Mrs. Clinton, the Queens of England, and the Glass Ceiling

No matter who wins on Tuesday, we are in for it. If Mrs. Clinton wins, we are in for at least four years of being told that anything we say in opposition to her is sexist. (Trust me, it's already starting.) If she loses, we are in for four years of being told that the only reason she lost is that America is irredeemably sexist. Heads she wins, tails we lose.

Except that it makes no sense, not if you are, like Mrs. Clinton, descended from a long line of English-speaking ancestors going back to the earliest colonies, although looking at her genealogy, it seems many of her more distant ancestors came from French-speaking Canada, so that could explain it. But if her ancestors, like, say, mine, had come over from Merry Olde England along with a smattering of Scots (she has some of those), arguably Mrs. Clinton would have nothing to worry about. The English have been "ready for" a female ruler since...oh, before there was a United States of America, even before there were colonies.

Elizabeth I
Indeed, they have been ready--and willing--for some 463 years, not counting Queen Matilda (reigned April-November 1141). It would certainly be news to Mary Tudor (reigned July 1553-November 1558) that the English were so sexist that they refused to recognize her as queen. They not only recognized her as queen, they recognized her as queen over Lady Jane Grey, whom her half-brother Edward VI (reigned January 1547-July 1553) had named as his successor. They didn't even take Mary's husband Philip II of Spain as king except iure uxoris. They were upset with her, to be sure, for being so vehemently Catholic, thus her more usual sobriquet, "Bloody Mary." But they recognized her as queen. And when Mary died, still married to Philip (d. 1598)? Not he, but her half-sister Elizabeth became monarch.

You may have heard of her. Elizabeth was queen from November 1558 to her death of old age in March 1603. She is famous for a number of things: Edmund Spenser wrote poetry for her. William Shakespeare wrote plays to be performed at her court. The Spanish under King Philip II (who still thought the kingdom should belong to him) tried to attack England during her reign with a magnificent armada. The attack failed thanks to the valor with which the English navy fought for Elizabeth and England under Lord Howard of Effingham, with his Vice-Admiral Sir Francis Drake and Rear Admiral Sir John Hawkins. (Sir John, by the by, was the cousin of Sir Francis Drake and one of my direct ancestors on my father's side, which means the men in my family have been serving strong women for at the very least some 450 years.) Sir Francis and Sir John likewise served Elizabeth as adventurers and privateers, and (sad to say) were involved in the origins of the slave trade. (Something else to chew on when thinking about whether women necessarily make more peaceful or compassionate rulers.) And, of course, famously, she never married. She didn't need a husband to make her queen.

Talk about a strong woman: it is hard to imagine a stronger woman than Elizabeth. Maybe she made a mistake never marrying so that the succession fell to her cousin James VI of Scotland, thus bringing the Scots and all their love for independence into the mix, with what consequences we have already seen. But you can bet your buttons she never complained about any "glass ceiling" keeping her down. Nor she did make a big deal about how, as a woman, she was going to rule England better than a man. What she did make a big deal about was how much she loved England. She said so in a speech that she gave to her troops assembled at the camp at Tilbury in preparation for meeting the Spanish Armada.

According to contemporary descriptions, to meet the troops Elizabeth dressed herself gloriously as a warrior queen, ready to go into battle herself, with plumed helmet and a steel cuirass worn over a white velvet gown. She rode a white horse and carried a gold and silver truncheon or baton of office, looking more like the goddess Athena (as some said) than a mere woman of mortal flesh. Or perhaps she meant to portray herself as Britomart, the heroine of Spenser's Fairie Queene. (I am cribbing here from Wikipedia--I need to read Spenser; he didn't publish the poem until after the defeat of the Armada, so maybe he had been reading it at court?*) In any case, several of her courtiers recorded what she said. This is her speech as rendered by Leonel Sharp, the chaplain of the Earl of Essex, in a letter that he wrote some years later to the Duke of Buckingham:
My loving people 
Elizabeth's speech
We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit our selves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear. I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust. 
I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. 
I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns; and We do assure you on a word of a prince, they shall be duly paid. In the mean time, my lieutenant general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject; not doubting but by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over these enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.
The speech as the clergyman William Leigh remembered it was even more martial, not to mention even more adamant that God was on Elizabeth's side, as indeed, many believed, subsequent events proved (spoiler alert: the Spanish lost).
Come on now, my companions at arms, and fellow soldiers, in the field, now for the Lord, for your Queen, and for the Kingdom. For what are these proud Philistines, that they should revile the host of the living God? I have been your Prince in peace, so will I be in war; neither will I bid you go and fight, but come and let us fight the battle of the Lord. The enemy perhaps may challenge my sex for that I am a woman, so may I likewise charge their mould for that they are but men, whose breath is in their nostrils, and if God do not charge England with the sins of England, little do I fear their force… Si deus nobiscum quis contra nos? (if God is with us, who can be against us?)
In 1588, as the Spanish Armada sailed up the English Channel to challenge her rule, Elizabeth did not tell her troops to fight for England because she was a woman (as if she needed rescuing), but promised rather to fight for them as their king and prince. And they did. They didn't have to, they could have chosen Philip as their king if they were convinced that only a man could lead them. Spain in those days was very, very rich--all the riches of the Indies were Spain's for the taking. Sir Francis Drake, along with his cousin Sir John Hawkins, had made his fortune as a privateer, preying on the Spanish treasure ships. But even with all the gold, silver, and spices Drake and Hawkins and Elizabeth's other pirates looted from his Most Catholic Majesty, the Spanish retained control of the New World. It would not be for another several generations before it started to become clear that Spain was no longer the great power that it had been under Philip and his father Charles. And yet the English preferred rather to fight than to hand their country over to the man who had married their late queen.

