Saturday, January 13, 2018

Elizabethan Quote of the Day: Ambassador de Feria on Queen Elizabeth I

A detail of a crowned Tudor rose from a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I. Image via BeingBess Facebook page.

The Count de Feria, the Spanish Ambassador at the English court early in Queen Elizabeth I's reign, was not the queen's biggest fan. In one of his first reports of her to King Philip II of Spain, de Feria wrote that he found the queen to be:

'sharp, without prudence. She is a very vain and clever woman. She must have been thoroughly schooled in the manner in which her father conducted his affairs. She is determined to be governed by no one.'

Of course, the qualities that de Feria found so distasteful in Elizabeth were perfectly acceptable in this time period if they belonged to a man. Ambassador de Feria was clearly intimidated by this new, impressive queen.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Review: Colouring History - The Tudors

Photo © A.Jensen/BeingBess.

While traditionally we think of children using coloring books, everybody loves to color, and "adult coloring books" are an exciting new trend. There aren't many historically themed coloring books out there that I know of, but that is changing, thanks to Colouring History - The Tudors. Text is by Natalie Grueninger, author and blogger of On The Tudor Trail, and the illustrations are by Kathryn Holman. I was lucky enough to receive a review copy from Trafalgar Press, and I got to coloring right away!

As I flipped through the pages of the book, trying to decide which picture I would color first, I became really impressed with the variety of the coloring pages. Some pages were renderings of actual famous Tudor portraits, some well known and some not-so-well known. Other pages were original designs inspired by history. There is something for everyone in this book, whether you like to color traditional pictures, or prefer abstract or geometric designs. And, each page is accompanied by information about the picture, so you can learn while you color!

Heraldic badges of King Henry VIII's third, fourth, fifth and sixth wives. Photo © A.Jensen/BeingBess.

I chose a picture of a Tudor village to start, and it was so wonderfully detailed that it kept me busy for two days! I was really pleased with the quality of the picture when I finished, which is a testament to the coloring page, not my minimal abilities as an artist!

The finished product! Photo © A.Jensen/BeingBess.

While I will be primarily using this coloring book for myself, it occured to me that many of these pages would photocopy well, and could be used in a classroom or in a program for an activity. I intend to make photocopies of my favorite Tudor themed pages and save them for the next time I do a BeingBess event.

A rendering of Gower's Armada Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I. Photo © A.Jensen/BeingBess.

I recommend buying this book if you like Tudor history and art, or are looking for stress relief (coloring is excellent for stress relief!) It can be used by adults or children, and would make a superb holiday or birthday gift for the Tudor-phile in your life!

Share photos of your pictures on Instagram with the hashtag #ColouringHistory / #ColoringHistory

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Queen Elizabeth I's Apartments at Leicester's Kenilworth Castle

The construction of the enormous Kenilworth Castle spans many centuries and many different owners.The part of the castle of special interest to fans of Elizabethan history is known as Leicester's Building. Queen Elizabeth I's favorite, Robert Dudley, 1st earl of Leicester (c.1532-1588) took ownership of Kenilworth in 1563. He made many additions to the castle, including Leicester's Gatehouse and Leicester's Building, which  housed the apartments built for Queen Elizabeth I during her third visit to Kenilworth in 1572. The apartments were altered and improved before her fourth and final visit to the castle in July of 1575. This visit lasted for nineteen days - the longest stay by the queen at a courtier's home while on progress. There is an air of romanticism that surrounds this historic visit, as many historians suspect that, during the elaborate celebrations designed by Leicester in honor of the queen, queen Elizabeth's lifelong friend and confidante made his final proposal of marriage to the queen. Queen Elizabeth I was 42 years old.

Leicester's Building. Photo © A.Jensen/BeingBess.

The queen's privy apartments and gardens, which included an aviary, were completed between 1572-75 for her to enjoy upon her visits to the castle. Based upon an eyewitness account of the 1575 celebrations by Robert Langham, the garden has been meticulously recreated by Kenilworth Castle staff. When you walk among the flowers and the fountain, you are seeing the garden through Queen Elizabeth I's eyes.

