5 Fascinating Facts about Elizabeth I

A new three part docu-drama starts tonight at 9pm tonight on Channel 5 (UK). This show will also be available on Netflix at some point in the near feature. Staring Lily Cole, episode one details the first 25 years with Mary Queen of Scots and Catholic plots. Elizabeth was one of England’s greatest monarchs – some even say the greatest. Her forces defeated the Spanish Armada and saved England from invasion, she reinstated Protestantism (at the expense of the Catholics) and forged a new England with a strong and steady hand.

Here are 5 fast facts behind this most fascinating character..talk about powerful women in British history!

1. She taxed men with beards!

Beard tax had been introduced in Britain back in 1535 under Henry VIII. The amount collected by the monarch increased with the beard-grower’s standing in society – making facial hair a status symbol. The tax was dropped but was later reintroduced by Henry’s daughter Queen Elizabeth I, who felt that any beard with over two weeks worth of growth had to be taxed. Blimey, I would have to pay a fortune at this point… hipsters would be penniless, roaming the streets for change to pay for their flat whites!

2. Tudor cleaning habits

Elizabeth I, is said to have had a bath just once a month (she is alleged to have exclaimed “I bathe one a month whether I need it or not!”)… However this isn’t as disgusting as it sounds. In the Tudor era, it was thought immersing yourself completely in water was quite dangerous. The heat opened your pores, and any impurities in the water could thus find their way into your body and make you ill. I wish I had thought of that excuse as a child…

3. The Cult of Elizabeth

When Elizabeth claimed the throne she was surrounded by advisors who ensured portrait artists would paint flattering images of her. Things progressed as her rule continued in both art and writing to shape her into a living goddess. She was compared to the Greek deity Diana and Venus to symbolise her purity and divinity. This was known as the Cult of Elizabeth, or the Cult of the Virgin Queen. Mind you, some people also thought she was a man as she never wanted to marry nor have children.

4. She could be heartless

During November, 1558, Queen Mary (the eldest child of Henry VIII) acknowledged her half-sister, Princess Elizabeth, as her heir. On the 17th of that same month, Mary died. History tells us that Elizabeth learned the news of her accession at Hatfield House. Her famous response to William Cecil – “This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes!”. Not sure that would go down well at a family funeral today.

5. She took hours to get ready every day…

Elizabeth had originally worn wigs (she’s said to have 80 of them!) that matched her own colouring, but as she grew older these were used to conceal her greying hair. In fact, it took her ladies a staggering four hours a day to complete the ceremony of dressing and undressing the queen.

Layers of makeup were applied to complete the so-called ‘mask of youth’. Her face, neck and hands were painted with ceruse (a mixture of white lead and vinegar); her lips were coloured with a red paste made from beeswax and plant dye, and her eyes were lined with kohl.

Ironically, most of these cosmetics did more damage to the skin than ageing ever could. Ceruse was particularly corrosive, and one contemporary observed with some distaste: “Those women who use it about their faces, do quickly become withered and grey headed, because this doth so mightily drie up the naturall moisture of their flesh.” (source)

Blimey! is your daily dose of British news and features for anglophiles everywhere! This article was carefully written by Tim Holt, a British blogger, photographer and actor based back in the UK after many years of living in America. Forever torn between two magnificent slices of sod.
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