura of a legend even before her death can be found in the writings of William Cavendish, Earl of New Castle (Jonson's last patron). Elizabeth was so reclusive in her latter years that upon seeing the old queen open a window, once recounted that " . . . the people would Crye oh Lorde I sawe her hande I saw her hande, Ande a woeman cried oute, Oh Lorde sayes shee the Queen Is a Woeman!" (qtd. in Barton 711). 

     Many authors of the seventeenth century look back on Elizabeth's reign as "a golden age." One canonical example is Ben Jonson: Anne Barton asserts that "Elizabethan Nostalgia is integral to all of Jonson's late plays." (727). Albert C. Labriola has suggested that Milton's Eve is a direct representation of Elizabeth's reign.4 Marvel makes direct references to her reign in "A Dialogue of Two horses" (1689) and "Britannia and Rawleigh" (1689).5 There are numerous tracts on Elizabeth from anonymous writers, many calling themselves the "poore" or "common" people of England. Moreover, there were several reprintings of the queen's speeches, several of which are produced at times of civil unrest: 1625, 1642 and 1688. Some women writers besides Primrose and Bradstreet have cited Elizabeth as a model: Ester Sowernam, Sarah Jinner and Bathsua Makin.6 I would like to now turn to examine one of these texts in detail.
 

"She swayed the sceptre with a lady's hand"

     While Diana Primrose's "Chain of Pearl" has received only recent attention, her panegyric to the late queen proves an interesting subject of study. In her praise, Primrose offers her readers, " all noble ladies and gentlewomen," a figurative necklace made from the "pearls" of Elizabeth's virtues.7 Curiously, these "pearls" evoke attributes that are traditionally associated with masculinity and conflict with the virtues of an intended audience of women. Primrose's linking of such traits as justice, fortitude, science and bounty to a female—albeit a monarch—raises questions as to her exact definition of gender characteristics. Lisa Gim believes that "'A Chaine of Pearle' is a significant protofeminist tribute by a female poet to the queen" (190). I contend, however, that through Primrose's use of language and imagery, she sets Elizabeth not as an example of the outstanding qualities of women, but rather as an ideal, one that cannot be reached—only aspired to. Elizabeth is closer to the goddess Diana, than Diana the author. 

     Primrose begins in Latin, "Dat ROSA mel apibus, qua fugit ARANEA virus," or "The rose gives honey to bees and thus puts to flight the venom of the spiders" (Wynne-Davies 364), which I believe reveals the true nature of the poem. If we are to assume that Diana Primrose is indeed the wife or daughter of Gilbert Primrose, then this phrase takes on a wholly political tone. Marion Wynne-Davies and others theorize that Primrose "left France with him [Gilbert] in 1622/3 after a ban on foreign ministers had been imposed . . . Gilbert was promised support by Charles I but, since nothing was forthcoming, he moved to Oxford and in 1637 married again" (364). If Primrose's family was slighted by Charles I, subsequently, this could account for many of the text's overtly political references, which I will discuss in detail later. The reference to "ROSA" (rose) immediately would have clued the reader into the Tudor rose, hence Elizabeth. Primrose lights upon one of Elizabeth's most celebrated characteristics: her generosity. If the queen "gives honey to the bees" then the spiders (often recognized as greedy because of the way they capture their food) are those who withhold, i.e. Charles. Without knowing Primrose's identity or the situation in which she found herself in 1630, this is only speculation; nonetheless, it is an suggestive phrase since many authors use Latin as a method of exclusion or concealment. 

     "Chain of Pearl" begins with two prefatory poems: the author's dedication and then a poem by an unknown author Dorothy Berry addressed to Primrose herself. The dedication addresses her readers as "all noble ladies and gentlewomen," calling them "the honour of our noble sex," which seems to exclude not only a male audience, but also a female middling sort as well. As for the poem glorifying Primrose and her work, no documentation has been uncovered that gives any information on the identity of Berry (Wynne-Davies 364). Her poem to the author begins the use of the masculine in the context of the female: "Shine forth Diana, dart thy golden rays." (ll. 1) The goddess Diana, symbolically portrayed as the moon, is instead given the traits of the sun, or those of Apollo (Walker 69). This transference of Phoebus' traits to the author will later be echoed in Primrose's depiction of Elizabeth. Berry then proclaims Primrose to be "of the Muses nine" and judges the author's work to be of "peerless-orient." 

