What Did Gender Pose A Challenge For Eighteenth Century Definitions Of Monarchy?

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To what extent did gender pose a challenge to sixteenth-century definitions of monarchy? And I say to you, on the word of a prince, I cannot tell how naturally the mother loveth the child, for I was never the mother of any; but certainly, if a prince and governor may as naturally and earnestly love her subjects, as the mother doth love the child, then assure yourselves, that I, being your lady and mistress, do as earnestly and tenderly love and favor you. The above extract is from Mary’s first speech at Guildhall on February 1, 1553, just after she declared her engagement to Philip II of Spain, and two days before Wyatt’s rebellion arrived in London. In the same breath, Mary calls herself a “prince,” and a “mother.” These opposing images encapsulate the two strategies of female rule which we can see in the sixteenth century in response to the challenges that definitions of monarchy posed: the queen as male, and the queen as female. In order to assess how far gender impeded both Elizabeth I and Mary I, it is necessary to explain sixteenth century definitions of a strong monarch. First he must be warlike, with the ability to win the crown and defend it against external enemies. Levin shows that this would pose a problem to the two female monarchs, for women could not fight on the battlefield. Secondly, a king must be priestly, due to his devotion to God and his anointing in his coronation. Hunt reminds us that the coronation would prove to be a challenge, for there had never been a precedent for a female monarch. Thirdly, and most importantly, the major challenge that female monarchs would face was their gender: women were not meant to rule. Although both queens faced difficulties negotiating gender, they both used the same rhe... ... middle of paper ... ...s of showing deference to patriarchal views. On the one hand, we see queens taking on masculine roles to protect their vulnerabilities, referring to themselves as “prince,” and comparing themselves to Old Testament Kings. More than that, they also act like men, fashioning themselves as warriors. On the other hand, most notably, they used their femininity to display female power and authority in a new form: the female form. Historians have tended to hold the two gendered displays of power and suggested that one was more prevalent than the other. But it seems that in fact, the queens were using both strategies to overcome the challenges of societal expectations regarding their gender; Queens Mary I and Elizabeth I were Kings and Queens. Therefore, the challenges that gender posed to female rulers were so well overcome, that we might think of them as unimportant.

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