A reproduction of Queen Elizabeth I's garden at Kenilworth Castle. Photo © A.Jensen/BeingBess

The first room of the queen's privy apartments, the outer chamber, stood before the door to the queen's bedchamber. It was here that Elizabeth I socialized with friends and courtiers. The floors above and below were probably used to lodge her ladies-in-waiting and other attendants. The stair turret was added around Elizabeth's third visit. It provided a private route for the queen to pass from her bedroom and inner chambers to the other floors of the building. Traces of the original stairs and landings survive, but they are to fragile to be walked upon by modern visitor.

The queen's private stair turret. Photo © A.Jensen/BeingBess.

The most important and private part of Leicester's Building was the queen's bedchamber. The presence of two fireplaces side-by-side informs us that there was formerly a timber wall between them, dividing the space into two rooms. The room furthest away was the queen's bedchamber. The room at the other end was the inner chamber, where Elizabeth I could meet with her councilors. The building was thoughtfully designed by Leicester so that courtiers could reach this point from the outer chamber without passing through the queen's bedchamber.

What the queen's bedchamber would have looked like in 1575. Photo © A.Jensen/BeingBess.

In what was probably the Long Gallery, a place where Queen Elizabeth could relax above her bedchamber, an interlude between the queen and some actors took place on 17 July, 1575. Elizabeth I was supposed to watch 'the Coventry men' perform a play for her below, but she became too distracted by the dancing that was going on in her own chamber (Elizabeth loved to dance). So, the queen asked the players to return two days later to re-stage the play. They honored their queen's request, and Elizabeth apparently liked the play very much, as she rewarded them with coins and with venison.

A view from the Long Gallery, where Queen Elizabeth I may have watched the Coventry men. Photo  © A.Jensen/BeingBess

If you have not been to Kenilworth Castle before, I highly recommend it. Walking the ruins, which are in remarkable condition, is like stepping back in time. There are few places where one can connect so profoundly to Queen Elizabeth I, but Kenilworth is one of them.

A view of just part of the impressive Kenilworth Castle. Photo © A.Jensen/BeingBess.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Theatre Thursday: A Review of 'King Elizabeth'

Advertisement for the Gamm Theatre's production of 'King Elizabeth'. © Gamm Theatre
This week, I went to see a play at the Gamm Theatre, centered on the rivalry between Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I. The play was called King Elizabeth, a new version of Friedrich Schiller's Mary Stuart, which was adapted and directed by Tony Estrella. Previously, I had seen Howard Brenton's fantastic Anne Boleyn play at the theatre, and had had the privilege of interviewing the director of the play for this blog. I already knew the theatre did good work and had an interest in representing powerful Tudor women on their stage. The show did not disappoint.

Many of the most familiar faces of the Elizabethan court were present in the cast of characters, and each character was brought to life by a gifted actor or actress. The show did make some interesting choices when casting their roles, like having Master Davison, the man Elizabeth entrusted with the signed death warrant of Mary, Queen of Scots, portrayed by a woman. As the characters in King Elizabeth all wore modern clothes, this gender reversal did not seem inappropriate, although it would have been inaccurate to have a woman serve as a personal secretary in the sixteenth century.

As a historian, I relished all of the historical details included in the script, and was delighted to find that real quotes said by Queen Elizabeth I were included in the dialogue, as were the contents of real letters written by Mary, Queen of Scots. These details gave the show credibility, and added to the emotionally compelling scenes. 

History tells us that Queen Elizabeth I never met her cousin, Mary Stuart, face-to-face, although they did write many letters to one another throughout their lifetimes. But King Elizabeth, like so many other movies and shows examining the rivalry of these two great queens, shows us what might have passed between them, if they ever had the opportunity to meet in secret. The confrontational scene in King Elizabeth takes place when Mary, Queen of Scots is given access to the grounds outside of her jailer Amyas Paulet's home, just as Elizabeth I's hunting party is passing through. Here, the two queens face one another in the woods. Where Queen Elizabeth is level-headed and unforgiving, Mary is defiant and hysterical. Their differing personalities make for an electrifying clash on stage.