     Primrose's begins her "chain" with "The Induction" in which she compares Elizabeth to Phoebus (echoing Berry's comparison) as "golden Phoebus," "England's brightest sun," and "ever-lasting lamp." She then suggests that Elizabeth surpasses all "princes . . . / That ever sceptre swayed or crown did wear, / Within the verge of either hemisphere" (ll. 9-12). By continuing to pun this stellar imagery, Primrose can use the word "hemisphere" to mean both hemisphere in a geographical sense and a gendered one as well. Next, she calls Elizabeth "Thou English Goddess, empress of our sex," this creating not only a hierarchy of women with Elizabeth at its apex, but also a sense of inequality which, I argue, sets the late queen apart from, rather than closer to, her readers. 

     Primrose's first "pearl" echoes Spencer's The Faerie Queen by placing Religion as the first section (Wynne-Davies 329). She describes "true religion" as "the goodliest" and goes on to describe how Elizabeth literally waged war against Catholics, whether it be Rome or the Northern Rebellion: "she, undaunted, did bravely advance / Christ's glorious ensign," "swayed the sceptre with a lady's hand," "with lion's heart / She bang'd the Pope." These lines illustrate an Elizabeth as Protestant warrior that violently opposes all Catholics and advocates physical violence toward the Papist Regime. Though historically inaccurate, Primrose sees Elizabeth as the champion of Protestant ideals and therefore places Elizabeth's memory in direct conflict with the Arminianism of Charles I's reign. 

     Often in the second "pearl," chastity, Primrose's wording prompts critics to believe that Elizabeth's chastity is to be "a positive exercise of her unsubjugated female autonomy" and "as a model for other women to emulate" (Gim 192). However, a close reading of the text reveals another reason entirely: 

How many kings and princes did aspire 
To win her love? In whom that vestal fire
Still flaming, never would she condescend
To Hymen's rites, though much she did commend
That brave French Monsieur who did hope to carry
The golden fleece and fair Eliza marry.
Yea, Spanish Philip, husband to her sister,
Was her first suitor, and the first that missed her;
And though he promised that the Pope by bull
Should license it, she held it but a gull,
For how can Pope with God's own law dispense?
Was it not time such Popes to cudgel hence? (ll. 9-20)

Elizabeth's chastity is easily explained twenty-seven years subsequent to the queen's death. Primrose is speaking after the fact: Elizabeth had died "The Virgin Queen" because she chose never to marry—this is true; however, she also had wanted to marry some of her suitors (e.g. Dudley, Alençon), but for various reasons the match never came to be. Elizabeth wrote "On Monsieur's Departure"8 in which she seemingly expresses her love for Alençon, but knows that she could never marry him. "The tense hostility of the Alençon match shows that in having taken no husband Elizabeth had divined the temper of rising English nationalism better than it had known itself" (Wilson 215). No foreign suitor was "good" enough for England's queen, and this sentiment is shown in both the queen's and Primrose's lines. Moreover, the promise of marriage from Philip I was infamous in that it deeply angered the English Protestants. Philip had promised "the Pope by Bull / Should license it," but Primrose questions the Pope's authority to change God's laws and even suggests physically harming this Pope: "Was it not time such Popes to cudgel hence?" Elizabeth's chastity is preserved from both foreigners and Papists; thus, England is protected. She is, first and foremost, a political figure: she is woman only after the fact.

     Elizabeth's good qualities are again compared with Charles I in the fourth pearl, temperance. Primrose uses this opportunity to glorify Elizabeth for avoiding all of the pitfalls of government. Charles I had been charged on numerous occasions as having the same shortcomings found in the "A Chain of Pearl": "charmed with parasites, or siren-songs," "led to vain or too profuse expense," and "spending [time] on these momentary pleasures" instead of "her best treasures / her subject's love" (ll. 21, 25, 27-29). Carolinian authors often used Elizabeth as a "vehicle" for voicing their disappointment with the monarchy and Primrose is no exception. She longs for the days in which "prince and people mutually agree/ In sacred concord and sweet symphony!" (ll. 35-36). By 1630, Charles, his parliament and his people were obviously far from a "sweet symphony." Primrose also cautions women to be on their guard for "men's siren-blandishments" for they will lead to "foul events"—inverting the traditional notion that women are sirens. I believe Primrose uses this image as a way to set up, or give reason, to show Elizabeth in an opposite light. She is not a "siren" and is wary of the promises of men, consequently placing her as a mirror exposing Charles I's bad qualities.

