2012 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226

Two Queens in One Kingdom: The Defense of Female Rulership during the Latter Reign of Elizabeth I, 1567-1590

May-shine Lin

Department of History, National Chengchi University

Female rulership is a special but marginal topic among studies of kingship. However, it became one of the most critical political themes during the second half of the sixteenth-century in England.  At least from the reign of Mary I, the first English queen regnant, a vociferous debate on female rulership was conducted by both Catholics and Protestants.  The pivotal question in this debate was the very basic issue: could women legally hold the right of governing? Although the debate cooled down for a while after 1559, the emergence of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, in 1567, prompted a renewed discussion of female rulership. This continued until 1590, although Mary had been executed in 1587.  All the tracts concerning female rulerhsip in this period focused on the two queens—the ruling Queen Elizabeth and the exiled Queen Mary—living in the same kingdom. This essay examines four of the most famous tracts, two for each queen. One was written by a Protestant, while three were by Catholics. Nevertheless, regardless of their religious beliefs, all the authors aimed to achieve their political or religious aspirations by making use of gender theory, rather than promoting women’s rights in general. At the same time, they all paid great attention to the right of women’s succession by blood and the specific status of female heirs, since their works were produced under the context of the controversy of succession during Queen Elizabeth’s reign. The arguments of the four tracts demonstrated a noteworthy phenomenon that similar ideas on gender and politics cut across religious lines and were shared by Protestant and Catholic apologists in an age of religious contention.


Keywords: Elizabeth I, Queen of England; Mary, Queen of Scots, female rulership, English Reformation