Elizabeth I: Secrets and Myths of the Virgin Queen – Channel 5


What a load of appalling misogynistic, unsubstantiated rubbish this was.  I watched it because I thought it was going to be about Elizabeth’s spymasters.  Instead, half of it was about a load of nonsensical claims that, because Elizabeth didn’t marry, she must have been a man, the “evidence” for which is that she wore a lot of make-up and had long fingers, and much of the rest of it was about equally nonsensical claims that she had an illegitimate child, the “evidence” for which is that she was once reported to be looking ill and that she was known to pray for forgiveness for her sins.  Would anyone even dream of making a programme like this about the “secrets” of a male monarch?  Does anyone claim that William II must have been a woman, because he didn’t marry?

There’s a very long list of misogynistic claims against women who were born or married into royal families.  Elizabeth Woodville was a witch.  So was Anne Boleyn.  Wallis Simpson worked in a Chinese brothel.  Henrietta Maria, Marie Antoinette and Alexandra Feodorovna were all entirely to blame for their husbands’ incompetence.  And Catherine the Great, because she took lovers, must have been into horses!  It’s bad enough that this sort of rubbish was spouted in the past, but for Channel 5 to devote an hour of airtime to these bizarre allegations about Elizabeth I, in the 21st century, is just disgraceful.  Not impressed at all.

It must have spent a good twenty minutes on the “Bisley Boy” story, which was probably made up in the 19th century as a silly joke but which the programme presented as a longstanding tradition.  Bram Stoker wrote about it.  That’s the same Bram Stoker who wrote about a 15th century ruler of Romania being a vampire – hardly an academic historian!  The idea is that Elizabeth died in childhood, and the servants who were looking after her dressed up a boy to look like her, and he carried on pretending to be her for the next 60 years, and no-one noticed.  Well, that’s really very likely, isn’t it?  This was Channel 5, not the National Examiner or the Sunday Sport, and this was supposed to be a historical documentary.  It really treated it as a serious story, going on about how maybe Elizabeth wore a lot of make-up to cover up stubble!  She wore a lot of make-up to cover her smallpox scars, FFS.  And about how she had long fingers and liked horse-riding.  What, and that means that someone must be a man?  Talk about scraping the barrel for something to fill airtime.

Of course, it went on to say, that’s if she was really Henry’s offspring at all, and not the product of one of Anne Boleyn’s affairs … the affairs which were made up as an excuse to have Anne executed.  More rubbish.

Or, if she wasn’t a man in drag, maybe she was intersex.  Now, obviously many people are intersex, and that’s absolutely fine, and if Elizabeth was intersex then that’s not a problem.  But the only reason the question has even been asked is because she didn’t marry, and apparently even a female historian in the 20th century, the person who came up with this “theory”, just couldn’t deal with the fact that Elizabeth didn’t want a husband.  The “evidence” for this was the long fingers thing (again), and the fact that she didn’t want her body embalmed.  And??  Incidentally, there’ve also been claims that Wallis Simpson was intersex.  Again, why?

Or, if we dismiss all this claptrap, there’s more.  Maybe she was actually having it off with Robert Dudley, the programme suggested.  Out came all the old claims about Amy Robsart being pushed down the stairs.  And then out came some stupid story about one Arthur Dudley, who claimed to be Elizabeth’s illegitimate son by Dudley.  Oh, for heaven’s sake.  This happens in every single royal generation.  There’s some guy going around at the moment claiming to be the illegitimate son of Prince Charles and Camilla.  He was born before they’d even met!

Maybe George III and Hannah Lightfoot had a secret family who moved to South Africa.  Maybe Mary Queen of Scots had a surviving child by Darnley. Those stories are just about plausible, even if they’re highly unlikely to be true.  But why were Channel 5 wasting airtime on this silly story about Elizabeth, which, as they admitted themselves, after a load of silly speculation for which the “evidence” was that she was once reported to be looking ill and that she was known to pray for forgiveness for her sins, no-one believes?

I accept that, because it’s unusual for a monarch not to marry, especially when they have no siblings or nephews or nieces to be their heirs, questions are going to be asked about why they made that choice.  The programme did make a couple of sensible points – that Elizabeth may well have been put off marriage by the fact that her father had her mother’s head chopped off (and, for that matter, her stepmother and cousin’s Catherine Howard’s as well), and that she may well have distrusted men after the way she was treated by Thomas Seymour.  They could have added that she was probably afraid of childbirth after it killed both Jane Seymour and Catherine Parr.  And, seeing that they did seem to accept that all the other stuff was nonsense, they presumably accepted those perfectly sensible reasons as the explanation for her decision to remain single.

But why make a programme about all the other drivel in the first place?   It’s bad enough that these stories exist, when no-one comes out with this sort of stuff about male monarchs.  It’s bad enough that this sort of misogyny still exists – look at some of the rubbish that circulates about successful female athletes.  But for Channel 5 to lend credence to it, by showing a programme about it and discussing it as if it deserves to be taken seriously, is completely inappropriate.  All the TV companies are obsessed with the Tudors, but there are plenty of real stories about the Tudors to talk about.  This was just a disgrace. Do we still have to hear misogynistic rubbish like this in the year 2020?!  Not impressed at all!

4 thoughts on “Elizabeth I: Secrets and Myths of the Virgin Queen – Channel 5

  1. I watched this on My5 a few weeks ago and had the same reaction as you. In fact, I didn’t continue watching right to the end as I was so irritated by the idea that just because Elizabeth was a strong woman who chose not to marry that meant she must be a man. So annoying!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sounds like a must-miss! Given the amount of historical evidence about Elizabeth you’d think they’d stop peddling fake news about her. But I suppose she’s like Princess Di – she still pulls in an audience. I’ve just frightened myself now, imagining people deciding 400 years from now that Princess Di must have been intersex too… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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