     In the pearl Justice, Primrose once again sets Elizabeth apart from other women. She calls the queen's justice "her strongest fort," one that prevents the country from falling into anarchy. Primrose goes on to describe the queen's harsh sentences as necessary and begins to describe of some these punishments in deatail; however, she apologizes for these graphic depictions and cites them as "unfit for feminine hands, which rather love / To write of pleasing subjects" (ll. 13-14). She states how these subjects are "unfit" for a woman to write upon, but Elizabeth, as queen, is praised for handing out these sentences, therefore, creating a dichotomy between Elizabeth and other women. Elizabeth as a monarch can sentence these criminals, but Primrose as a woman cannot write on the subject. In commenting on these violent deaths, Primrose gains an opportunity to voice her opinion on Catholicism and a recent book detailing, in graphic pictures, the deaths of the "pretended" Catholic martyrs. She recalls some of these deaths and then pronounces them as children's "fables," "phantasms," and "dreams" that might be found in "the Golden Legend." 9  She states that she would not normally write on such subjects, but she feels that she must represent "the whole political history of Elizabeth's reign" (Wynne-Davies 333). In order to do this, she must take on masculine subjects and assume a role that Elizabeth was quite used to: androgyny.

     Carrying on the masculine traits presented in her "pearl" on justice, Primrose chooses to focus on fortitude and then on science. These two "pearls" allow the author to show how uncommon and "masculine" the late queen could be. She begins by relating the story of an assassination attempt. The would-be assassin states that Elizabeth's "great majesty" "did him terrify." Moving on to the Queen's famous speech at Tilbury, Primrose describes the queen's speech as "delivered in most princely sort." The queen herself is portrayed as one whose "courage nought could terrify." Primrose then indicates that Elizabeth "show[ed] great Henry was her sire" since he was the most valorous of all the "warlike princes." Primrose consistently portrays the queen in terms of the masculine, "warlike" prince. In the eighth "pearl" on science, the author continues this theme as she represents Elizabeth's voice and learning as a weapon: "She was able to drown a world of men, / And drowned, with sweetness to revive again" (ll. 17-18). Kim Walker believes Elizabeth's "female speech is figured as powerfully sexual, dangerously phallic in its capacity to ravish, drown, and revive men" since it is linked with Cleopatra (70-71). However, I agree with Clifford Weber's study of contemporary portrayals of Elizabeth as Dido or Cleopatra: "if any link should exist between Elizabeth and Cleopatra, it would derive not from their mutual resemblance but, on the contrary, from the consistently antithetical relationship that prevails between these two queens" (136). Here Primrose is stating that science is "A Pearl more precious than the Egyptian queen / Quaffed oft to Anthony" and clearly she sets Cleopatra's "resplendent gems" as inferior to Elizabeth's "arts and sciences." The last two pearls, patience and bounty, describe Elizabeth's patience under her sister's Catholic regime and Elizabeth's abundant military victories. She reminds the reader that Spain—and Catholicism—"could never thrive during her sovereignty." Primrose ends her "chain" with another Latin phase directed to the queen, "But you, who have been reduced to ashes on the funeral pyre, we shall incessantly and perpetually mourn" (Wynne-Davies 337).

