Outgrowing God

Outgrowing GodOutgrowing God by Richard Dawkins (Website, Twitter, Insta, Facebook)

Genre: nonfiction/atheism/YA?

Setting: n/a

I read it as a: hardback

Source: my own collection

Length: 294 pp

Published by: Random House (8 Oct 2019)

Her Grace’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is a terrific, brief book that addresses religion from a scientific perspective, as do all of Dawkins’s books. In it, he lays out many arguments people use for believing in a god (it teaches you morality, you can’t be good without God, etc) and then he goes on to point out the fallacies involved in thinking that. Such is the first part of the book. The second deals more directly with actual science and evidence for how we know what we know. 

I love this logical approach. Even as a child, religion never made sense to me. When I asked questions in Sunday School, I was rarely satisfied with the answers I was given – you just have to have faith (why, though? That’s not good enough), we can’t see God but we can’t see the wind either and so that’s the same thing (honestly, what the actual fuck?). Now, of course, I know a lot more about logic and reasoning than I did as a child, and the kinds of arguments and fallacies that are involved. But not everyone does. Nor would I try to change, say, my granny’s mind about her beliefs. It doesn’t hurt me and it is a comfort to her, so I’m not here for that. But I do think a ton of people need to read this book, and all of Dawkins’s other books, and then move on to writers like Sam Harris, AC Grayling, Daniel Dennett, Dan Barker, and the late, greatly missed Christopher Hitchens. It will be an eye opener for many, in the best way, I promise.

I felt like this book was written for a slightly younger audience. I don’t know if Dawkins did that intentionally but this would be easy for most teens to grasp, as well as adults who are not as scientifically literate as some of his other readers. I appreciate Dawkins’s ability to write science in a way that is easy for a layperson to understand but that doesn’t dumb it down so much it is essentially inaccurate. Some people say he is condescending, but I don’t really think it’s that so much as he is breaking down complex issues and tells his readers if an upcoming section is particularly challenging. He’s just being a typical professor – ok, class, time to take careful notes. I think too that maybe some of the ‘he’s really condescending’ crowd might just feel a little defensive about their beliefs that he is disassembling. Just a thought. 

I highly recommend this book to everyone, especially those who might still cling to certain beliefs, religious or otherwise, without good evidence to support it.

Favorite part/ lines (potential spoilers!):

  • Arguing over whether angels are demigods is rather like arguing whether fairies are the same as pixies. 
  • …if I’d been born to Viking parents I’d firmly believe in Odin and Thor. If I’d been born in ancient Greece I’d worship Zeus and Aphrodite. In modern times, if I’d been born in Pakistan or Egypt I’d believe that Jesus was only a prophet, not the Son of God as the Christian priests teach.
  • We can’t prove there are not fairies but that doesn’t mean we think there’s a 50:50 chance fairies exist. 
  • ‘Jesus’ is the Roman form of the Hebrew name Joshua or Yeshua. It was a common name and wandering preachers were common. So it’s not unlikely there was a preacher called Yeshua. There could have been many.
  • We tend to think the United States is an advanced, well-educated country. And so it is in part. Yet it is an astonishing fact that nearly half the people in that great country believe literally in the story of Adam and Eve. 
  • You get the impression from him that God i far more interested in the sins of one species, living on one little planet, than he is in the vast expanding universe he had created. 
  • The whole bit in chapter 11 about patterns and how human brains are evolutionarily hard wired to seek them, and how false positives and false negatives may have started superstitions and religions. 
  • Science regularly upsets common sense. It serves up surprises which can be perplexing or even shocking; and we need a kind of courage to follow reason where it leads, even if where it leads is very surprising indeed. The truth can be more than surprising, it can even be frightening. 
  • Courage isn’t enough. You have to go on and prove your idea right.
  • Isn’t science wonderful? If you think you’ve found a gap in our understanding, which you hope might be filled by God, my advice is: ‘Look back through history and never bet against science.’
  • I think we should take our courage in both hands, grow up and give up on all gods. Don’t you? 