There was, of course, the small matter of the Spanish king's Catholicism, fear of which (Catholicism, not the Spanish) would stimulate the English exactly a hundred years later to invite another queen to the throne, this time in company with her husband. (Again, we saw how this played out in our previous discussion of the English Bill of Rights.) When Mary II died, her husband William remained king until his death, but it was her sister Anne (reigned 1702-1707 as Queen of England) who assumed the throne at his death, despite the fact that she was married to Prince George of Denmark, who never took the title king. Even more astonishing, in 1707 the Scottish Parliament voted to place Scotland under Anne's rule, making her the first monarch to rule over the United Kingdom. (She died in 1714.) By this time, the colonies in North America were well on their way to establishing themselves as parts of the English-speaking empire, only to be further enhanced by the great migration from Scotland that the Union with England would provoke.

Following the loss of the North American colonies, the English and Scots (including the Scots-Irish of Northern Ireland) would have two subsequent queens: Victoria (reigned 1837-1901), who presided over the great industrialization of her country as well as assuming the title of Empress in 1857 when the East India Company was dissolved (more on this when we talk about Mill); and Elizabeth II (reigned 1952-present), who presided over the recovery of her country from the Second World War and the dissolution of the Empire her great-great-grandmother had assumed. All in all, since the accession of Mary Tudor in 1553, the English have been ruled by queens for one hundred ninety-five years of four hundred sixty-three, or some 42% of the time. During Elizabeth II's reign, they have also been governed by two women Prime Ministers: Margaret Thatcher (1979-1990) and Theresa May (2016-present). Even more to the point, both Victoria and Elizabeth were married, but neither of their husbands, respectively, Albert or Philip, have borne the title king, unlike William III who served as co-ruler with Mary II.

But, you will say, this has nothing to do with the response to Mrs. Clinton; the United States is no longer ruled by queens--or kings, for that matter. It is ruled by the People, who have a choice of rulers that the English and Scots under their monarchs never had. Except, of course, there are always choices, particularly when men such as Drake and Hawkins, pirate-kings in the making, are afoot. The English could have chosen to overthrow their queens in place of male rulers: they cut off one king's head, after all, and ousted another so as to place his daughter on the throne. It seems a fair bet that they would have gotten rid of their women rulers if they really wanted to. So they did have a choice, if of a different kind than that the American voters--many of them, particularly those of a paler complexion, their descendants--now have. I don't know about you, but all of the above rather suggests to me that if America is as sexist as Mrs. Clinton's supporters seem set on insisting it is, such that Americans in general are incapable of recognizing a woman as president, never mind queen, the sexism must have some other source than the usual culprits typically invoked, a.k.a. white, Anglo-Scots men like Hawkins and Drake.

*[UPDATE: Alas, friends who are more knowledgeable about Tudor history than I inform me that Elizabeth's wearing armor at Tilbury is a later fiction, not based on reliable accounts of the event. Which, as I read it, makes the story only more fascinating: even if Elizabeth did not wear armor herself, it was popularly believed that she could have, maybe even should have, again suggesting that the image of her as queen was a powerful one, even long after her death. My friends also point out that there were Puritans during her reign who actively opposed her, arguing that because she was a woman "Parliament and/or her advisors had the perfect right to rule over her and even overthrow her is she proved inadequate as a ruler." But...they didn't. Men like Drake and Hawkins fought for her, much as over a hundred years before that, men had fought for Joan of Arc. That Elizabeth's (and Joan's) enemies used her femininity against her is not, to my mind, proof of inveterate sexism as such, only proof that people will use all the tools they have against their political opponents. If some men see women as weak, others see them as worth following. Just because some men are jerks, doesn't mean all men are sexist.]

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