Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Was Elizabeth I truly the legitimate heir to the English throne?

Certainly, Queen Mary I thought that Elizabeth was a bastard. She claimed that Elizabeth was really the daughter of Ann Boleyn by way of Mark Smeton, Ann's lute player. (See Benjamin Woolley The Queen's Conjuror, 2002: 60.)

Mary had a point. Henry VIII was arguably impotent, raddled with syphilis and incapable of conceiving a child. Hence, his desperate quest for yet new wives to assert his long-gone potency. The son of Henry's personal physician Sir William Butts (1486-1545), who might have learned this from his father, hinted at it to the young Yeoman.

So why was Elizabeth nonetheless famous for being 'flame' or red haired like Henry?

One interesting speculation is that she was, in fact, a brunette. Both Ann Boleyn and Smeton were (see Woolley, ibid). Her hair had been dyed red from infancy, possibly using madder or henna. This fact would have been known to her intimate maid servants.

No wonder that she panicked when Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex, burst into her bedchamber, unannounced, on 29th September 1599 when she were ill-dressed and, by some reports, naked. It was not her maidenly modesty she were concerned for, but the revelation of the true colour of her public hair.


Consider another mystery. Why did Elizabeth banish Sir Walter Raleigh so suddenly from her court in 1591? He was the most popular man in England, the Winston Churchill of his times. He had single-handedly (at least, in rumour) seen off the Spanish Armada just three years previously. Yet she tossed him into the Tower of London in a moment and shortly afterwards shipped him off to South America.

Why? Historians tell us it was because he had married Elizabeth Throckmorton, Elizabeth's maid servant, without her knowledge or consent. Hardly a hanging offence, surely? But it was. For Throckmorton surely knew the secret of Elizabeth's true hair colour.
Had that knowledge spread, the brunette Elizabeth would have been proclaimed a bastard. The Pope, gleeful, would have roused the Catholic nations against her. Philip of Spain would have marshalled his ships once more. And the Scottish lairds might have marched on England to overthrow Elizabeth and replace her with their own king, James VI.

Raleigh had to be got rid of.

Speculation? Yes. But as Yeoman reminds us: a 'fact' is merely a myth consentially agreed upon.


  1. John, I doubt very much if Elizabeth used henna to dye her public hair. It stings. Or so my aunt told me. It's also NOT reliable. You think you're dying your hair red but it turns out green. Or worse. So she said.

    She once dyed some T-shirts in henna and hung them in her yard where she kept chickens. And it splashed the chickens and they turned green. (Dunno what happened to their eggs.)

    That's why Yeoman used walnut and oak gall to dye his hair brown when he went off to court Margaret at Dorton spa. 'Course it didn't work. It all dissolved in the wash, or rather the spa tub, just when the randy old sod was getting ready for a bit of the Other. Very sad.

  2. Fergal, you have a most lubricious mind. It is inappropriate to the dignitas required of this Institute. I may find it necessary in future to moderate your posts.

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  4. Don't blame the lad. He learned it from Yeoman. Leastwise, from one Yeoman or the other ;-)

  5. Dr. Yeoman,

    I have it from the aforesaid Elizabeth Throckmorton herself that you are mistaken. Sir Walter had personal knowledge of the Virgin Queen's pubic hair. He knew her in every sense. Alas, he betrayed Her Majesty with her chamber maid. The fool was fortunate to die with his head still attached to his neck.

  6. Beshrew me, Catherine, but you might be right.

    How could the good queen resist Raleigh, the greatest man in England? Dudley would have been no match for such a hero (or poet). Essex was but a clown, by comparison, and all thoughts of a liaison in that direction are absurd.

    And yet, surely, Raleigh was beheaded at Whitehall in 1618? So his head, upon his death, would not have been still attached, surely?

    Of course, one could read Raleigh's last poignant letter to his wife, upon the eve of his execution, as a subtext. By anagrammatical transposition of the keywords, one might detect the cryptogram: 'I yet have a garnish pleasing to the butcher'. A 'garnish', of course, was a bribe typically paid to jailers.

    Did Raleigh bribe his executioner? And cheat the axe? Was he then smuggled to France, like the Jesuit Gerard twenty years earlier, as many have supposed?

    More work is urgently required in this area.

  7. As the Valley Girls used to say in fine old American English, gag me with a spoon. How could I have forgotten? Mind of mush these days.

  8. I find it hard to believe that Elizabeth was the daughter of Mark Smeaton. From what I understand they barely spoke. (Unlike the what the popular Tudor series portrays)

    Also Henry may have been impotent, but he most likely died of type II diabetes not syphilis.


  9. Thanks, Theresa. Of course, history is a mare's nest of illusory knowledge, as someone once said, memorably - albeit, apocryphally. All we can say with confidence is that, if any record is written, it is false to the truth. For it has imposed a linear form (narrative) upon a non-linear (life world) plenum. As I have just written that, my statement is - of course - a lie :)

  10. This is why this is a blogspot instead of a serious history site.


Read 'The Apothecary's Tales' now

at Smashwords.com: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/2958

Many have proposed that The Apothecary's Tales is a detective novel in the genre of historical fiction or fictive history set in the Jacobean and Elizabethan era called the Jacobethan (or the age of Shakespeare). Certainly, its tone of mystery, suspense, humour, comedy and ribald sex might suggest that. However, the mystery, detective and thriller elements merely support its presentation as an historical novel; they do not invaidate the possibility that it is a true account originally written in the language of Shakespeare and revised for the reader of modern historical novels.