Historical Grudge Match: Elizabeth I vs.Queen Victoria
I love history and have always had a fascination for historical characters, particularly royalty. Of course, there is no grudge between Elizabeth I and Victoria, they lived centuries apart and this is intended as just a piece of tongue in cheek humour. If you pick up a few facts along the way, all the better, but mainly I hope that you take it for what it is, a bit of silly fun.
I have evaluated the two queens in five different categories:
- family life - in the best royal tradition, the more dysfunctional the better
- dynasty - did they do their regal duty and produce worthy heirs?
- intelligence - a successful monarch needs to be clever, or clever enough to appear dim, as the situation dictates
- popularity - both contemporary and lasting
- achievements - not only their own, but those of the people they patronised.
I have given my personal view, but the final verdict is all yours - vote for the winner in this historic grudge match.
Elizabeth I's Dysfunctional Family
Born: 7 September 1533 at Greenwich Palace
Reigned: 17 November 1558- 24 March 1603
Was she a:
Domineering, whey-faced, fright-wigged professional virgin suffering from oral hygiene issues, with a fortunate flair for public relations
Intelligent, enigmatic flame-haired beauty and patron of the arts, feared by her enemies but beloved by her people.
Father (Henry VIII) had a taste for Boleyn women; having slept with Mary Boleyn, he took her sister Anne Boleyn as his second wife. He had Anne executed in 1536 for adultery, including a charge of incest with her brother George. Elizabeth was declared illegitimate.
Half-sister Mary hated Elizabeth because her mother, Katherine of Aragon, had been divorced to make way for Anne.
Henry later executed step-mother No. 3 (Katherine Howard), who was also Elizabeth's distant cousin. Prior to this, Stepmother No. 1 (Jane Seymour) died and Stepmother No. 2 (Anne of Cleves) was divorced, becoming her father's "beloved sister".
Half-brother's (Edward VI) uncle (Thomas Seymour) attempted to seduce Elizabeth when she was 13 and went on to marry Stepmother No. 4 (Katherine Parr) once Henry VIII died.
Half-sister (Mary I) held the threat of execution over Elizabeth's head throughout her reign and publicly cast doubt over Elizabeth's paternity. On Mary's death, her widower (Philip II of Spain) made a play for Elizabeth's hand in marriage.
Cousin Mary, Queen of Scot's plotted to take Elizabeth's throne, and spent 19 years as Elizabeth's prisoner, culminating in her execution in 1587.
Elizabeth's complicated and dysfunctional family earn her: 10/10
Elizabeth famously did not marry. It has been suggested that she was put off the idea of marriage by her father's treatment of her mother and his other wives, or that she was devastated when her looks were marred by smallpox in 1562. It may be that was shrewd enough to realise that she could not rule the country in her own way with a husband, and that any husband she chose would be unpopular with some elements of her people and so cause division in the country.
She was however flirtatious and liked to have admirers; Robert Dudley, Walter Raleigh and Robert Devereux being amongst her favourites.
With no husband and no children Elizabeth did not fulfil one of the primary duties of a monarch: to carry on the dynasty 0/10
Elizabeth was extremely well-educated and her father provided some of the finest scholars to teach her. She was fluent in six languages, composing letters in Greek at an early age. Her early life at Court was fraught with danger and she managed to survive through the reigns of her staunchly Protestant brother and fanatically Catholic sister with only one stay in the Tower.
Once she was queen she surrounded herself with brilliant advisors and tried to steer the country away from pulling itself apart over religious differences (she refused to "make windows into men's souls" - she just asked people to conform outwardly, as she had done to save herself during her sister's reign.)
Elizabeth was shrewd, cunning and intelligent: 10/10
Elizabeth had a small blip in popularity at the beginning of her reign, hinging around her religious reforms and dithering about marriage. However, she went on to be highly popular, helped in part by her savvy control of her brand, which she marketed well - no other monarch before had travelled so widely throughout the realm.
Popular with sailors, adventurers, wig makers, portrait painters and middle of the road religious types.
Unpopular with Catholics, Calvinists, the Spanish, eligible royal bachelors.
