Was Elizabeth I a Redhead? Was She Truly a Virgin? Distinguish Facts from Fabrications about Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I, one of history’s most enigmatic and formidable rulers, continues to captivate our imaginations centuries after her reign. Her life, shrouded in a blend of myth and reality, sparks endless curiosity and debate. Was she truly the ‘Virgin Queen,’ or did she harbor secret passions? Did her striking red hair come naturally, and was she as devout a Protestant as history often portrays? As we delve into the myriad facets of her life, we sift through the legends and uncover the truths that defined the iconic Elizabethan era. Join us as we explore the fascinating, and often misunderstood, life of Queen Elizabeth I, separating fact from fiction to reveal the true essence of this remarkable monarch.

Elizabeth had numerous paramours – MYTH

Elizabeth is immortalized as the ‘Virgin Queen,’ steadfastly opposed to matrimony and remaining childless. However, she maintained close bonds with several men, such as Robert Dudley, Walter Raleigh, Francis Drake, and Robert Devereux, along with numerous illustrious suitors, including many European sovereigns and their heirs.

A portrait of Sir Francis Drake donning black attire with a grey ruff and brandishing a sword. Sir Francis Drake (1540–96) BHC2662

The true nature of Elizabeth’s relationships with these men remains elusive, as no conclusive evidence has surfaced proving she engaged in romantic liaisons before or after ascending the throne.

Elizabeth adored sweets – FACT

Elizabeth’s fondness for sugary treats, particularly candied violets, was well-known. Her predilection for sugar eventually blackened many of her teeth.

Elizabeth was proclaimed illegitimate – FACT

Henry VIII, Elizabeth’s father, declared her illegitimate. She was only reinstated in the line of succession under the Third Succession Act in 1543.

Elizabeth was a polyglot – FACT

By the age of eleven, Elizabeth was proficient in five languages. She continued to acquire bits of other languages, including German, as she matured. Ultimately, she could speak or read English, Welsh, Greek, Latin, Spanish, French, and Italian.

Elizabeth nearly wed Thomas Seymour – FACT

Thomas Seymour, husband to her father Henry VIII’s final consort, Catherine Parr, and uncle to her half-brother, Edward VI, faced execution for his attempts to marry the young Elizabeth. A portrait of Thomas Seymour dressed in black with a black hat. Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley, c. 1509-49 (BHC3021)

The specifics of their interaction remain partially shrouded, but this incident has been extensively scrutinized in both historical and fictional narratives of the Queen’s reign.

Elizabeth was a natural redhead – FACT

Portraits often depict Elizabeth with vivid red hair and an alabaster complexion. Earlier representations suggest her red hair was natural, while her pale visage resulted from lead-based cosmetics, potentially causing health complications later in life.

A portrait of Queen Elizabeth I of England in her coronation robes. Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I of England in her coronation robes.

Elizabeth was a murder suspect – FACT

Elizabeth fell under suspicion when the wife of her favorite, Robert Dudley, died under enigmatic circumstances. This episode has inspired numerous mystery and thriller writers.

Elizabeth retained Catholic sympathies – FACT

Despite her Protestant rule, Elizabeth adhered to her sister Mary’s Catholicism during Mary’s reign.

Elizabeth I was a man – MYTH

Some misogynists and conspiracy theorists argue that Elizabeth’s remarkable leadership, intellectual prowess, and financial acumen indicated she must have been a man. This notion is overwhelmingly refuted as false and discriminatory.

A portrait of Queen Elizabeth I of England in white and gold robes. Queen Elizabeth I (‘The Ditchley portrait’), Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, National Portrait Gallery, London.

Elizabeth nearly married her sister’s spouse – FACT

Following Mary’s death, her husband, Philip II of Spain, proposed to Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, had divorced Mary’s mother, partly due to his conviction that it was improper for a man to marry his brother’s widow. Philip, however, did not share this hesitation regarding Elizabeth. Elizabeth declined his proposal and later waged war against him, culminating in the Spanish Armada.

A painting depicting the launch of fireships against the Spanish Armada, 7 August 1588. Launch of fireships against the Spanish Armada, 7 August 1588.

Elizabeth authored Shakespeare’s plays – MYTH

Conspiracy theorists have suggested that Elizabeth, a talented writer herself, might have penned some or all of Shakespeare’s works. This theory, often rooted in classism, dismisses the likelihood of such literary masterpieces originating from the son of a Stratford glover, and is almost certainly erroneous.

Elizabeth was a resilient survivor – FACT

Queen Elizabeth survived smallpox as a young woman, though portraits of her do not reveal the probable scars from the disease.

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