 

Writing Things

I’m holed up in our cabin in the woods, working on my book. These are just a few of the things I’ve read in the past week. I need to format it right. Send halp and booze.

Boethius. The Consolation of Philosophy. Translated by Richard Green, Martino Publishing, 2011. 

Brewer, Jessica. “Etheldreda: Queen, Abbess, Saint.” Medievalists.net, 23 Feb. 2019, http://www.medievalists.net/2019/02/etheldreda-queen-abbess-saint/.

Cartwright, Mark. “The Daily Life of Medieval Nuns.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 10 Mar. 2020, http://www.ancient.eu/article/1298/the-daily-life-of-medieval-nuns/.

Clark, Christine G. “Women’s Rights in Early England.” BYU Law Review, 1995 March; 207(1): 206-236.

Crosby, Everett U. “Children of the Middle Ages.” Review of Medieval Children by Nicholas Orme. The Virginia Quarterly Review, Autumn 2002, vol 78 issue 4, p. 766-773.

Cybulskie, Danièle. “Royalit: What Did Medieval Kings Read?” Medievalists.net, 14 Apr. 2018, http://www.medievalists.net/2016/04/royalit-what-did-medieval-kings-read/.

Dawkins, Richard. Outgrowing God. New York: Random House, 2019.

Dragnea, Mihai. “The Influence of the Bible on Medieval Women’s Literacy.” Medievalists.net, 14 July 2014, http://www.medievalists.net/2014/07/the-influence-of-the-bible-on-medieval-womens-literacy/.

Dresner, Samuel H. “Barren Rachel.” Judaism. Fall91, Vol. 40 Issue 4, p 442. 

FitzGerald, Brian D. “Medieval Theories of Education: Hugh of St. Victor and John of Salisbury.” Oxford Review of Education, vol 36 issue 5, October 2010, p. 575-588.

Friehs, Julia Teresa. “What Did People Read in the Middle Ages? Courtly and Middle-Class Reading Matter.” Die Welt Der Habsburger, http://www.habsburger.net/en/chapter/what-did-people-read-middle-ages-courtly-and-middle-class-reading-matter.

Frijhoff, Willem. “Historian’s Discovery of Childhood.’ Paedagogica Historica Vol. 48, No. 1, February 2012, 11–29.

Gordon, Edward E. Centuries of Tutoring: A Perspective on Childhood Education. 1988. Loyola University, PhD Dissertation. 

Green Richard. “Introduction.” In Boethius’s The Consolation of Philosophy, translated by Richard Green, Martino Publishing, 2011.

Guillelmi de Conchis’s Dragmaticon. Translated by Italo Ronca, University of Notre Dame Press, 1997.

Harvey, Katherine. “Episcopal Virginity in MEdieval England.” Journal of the History of Sexuality, 2017 May ; 26(2): 273–293.

John of Salisbury (1962 [1159]) The Metalogicon of John of Salisbury: a twelfth-century defense of the verbal and logical arts of the trivium. Translated by D. McGarry. Berkeley, University of California.

Kuefler, Mathew S. “‘A Wyred Existence’: Attitudes Towards Children in Anglo-Saxon England.” Journal of Social History. Summer91, Vol. 24 Issue 4, p823-834. 

Lewis, Katherine J. “Model Girls? Virgin-Martyrs and the Training of Young Women in Late Medieval England.” In Young Medieval Women, edited by Katherine J. Lewis, Menuge Noël James, and Kim M. Phillips. St. Martins Press, 1999: 25-46.

Lewis, Mary, Fiona Shapland, and Rebecca Watts. “On the Threshold of Adulthood: A New Approach for the Use of Maturation Indicators to Assess Puberty in Adolescents from Medieval England.” 2016. American Journal of Human Biology, 28:48-56.

Otten, Willemien. “Christianity’s Content: (Neo)Platonism in the Middle Ages, Its Theoretical and Theological Appeal.” Numen 63 (2016): 245-270. 

Potkay, Monica Brzezinski and Regula Meyer Evitt. Minding the Body: Women and Literature in the Middle Ages, 800-1500. London: Twayne’s Women and Literature Series, 1997.