A picture of the stage. © BeingBess/A.Jensen

Overall, I enjoyed the play. But there were some things that bothered me, because they were either inaccurate or confusing. 

The modern costuming used in the play didn't add any special significance to the story adaptation. The men were dressed in either modern military wear or formal wear, while Elizabeth I wore power suits. If the ensemble was trying to send a message to the audience through their modern clothing, it was unclear to me what that message might have been. Oddly, Elizabeth finally did don a period dress when she addressed the troops at Tilbury at the end, but the play failed to explain why the Spanish Armada was invading England and who Elizabeth I was addressing in her speech. If you didn't know your Elizabethan history, you might have left the theatre feeling confused by this scene.

Although the Babington Plot is mentioned at the beginning of the play, it is never explained how Mary Stuart was involved with the conspirators, sending them damning letters snuck out of her place of imprisonment in wine barrels. Because it is not explained how complicit she was in authorizing the plans, it appears to an audience that may not know enough background, that Mary is innocent and unjustly imprisoned. Instead of having the portrayals of the two queens more balanced in this adaptation, as was apparently the goal with the re-write, Mary Stuart is portrayed once again as a tragic victim, as she was in Schiller's version of the play.

Finally, the most jarring inaccuracy that stuck out is that the theatre used a picture of Queen Mary I to represent Mary, Queen of Scots on the stage. This was the first thing I noticed when I walked into the little black-box theatre, and the last thing I saw on my way out, and it really bothered me!

If you have an opportunity to see King Elizabeth, I hope that you do. It covers a fascinating period in history, and there is nothing quite like being able to be a fly on the wall, watching the show-down between these two queenly cousins, Elizabeth Tudor and Mary Stuart.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Bess to Impress: A Rare Portrait of Elizabeth I, From a Private Collection

Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, circa 1560. Oil on panel, by an Unknown Artist. Yale Center for British Art. On loan from Neville and John Bryan. Photo by A.Jensen.
On my most recent trip to the Yale Center for British Art, I was pleased to discover that they had rotated some new Elizabethan portraits into the galleries. Of the new pieces on display, the portrait that captivated me the most was a small, unassuming oil on panel portrait of Queen Elizabeth I that I hadn't been previously aware it existed. I read that it was on loan to the museum from a private collection, which explained its anonymity. This also made me wonder how many other long-lost portraits of Queen Elizabeth I there are in people's personal homes.

When this portrait of Queen Elizabeth I was made, it was still early in her reign, and Elizabeth's counselors expected her to marry a foreign prince. However, her attachment to her friend, Robert Dudley, prevented her from taking any marriage proposal seriously at this time.

In the portrait, Elizabeth I is shown before a Canopy of State, with a courtyard in the background. The small stature of the portrait suggests that it may have been made for the home of someone close to Queen Elizabeth I. This is a possibility, as there have been many other portraits discovered of Elizabeth I that were made for personal use. It is easy to see the difference between the opulent, majestic State portraits of the queen, intended for display at court, versus the more understated ones, intended for private devotion in the homes of Elizabeth I's courtiers.

Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, circa 1560. Oil on panel, by an Unknown Artist. Yale Center for British Art. On loan from Neville and John Bryan. Photo by A.Jensen.

A label on the reverse of the portrait shows that Elizabeth I had long been mistaken for another sitter, until the portrait came into the hands of the present owners. It is surprising to me that the sitter could have been thought to be anyone else, as her facial features so distinctly identify her as Elizabeth.

It's always exciting to discover something new that you never knew existed before; I was so happy to have seen this portrait in person, that I just knew I had to share it with all of you! It was encased in glass, so it was challenging to get a picture without a glare, but I hope the pictures I did manage to get captured the appeal of the portrait.