     By far the most in depth study of this text is by Lisa Gim; unfortunately her work neglects almost all political and religious references in the text and instead focuses on the "conceptualization of women's gender roles as flexible and to some extent changeable demonstrat[ing] the significance of Elizabeth I's example for imagined female alliances across the boundaries of class and time" (194). Gim portrays Primrose's Elizabeth as a protofeminist model for Early Modern women, but there is some folly in her position. Elizabeth must be taken within the context of the seventeenth century, and by omitting Primrose's political and religious sentiments, Gim has obscured the true nature of the text. Elizabeth does act in the defiance of men—but foreign, Catholic men. She uses her power only to the extent that it will preserve her nation and further her kingdom, not as a benefit to others of her sex. Gim even alludes to this fact: "Even though occasionally Primrose may echo the notion that some of the queen's virtues are unsurpassed, she insistently portrays Elizabeth as a model that her sex can and should follow" (190). In her "pearl" on prudence Primrose states clearly, "This gift [prudence] in her was much more eminent, / In that it is so rarely incident / To our weak sex" (ll. 17-19). Primrose believes that for women, "our weak sex," prudence is a virtue seldom bestowed: if Elizabeth's virtues are example, and not exceptional, of women's virtues, then she would not have any reason to make this statement. In the second "pearl" on chastity, Primrose praises Elizabeth in much the same manner:

The next fair Pearl that comes in order here
Is Chastity, wherein she had no peer
'Mongst all the noble princesses which in then 
In Europe were the royal anadem,
And though for beauty she an angel was,
And all our sex did therein far surpass, (ll. 1-6, my emphasis) 

Again Primrose does not consider Elizabeth a peer, she does not think any woman to be her "peer;" therefore, readers of her text can only "wear" these "pearls." Elizabeth, much like a saint, is set as an almost unattainable goal and not an illustration of contemporary women's good qualities. 
 

"She has wiped off th' aspersion of her sex"

     Anne Bradstreet's "In Honour of that High and Mighty Princess Queen Elizabeth of Happy Memory" can be called a protofeminist text because she constantly portrays Elizabeth I as an example of the potential of women. Bradstreet links the queen's traits to all women and portrays her as a defender of her sex. Timothy Sweet asserts, "Bradstreet may have found the example of Elizabeth empowering—a figure waiting to be read as a living deconstruction of the gender system—but she could not after all occupy Elizabeth's privileged position" (165). Though the author could not be an "Elizabeth," she does view the queen as a woman "so good, so just, so learn'd, so wise," that when placed on the throne she not only survived, but "[f]rom all the kings on earth she won the prize" (ll. 25-26). 

     There has been much speculation as to why Bradstreet chose the late queen as a subject of elegy. Elizabeth White suggests that Bradstreet had recently read Camden's Annales: "Thomas Dudley owned a copy of the Latin biography of the queen whom he had served as a soldier. . .[the book] may have come into her hands in the early 1640's, as the poem suggests some recent reading about the great queen" (193). White also asserts that Bradstreet used Elizabeth as a subject because of an "increasing awareness of her own public reputation as a "learned lady," which brought the perils of criticism along with the pleasures of praise, directed her thoughts towards that unassailable model of intellectual distinction as well as regal pre-eminence" (193). On the other hand, "Bradstreet has no female precursor, she is necessarily forced in to a position of literary subservience."10  Since Bradstreet has no female model to work from, she instead uses her subject as that model, thus breaking free from the traditional elegiac form. Celeste M. Schenck believes "the only public elegy Bradstreet succeeds in voicing is that of Queen Elizabeth" because "[e]arly female elegists deplore their own inadequacies rather than the patriarchal constraints of the form" (14). Bradstreet, instead, uses Elizabeth to empower herself as an author: "She [Elizabeth] seems not to be an example of objectified femininity. Rather she is represented as a speaking subject who brings into the poem new, reconstructed discursive relations" (Sweet 163). Because of Elizabeth's transgressive behavior as a woman and her authority as monarch, Bradstreet is able to follow Elizabeth's lead and reform the elegy to suit her subject. 

     As in "A Chain of Pearl," Bradstreet introduces her poem to the queen as unworthy and just "'Mongst the hundred hecatombs of roaring verse" (ll. 11). She does believe, though, that the queen will accept her "tribute" without "disdain" because the queen was known to "esteem as much / The acclamations of the poor as rich" (ll. 15-16). Bradstreet then begins by stating that no work of literature can do justice to the late queen's memory, nor could any monarch surpass her accomplishments. She now begins her defense of women by maintaining that Elizabeth's reign has proven that women are capable of ruling: 