Riches, Sam and Miriam Gill. “Saints in Medieval Society.” Pilgrims and Pilgrimage, http://www.york.ac.uk/projects/pilgrimage/content/med_saint.html.

Riches, Sam and Miriam Gill. “Saints in Medieval Society.” Pilgrims and Pilgrimage, http://www.york.ac.uk/projects/pilgrimage/content/med_saint.html. 

Salih, Sarah. “Saints and Sanctity in Medieval England.” The British Library, 4 Jan. 2018, http://www.bl.uk/medieval-literature/articles/saints-and-sanctity-in-medieval-england#. 

Shapland, Fiona, Mary Lewis, and Rebecca Watts. “Lives and Deaths of Young Medieval Women.” Medieval Archaeology, vol. 59, 2015, pp. 272-289.

Stevenson, Cait. “The Holy Spirit in Female Form: Medieval Tales of Faith and Heresy.” Medievalists.net, 29 Aug. 2019, http://www.medievalists.net/2019/08/the-holy-spirit-in-female-form-medieval-tales-of-faith-and-heresy/.

Vauchez, André. Sainthood in the Later Middle Ages. Cambridge: University Press; 1997.

Vincent, Nicholas. “The Great Lost Library of England’s Medieval Kings?: Royal Use and Ownership of Books, 1066-1272.” 1000 Years of Royal Books and Manuscripts, edited by Kathleen Doyle and Scot McKendrick, British Library, 2013, pp. 73-112.

Wilkinson, Louise. “Isabella, First Wife of King John.” Magna Carta Trust, https://magnacarta800th.com/schools/biographies/women-of-magna-carta/isabella-of-gloucester/

 

History Rhymes: The Function and Importance of Historical Fantasy*

Within every issue of Historical Novels Review one section of reviews is labeled “Historical Fantasy,” where readers find books like Guy Gavriel Kay’s that introduce magical or supernatural elements into their historical framework. Tolkien is perhaps the most famous writer to have brought the realms of myth and magic into solidly historical contexts. Certainly, one result of this blending of history and fantasy is greater entertainment — escape, if you will. On this subject, Tolkien, in his essay “On Fairy Stories” wrote:

I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which ‘Escape’ is now so often used: a tone for which the uses of the word outside literary criticism give no warrant at all. (Tolkien, 1947)

Most of us enjoy escaping through fiction and agree with Tolkien’s embrace of it as a virtue of reading. But, along with providing marvelous exits out of the everyday world, historical fantasy also appeals to so many readers because it is a particularly rich and effective medium to explore current social issues.

More than one study shows that the genres of science fiction and fantasy promote deeper empathy in readers who are introduced to the genre at a young age. One study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology quantifiably demonstrates how reading books like Harry Potter increases tolerance and reduces prejudice (Vezzali, et al., 2015). Vezzali explains that the fantasy genres are “especially effective in assuaging negative attitudes [toward social issues] because the genre typically doesn’t feature actual populations and thus avoids potential defensiveness and sensitivities around political correctness” (quoted in Stetka, 2014). Writing fantasy grants authors the creative room to explore sensitive or controversial contemporary issues without triggering readers’ preset ideas and biases. Combine fantasy with the distancing effect overall of any historically set fiction and readers find a potent mix for examining controversy without building mental barriers.

Exploring this mind-opening aspect of historical fantasy with several writers of the genre seemed particularly worthwhile amidst our current social debates. I therefore approached Guy Gavriel Kay, Judith Starkston, Juliet Marillier, Marie Brennan and Roshani Chokshi to get their views on writing historical fantasy that addresses current social issues.  The resulting conversations offer an insider’s view of these authors’ approaches regarding emotional engagement with social issues.

When asked how writing historical fantasy allows him to bring current social issues to his readers’ awareness, author Guy Gavriel Kay (A Brightness Long Ago, Berkley Books 2019) explained, 

I have argued for the universalizing effect of deploying the fantastic. Stories and themes from history cannot be read as specific only to a given time and place. Beyond this, I find it important to explore both the “strangeness” of the past and the ways in which people and lives can offer a startling familiarity at times. Among other things, this can erode an a-historical sense that what we are living through is new. Usually it isn’t.  As has been said, history may not repeat, but it rhymes.

