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For example, Dorothy Bradbelt, who was 'oftentimes the Queen's bedfellow', and Kat Ashley wrote to the Swedish King's chancellor, Gyllenstierna, to tell him that it would be a good moment for the King to come to England in pursuit of Elizabeth p. Elizabeth and King Erik started sending each other gifts of appreciation, but when the correspondence was intercepted by Cecil, Elizabeth blamed her women, calling them 'idle cheats' but giving them unconvincingly low punishments for their 'interferences' p. A recurring theme in the book is the Ladies of the Bedchamber's role in controlling the physical representation of the Queen, and their preserving the secrets of her body along with their political implications, both during Elizabeth's life-time and after, to build and preserve the cult of Gloriana, the powerful Virgin Queen.

As Elizabeth was aging, her Ladies daily applied the make-up that Whitelock describes as a 'mask of youth' p. A forever youthful face also featured painted portraits of the Queen. These portraits were controlled by the Sergeant Painter George Gower, to ensure that artists would not represent 'the natural representation of the Queen's person', but rather 'that beautiful and magnanimous Majesty where-with God hath blessed her' p.

The Queen's Bed: An Intimate History of Elizabeth's Court

As Elizabeth reached the age where child-bearing was no longer a possibility, she needed to ensure the loyalty and trust of her subjects, and maintain the idea of a stable, never-changing Queen. Therefore, the reality of her appearance must never be seen by any subject aside the Ladies of the Bedchamber. Whitelock observes how unforgiving the Queen was when this rule was overstepped, by describing how Elizabeth's favourite courtier, Essex, accidentally happened upon the Queen in her nightdress, her face wrinkled and free of make-up, and her head bald, but with 'wisps of greying hair hanging about her ears'.

He overstepped a line, having seen the Queen's natural appearance as it should only ever been seen by her Ladies p. Although Elizabeth is recorded to have responded pleasantly enough at first, she changed her mind towards Essex's intrusion later that evening, and Essex was placed under house arrest p.


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The book's last two chapters reflect on the Ladies of the Bedchamber's guarding and protecting the Queen's body after her passing. Although it was a custom for monarchs to have their bodies embalmed after death, Elizabeth had decided that her body was not to be opened p.

Elizabeth’s Bedfellows: an intimate history of the queen’s court

Whitelock explains that it was believed that the size and shape of a woman's womb would show whether a woman had borne children p. By not allowing the body to be investigated, and guarding it carefully, the Ladies are likely have acted 'to suppress questions about Elizabeth's virginity' p. Especially fascinating is the epilogue to the book. Having observed that the image of Elizabeth's persona was incredibly well-guarded during her life-time, and just after her death before her burial whilst the Queen's effigy was displayed to suggest the presence of her royal body after the death of her physical body, Whitelock's epilogue demonstrates that this protection was lost as soon as James I ascended the throne.

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Whitelock notes how James erected a monument to the glory of Elizabeth, but that this monument was 'deliberately smaller and less costly' p. The figure on Elizabeth's tomb depicted an elderly woman, an image that had never been tolerated during Elizabeth's reign.

Accessibility links Skip to article Skip to navigation. Monday 11 November Elizabeth's Bedfellows by Anna Whitelock, review. By John Gallagher. Related Articles. Non-Fiction Reviews. Related Partners.

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Self-possessed, she was also owned by every gossip in Europe. Her virginity was a national asset, but a wasting asset as her reign progressed.

Her body was the body politic, closely guarded but obscenely scrutinised, subject to adoration, speculation and threat. She, too, has burst into the bedroom and shown us the Queen in her most private state. Gradually she won me over, principally by her very skilful use of contemporary quotations, and since much of the contemporary comment was extremely lively, the book became a very good read Some of the best parts are the material details of Elizabeth's domestic surroundings In places the book offers fascinating glimpses of Elizabeth I's life behind closed doors, and is enriched by Anna Whitelock's eye for the curious and engaging detail You can unsubscribe from newsletters at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in any newsletter.