She has wiped off th' aspersion of her sex, 
That women wisdom lack to play the rex;
Spain's monarch, says not so, nor yet his host 
She taught them better manners, to their cost;
The Salic law, in force now had not been,
If France had ever hoped for such a queen; 
But can you, doctors, now this point dispute,
She's argument enough to make you mute. (ll. 29-36)

Bradstreet paints Elizabeth not as the exception—but as the rule. Furthermore, she lists several of the queen's accomplishments in lines 41-64 as proof of her glory. Incidentally, Bradstreet's examples highlight by contrast many of Charles I's shortcomings: his expenditures, failed foreign policy, wakened navy etc. Once again, Elizabethan nostalgia is used to berate the Stuarts. Bradstreet then proclaims, "[b]ut time would fail me, so my tongue would too, / To tell of half she did, or she could do" (ll. 65-66) as though the queen, if given more time, could further surpass other monarchs and prove women's worth. Bradstreet breaks with the story of Elizabeth's life and then compares this queen to former queens (Semiramis, Tomris, Dido, Cleopatra and Zenobya) from ancient history and systematically displays how each fails to compare with the "Mighty Princess." An example: 

Dido, first foundress of proud Carthage walls 
(Who living consummates her funerals),
A great Eliza, but compared with ours,
How vanisheth her glory, wealth, and powers. (ll. 77-80)

Elizabeth, whom, contemporary poets had compared with all these women, has surpassed all female rulers. This complements Bradstreet's earlier statement that "from all the kings on earth she won the prize." 

Although Elizabeth has proved women to be good rulers, Bradstreet feels that she cannot, as a woman, elegize the queen because she stands outside the poetic tradition: 

Her personal perfections, who would tell
Must dip his pen in th' Heleconian well,
Which I may not, my pride doth but aspire
To read what others write and so admire. (ll. 91-94 my emphasis)

Bradstreet remarks that she knows women should not write and only a man may "dip his pen" in the well of the Muses, but by writing these lines, she is questioning this notion and therefore redefining the elegy in her own terms: 

    But if the muses always hover about elegiac discourse, in this poem Elizabeth is never overtly identified as a muse. Although she could be said to inspire the poem as object, she is represented as a speaking subject, she seems not to be the example of objectified femininity. Rather she is represented as a speaking subject who brings into the poem new, reconstructed discursive relations. (Sweet 163)

Because Bradstreet's topic is a champion for women's value (no matter how historically inaccurate) she can reform the elegy, and is able (authorized) to speak.

In last section of "In Honour," Bradstreet discusses the idea of women's worth and comes to the conclusion that Elizabeth has "vindicated" her sex. Her questions are many of the same notions discussed in the numerous pamphlet wars of the seventeenth century:

Now say, have women worth? or have they none?
Or had they some, but with our Queen is't gone? (ll. 94-95)

Bradstreet supplies an answer: 

Nay, masculines, you have taxed us long,
But she, though dead, will vindicate our wrong. (ll. 96-97)

She then suggests that Elizabeth not only would defend women from such "slander," but also consider it a personal attack as a woman, therefore, "treason." In this hypothetical situation, any man who spoke out against women would be asking for a death sentence. This is a problematic idea for obvious reasons—there has never been any evidence that Elizabeth ever defended women's rights. Bradstreet then gives the queen immortality by connecting Elizabeth with her supposed ancestor King Arthur, asserting that on the last day, the Phoenix will rise and "Eliza shall rule Albion once again" (ll. 110). Bradstreet here implies that in Heaven men and women are equal. She uses Elizabethan nostalgia as a vehicle to criticize not only the politics of the day, but also the current state of women's rights. She links women to the late queen through her constant reminders that the greatest ruler of England was a woman. 
 

