Resisting the endless line of suitors who had flocked to charm the first woman ruler of England, Queen Elizabeth had said these famous words which had earned her the title of the ‘Virgin Queen.’ Elizabeth’s vow of abstinence was a rather bold step in the times that saw her reign and a very unusual one, too. However, many theorists believe that it was a cautious step to guard the biggest secret about herself – that she was a man.
This theory was first put forth by the famous author of Dracula, Bram Stoker, who said that the Virgin Queen was indeed a virgin king and put the theory in print, and he wasn’t the only one to toy with such ideas, for many contemporaries of the Queen had similar concepts in mind. Bram’s first brush with the concept was sown when he visited the village of Bisley, situated in Cotswolds.
A strange tradition was witnessed by him, wherein during the celebration of May Day, the May Queen was actually a boy in Elizabethan clothing. Bram Stoker was rather taken aback by this strange custom and pursued it through intense investigation. His research was then made public through his 1910 book, Famous Imposters; wherein there is a much popular section about a theory on the Bisley Boy.
The Bisley Boy Conspiracy Theory
Around 1543, a great plague had hit the area, and young Elizabeth was set away to Bisley to escape the threat. The king then arranged to visit his daughter in her countryside retreat; however, around the expected time of his arrival, the young Elizabeth caught the plague and suffered death.
King Henry’s fearsome reputation preceded him, and thus the governor knew something had to be done to escape the brunt of the royal anger. The governess then hatched a plan, according to which she hid the dead body of Elizabeth and rummaged through the town to search for a lookalike. She kept looking for a suitable lookalike to pass off as the royal princess and scaled the entire area; however, there was no girl who could be passed off as the dead child.
The governess then had a brain wave, and she recalled a playmate of the princess who could be passed off as her, albeit the child was pretty. It was a boy. The governess had no options left, and she found the boy in time to dress him up as Elizabeth and pass him off as the royal family member. The king’s visit went smoothly, and the con worked. The king didn’t visit his daughter much as she was shy around him. He caught a glimpse of her and went away satisfied, continuing with his work. The decoy was so perfect and his anger so ruthless that no one dared raise the curtain over this deception.
The real Elizabeth’s body was buried in a stone coffin and never moved from there for at least the next 300 years. However, during the construction of a building, it was discovered, and Reverend Thomas Keble informed the family that the body found was of a young girl in an Elizabethan dress. Realizing the gravity of his discovery, Keble reburied her somewhere else, thus beginning the strange tradition of cross-dressing on May Day.
What Did People Say?
Bram Stoker was convinced about the authenticity of his theory, for there were quite a few unusual instances to support it from the Queen’s life. These were the various attributes and habits associated with her, especially her famous speech to the troops before the Spanish Armada:
“I know I even have the body of a weak, feeble woman, but I even have the guts and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which instead of any dishonor shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I personally are going to be your general, judge, and rewarder of each one among your virtues within the field.”
A rousing speech like this has always been discussed since such harsh words were not a part of the woman’s demeanor back in those days (times have changed now, look around). The Queen was always seen around in wigs, maybe to hide the receding hairline? She was known to cake her face with makeup and wear long dresses with a high neckline, a rather convenient makeover to cover any existing masculine features.
The Queen’s tutor, Roger Ascham, wrote in 1550: “The constitution of her mind is exempt from female weakness, and she is endued with a masculine power of application.” While it is a rather misogynist statement, she was also known to be unable to bear children. Could this be credited to the absence of any female reproductive organs, or is it the human mind decoding too much? Elizabeth refused to see any physicists even if she fell ill, except her own trusted army of medical practitioners. Her reluctance to get her body examined throughout her life continued even after her death which explains why there is no post-mortem report explaining her death.
However, if one examines all of this with a simple mind, it could seem a little too far-stretched for a father to never realize the truth about his daughter. Even one of her suitors Philip II, bribed the Queen’s laundress to find out the truth about her biological state and was satisfied to know that she was menstruating. This could be countered with the fact that the laundress may have tampered with the evidence. The panel of doctors who certified her fit to bear children during her marriage negotiations couldn’t have lied surely, especially under such watchful eyes.
One of the worst scenarios of the patriarchal mindset, which refused to be ruled by a woman, theories like these are evidence of the kind of views held towards them. Even the most enigmatic and powerful ruler of the 1500s couldn’t escape the brunt of gender roles and was scrutinized all her life. Whether it is the truth or not, we may choose to believe either side, but one thing is certain, it helped the patriarchal minds of men in the 1500s better with the new ruler’s identity.
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