Elizabeth's reign is described as a "Golden Age" for England. English explorers voyaged around the world, great country houses were built, poets and playwrights flourished. Perhaps Elizabeth's finest hour came in 1588 when her former brother-in-law Philip of Spain sent his Armada to invade England. It was probably the weather as much as anything that helped secure victory for the small English fleet, but Elizabeth gave a rousing speech at Tilbury, which still sounds fantastic.
Elizabeth's encouraged brilliance in others, as well as herself: 10/10
Total Score: 39/50
Born: 24 May 1819 at Kensington Palace
Reigned: 1837 - 22 January 1901
Was she a:
Poe-faced, prudish and portly granny in a big black frock and lace cap
Loyal and devoted wife and matriarch, faithful and steady guardian of an empire.
Victoria was the granddaughter of King George III, who was famously mad - indeed so mad that they made a film about his madness. Both her grandfather and her father, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, died in 1820. Her uncle, George IV, did not get on with his queen, Charlotte, spending his wedding night drunk and banning her from his coronation. George had previously contracted an illegal wedding with an actress, Mrs Fitzherbert.
George was succeeded by his brother William. William IV had a large family, sadly all of them illegitimate. He did marry, but unfortunately he and his wife had no children, hence the throne went to his younger brother's child, Victoria.
Victoria's mother (whose brother had been married to George IV's daughter until her untimely death), the Duchess of Kent, was strict and domineering. Victoria had to sleep in her mother's room every night and was prevented from meeting her father's family. The Duchess and her advisor, Sir John Conroy (who may or may not have been the Duchess' lover) tried to make Victoria weak and dependent. Victoria escaped her mother's thrall when she married; her husband, Albert, was her first cousin.
After Albert's early death Victoria sank into a deep melancholy and withdrew from public life for many years. She formed a notorious attachment to a servant, John Brown, prompting much speculation about the relationship.
Victoria had an emotionally difficult upbringing and her extended family were decidedly unhinged; however they did could not match the Tudors for intrigue and bloodlust: 6/10
Victoria and Albert had nine children, most of whom married into the Royal families of Europe, including Germany, Prussia, Schleswig-Holstein, Hesse and Russia. The present Queen Elizabeth II is Victoria's great-great-grandaughter.
Victoria's direct descendants have held the British throne for over a century. Her grandson Kaiser Wilhelm III and her grandson-in-law Tsar Nicholas II (who was also her son's cousin on his mother's side) both spectacularly lost theirs.
For her large family and keeping the British throne in the family: 9/10
Victoria's first language was German, but she began to speak English when she was around three. She also learnt Italian. Victoria seems to have been overshadowed by Albert who threw himself into his role of Consort, perhaps because Victoria was so often incapacitated by her pregnancies. I couldn't find any examples of great speeches or quotes given by Victoria, except the "We are not amused" one.
Not an outstanding intellectual: 5/10
Victoria suffered two periods of unpopularity. Early in her reign she chose to believe, and perhaps support, a rumour that one of her unmarried ladies-in-waiting was pregnant. The father was supposed to be Victoria's mother's comptroller Sir John Conroy, whom Victoria detested, so perhaps that is why she chose to believe the rumours and had the unfortunate lady dismissed. The lady subsequently died of the disease that caused the symptoms giving rise to the rumour and Victoria was vilified for her unkind treatment.
Later in her reign, the public tired of Victoria's self-imposed seclusion following Albert's death and there was an increase in republicanism. Fortunately, Victoria outlived her own unpopularity and by dint of living a long life managed to regain the public's favour.
Loved more for managing to live a long life and for being a figure-head than for herself: 6/10
The Victorian era was one of unprecedented progress. The British also managed to amass a huge empire - not bad for a little island, but how much of it was down to her little queen? Personally, I think that Victoria was along for the ride, not driving the (newly invented) train.
However, she did achieve one thing: pain relief in childbirth. Victoria wasn't one for enduring a natural birth and made it acceptable for woman to accept relief in labour. 5/10
Total Score: 31/50
Queen Victoria footage by Monty Python
My verdict has Elizabeth ahead of Victoria - but if I am honest, I've always been biased. What do you think - take the poll or leave a comment to disagree.