Works, Wars, Praise

     Elizabeth's reign presents an interesting paradox, for although she saw herself as a unique woman, separated from others of her sex, she was still an influence on her female subjects and later generations of Early Modern women. "While the queen was hardly typical of women writers in her day, she sheds important light on the cultural meanings that attached to and defined the figure of the women writer in her age, at the same time that she endows this figure with more cultural authority than has been previously believed possible" (Summit 400). Elizabeth I's life created new fodder for use in the war of the sexes—a good case for women, but whether she was an example, or exceptional depended on the author. Linda Woodbridge has suggest that "[l]iterature repeatedly took refuge in an unexamined paradox: while one bad woman 'shamed her sex' and served as an impetus to general misogyny, one good, strong, self-sufficient woman was dismissed as an exception to the general rule" (326). Many women writers, like Primrose, had yet to see that Elizabeth's virtues were in fact attainable, or already indicative of women in society—perhaps they did understand this idea, but could or would not print their ideas. On the other hand, there were writers such as Bradstreet, who felt that the late queen could be a role model and champion of women. Bradstreet's Elizabeth empowers women by being a woman worthy of praise; and therefore, they are worthy of praise as women.

     As I have shown in these two texts, Elizabeth bridges the gap between political and women's discourse. By choosing to elegize Elizabeth, who was both ruler and female, Primrose and Bradstreet are allowed to comment on politics because it is within the context of a political leader. This shows that early modern women writers not only had an interest in politics, but also had a desire to comment on them in a public sphere. Both authors demonstrate a dissatisfaction with the current regime and use the late queen's reign as a device for their political commentary. Moreover, their manner of signifying Elizabeth displays their views about the extent to which women could emulate the queen. Primrose uses masculine terms such as "princely" and continuously sets Elizabeth apart, maintaining she has "no peer." Bradstreet, on the other hand, uses "Princess" in her title, reminding her reader that the queen was, in fact, a woman. She also makes a case for female rule and equality by stating that the queen had "wiped off th' aspersion of her sex." I used these texts to show how two women who were contemporaries with some of the same source materials such as Spencer and Camden's Annales, could fashion the late queen in different ways. However, this study is but one small section of a larger body of texts. Many women and men employed Elizabeth as their muse. But do they use their "blessed queen of famous memory" differently? We need to understand better how women as well as men used Elizabethan nostalgia in the seventeenth century before there can be any definitive answer. 
 


Notes:
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1. Lisa Gim directly examines Primrose's text in terms of Elizabeth's gender role in "'Faire Eliza's Chaine': Two Female Writers' Literary Links to Queen Elizabeth I." in Maids and Mistresses, Cousins and Queens. Eds. Susan Frye and Karen Robertson. New York: Oxford UP, 1999. 183-98; See also: Kim Walker, Women Writers of the English Renaissance. New York: Twayne, 1996; Marion Wynne-Davies, Women Poets of the Renaissance. New York: Routledge, 1999; and Greer et al. Kissing the Rod: An Anthology of Seventeenth-Century Women's Verse. New York: Noonday Press, 1988.

2. Elizabeth, incidentally, answers back saying that it is the peoples' sinful and wicked ways that have brought about their misery. This work does not have a modern edition.

3. He continues: "This is not necessarily an accurate picture of their relationship, but it is one of which the king approved" (173). 

4. See "Milton's Eve and the Cult of Elizabeth I." Journal of English and Germanic Philology 95.1 (1996): 38-51. Labriola has also looked at negative representations of Elizabeth in "Painting and Poetry of the Cult of Elizabeth: The Ditchley Portrait and Donne's 'Elegy: Going to Bed'" Studies in Philology 93.1 (1996): 42-63.

5. Woolf comments on the first satire in which two horses converse with each other with Charles I and Charles II on their backs. Marvell praises Elizabeth and the Tudors and blames the Stuarts for various problems. In "Briannia and Rawleigh," Elizabeth and Sir Walter Raleigh comment on the current state of the country, in an obviously unfavorable light. See D. R. Woolf "Two Elizabeths? James I and the Late Queen's Famous Memory." Canadian Journal of History/Annales Canadiennes D'Histoire. 20.2 (1985): 167-191.

6. Lisa Gim points to these as examples of women that were "Clearly motivated by factors of social change affecting women that caused them to look to strong female models from previous ages" (188). While I do not believe this is the case in Primrose's text, but Bradstreet's I would accept as being "motivated." 

7. I have chosen Marion Wynne-Davies' modern spelling edition of "A Chain of Pearl" found in Women Poets of the Renaissance. New York: Routledge, 1999. The Bradstreet poem can be found here as well. 

