Married Regnant Queenship in Early Modern England: Gender, Blood and Authority, 1553-1714

Mearns, Anne
Married Regnant Queenship in Early Modern England: Gender, Blood and Authority, 1553-1714. PhD thesis, University of Liverpool.

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Regnant queenship is one of the defining features of the early modern era. During this period England witnessed the reigns of four regnant queens, three of whom were married: Mary I, Mary II and Anne. The reigns of Mary I and Mary II in particular were marked by considerable religious and political tensions, which made their queenships even more remarkable. Using a wide range of contemporary sources, the thesis considers the early modern period as a coherent whole. Despite distinct differences between the mid Tudor and later Stuart political climates, continuing fears of and antipathy to female rule meant that precedents set by Tudor regnant queens in the sixteenth century remained highly relevant to the reigns of the Stuart queens in the later seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, and parallels can be easily drawn. In an era when marriage was deemed necessary for women, and particularly queens, who were required to secure the future succession of their dynasty, marriage was and remained an important, yet problematic, element of queenship. Focusing on married regnant queens and analysing the ensuing tensions between conjugal and political power over the period gives us a fuller understanding of these reigns, and, more generally, of early modern monarchy. This diachronic approach allows us to consider whether the concept of female rule evolved across the period, and, from there to assess whether and how that evolution changed the office of regnant queen and altered contemporary perceptions of regnant queenship. The anxieties provoked by female rule are explored through an initial focus on the contested accessions of Mary I and Mary II. The thesis reveals the centrality of blood legitimacy to their claims to be queen, showing how, in a polarised religious climate, this combined with prevailing conceptions of gender in terms that enabled both women to gain, and then maintain, monarchical authority. In both periods, regnant queenship inaugurated unprecedented monarchical arrangements that presented significant challenges to the political nation. Drawing Anne into the analysis for purposes of comparison, confirms that the mechanisms and rituals that defined and confirmed monarchical power were by necessity re-interpreted in each queen’s reign, as contemporaries sought to negotiate the ambiguities surrounding female rule. Crucially, married regnant queenship introduced the phenomenon of the male consort, an inversion of traditional gendered roles at the level of the crown. Analysis of all three queens reveals that this raised significant questions about gender and authority that neither legislative nor symbolic measures were able to successfully resolve. Representations of queenship demonstrate that queenly identities were readily manipulated by opponents of individual queens and their regimes using broadly similar themes across the period. And queens and their supporters appropriated existing portrayals of consort queens as suitable models to represent regnant queenship. Overall, the thesis demonstrates that although by Anne’s accession in 1702, there was less apprehension regarding female rule, regnant queenship continued to be problematical. Some evolution had occurred, but this was greatly outweighed by continuities.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: Date: 2015-05 (completed)
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 15 Jan 2016 14:47
Last Modified: 17 Dec 2022 01:07
DOI: 10.17638/02037059