8. These lines read: "I grieve and dare not show my discontent, / I love and yet am forced to seem to hate, /I do, yet dare not say I ever meant (ll. 1-3). in Marion Wynne-Davies, ed. Women Poets of the Renaissance. (New York: Routledge, 1999), 12-13.

9. Wynne-Davies note on the book states, "William Caxton published an illustrated translation of Jacobus de Voragine's The Golden Legend, a collection of fantastical tales, which formed saints' legends, in 1483" (334).

10. Here Sweet quotes Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar's text in The Madwoman in the Attic. New Haven: Yale UP, 1979. 61-62.
 
 

Works Cited

Barton, Anne. "Harking Back to Elizabeth: Ben Jonson and Caroline Nostalgia." English Literary History 48 (1981): 706-731.

Bradstreet, Anne. "In Honour of that High and Mighty Princess Queen Elizabeth of Happy Memory" (1650) Rpt. Women Poets of the Renaissance. Ed. Marion Wynne-Davies. New York: Routledge, 1999. 260-3.

Elizabeth I, "On Monsieur's Departure" (1582) Rpt. Women Poets of the Renaissance. Ed. Marion Wynne-Davies. New York: Routledge, 1999. 12-13.

Gim, Lisa. "'Faire Eliza's Chaine': Two Female Writers' Literary Links to Queen Elizabeth I." in Maids and Mistresses, Cousins and Queens. Eds. Susan Frye and Karen Robertson. New York: Oxford UP, 1999. 183-98.

Hackett, Helen. "Rediscovering shock: Elizabeth I and the cult of the Virgin Mary." Critical Quarterly 35.3 (1993): 30-42.

"The Humble Petition of the Wretched And most contemptible, the poore Commons of England, To the blessed Elizabeth of famous memory." (1642)

Labriola, Albert C. "Milton's Eve and the Cult of Elizabeth I." Journal of English and Germanic Philology 95.1 (1996): 38-51.

---------. "Painting and Poetry of the Cult of Elizabeth I: The Ditchley Portrait and Donne's 'Elegie: Going to Bed.'" Studies in Philology93.1 (1996): 42-63.

McClure, Peter and Robin Headlam Wells. "Elizabeth I as a second Virgin Mary" Renaissance Studies 4.1 (1990): 38-70.

Perry, Curtis. "The citizen politics of nostalgia: Queen Elizabeth in Early Jacobean London." Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 23.1 (1993): 89-111.

Primrose, Diana. "A Chain of Pearl" (1630) Rpt. Women Poets of the Renaissance. Ed. Marion Wynne-Davies (1630) New York: Routledge, 1999. 229-38.

Schenck, Celeste M. "Feminism and Deconstruction: Re-Constructing the Elegy." Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 5 (1986): 13-27.

Sweet, Timothy. "Gender, Genre, and Subjectivity in Anne Bradstreet's Early Elegies." Early American Literature 23 (1988): 152-74.

Summit, Jennifer. "'The Arte of a Ladies Penne': Elizabeth and the Poetics of Queenship." English Literary Renaissance 26.3 (1996): 395-422.

Trevor-Roper, H. R. Religion, the Reformation and Social Change. London: Macmillan, 1967. 

Walker, Kim. Women Writers of the English Renaissance. New York: Twayne, 1996.

Walker, Julia M. "Bones of Contention: Posthumous Images of Elizabeth and Stuart Politics." in Dissing Elizabeth: Negative Representations of Gloriana. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1998. 252-76.

Weber, Clifford. "Intimations of Dido and Cleopatra in Some Contemporary Portrayals of Elizabeth I." Studies in Philology 96.2 (1999): 127-43.

White, Elizabeth Wade. Anne Bradstreet: "The Tenth Muse." New York: Oxford, 1971.

Wilson, Elkin Calhoun. England's Eliza. New York: Octagon, 1966. 

Woodbridge, Linda. Women and the English Renaissance: Literature and the Nature of Womankind 1540-1620. Chicago: U of Illinois P, 1984.

Woolf, D. R. "Two Elizabeths? James I and the Late Queen's Famous Memory." Canadian Journal of History/Annales Canadiennes D'Histoire. 20.2 (1985): 167-191. 

Wynne-Davies, Marion. Women Poets of the Renaissance. New York: Routledge, 1999.

 

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