Through historical fantasy, authors highlight issues that continue to concern modern society as well as help readers learn more about a topic. However, as author Judith Starkston (Priestess of Ishana, Bronze Age Books 2018) noted, “Combining history and fantasy has to be done with care.” She explained that being able to lift readers out of the regular world is liberating for both author and reader. Starkston believes when readers experience a book that draws them into its own world, they tend to leave behind the locked, preconceived notions of how things are and how they ought to be. Incorporating fantastical elements into historical events or people lets us 

accept unusual solutions as entirely normal. When I talk about the historic queen who is the model for my main character, people are incredulous that a woman held such power and influence across the ancient Near Eastern world. We harbor a false notion of history as gradually progressive. Things are supposedly better now and worse in the past, but that isn’t accurate.

Starkston added that the best way to accomplish this blend of magic with historical accuracy is to adopt “fantastical elements that arise from the beliefs and practices of the period. That the Hittites practiced so many rites we would call magical made this especially easy for me—I had only to extend their scope.” Fidelity to history even within the magical creates believable historical fantasy. Incorporating elements of reality that lend themselves well to the use of magic helps to carry readers over the threshold of disbelief and encourages new patterns of thought, precisely the area in which historical fantasy excels.

Juliet Marillier (The Harp of Kings, Ace 2019) also takes a similar approach in her own writing. She stated that her writing has three main purposes: “to teach, to heal and to entertain … Real life challenges (tyranny, cruelty, conflict, flood, famine) might become the dragon, the monster, the fearful place in the dark wood.” Using real life examples of illness or emotional damage brings such topics front and center while at the same time fostering empathy and an awareness of their causes. The capacity to heal in particular has found a vibrant ally in Marillier. Many of her books deal with themes touching on violence, repression, PTSD, or other issues that Marillier draws from historical fact as well as current events. She highlighted the vital role literature plays: 

Storytelling is a powerful tool for helping the troubled (and for helping others understand and support them.). Many other issues relevant to contemporary society find a place in my books – notably, women dealing with domestic violence or other forms of repression. The voice of those characters, whose stories come from long ago and are touched by the uncanny, still seem to ring true for today’s reader. 

Seeing in works of historical fantasy topics that are relevant to contemporary society strikes a chord with readers who may be struggling to make sense of the world and the current events. Ultimately, it can help bring about hope and healing.

Marie Brennan (Turning Darkness into Light, Tor Books 2019) and Roshani Chokshi (The Gilded Wolves, Wednesday Books 2019) both discussed the importance of historical fantasy mirroring reality at least tangentially in order to create a believable and relevant world. Brennan stated that historical fantasy “has the advantage of being able to come at a topic from a slantwise angle. It lets us show how various problems have played out in the past—which encourages the reader to think about how things have and haven’t changed, or what alternatives might look like.” Holding up a mirror of our world through the lens of historical fantasy does, indeed, allow authors to look at our own world, society, or beliefs in new ways. By doing so, Brennan goes on to say, showing a world “in the context of a society that’s not the one we currently live in, it can slip its points in under the radar, instead of having to come at them directly.” Chokshi’s position also meshes with Brennan’s in that she finds that historical fantasy “allows me to take an issue and breathe life into it by tangling it up with a character’s emotional stakes and placing it beneath a lens of magic. A story is nothing if it evokes no feeling. I want to make my readers feel even as they’re thinking, and hopefully that inspires my audience to research an issue further.” Inspiring feelings and igniting curiosity in a topic seems to be a unifying goal for these authors, even if they know their role is not to solve the questions their works may pose. Rather, they seek to “make it a present question in the minds of my readers,” as Chokshi explains. This is an important point because authors have the platform to effect change and influence society. Consider the changes that were inspired by novels such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Jungle, or Beloved. What we read has a definite impact on what we think, and authors have the power to influence societies. 

Other influential authors, including Zen Cho (The True Queen, Ace 2019), Mary Robinette Kowal (The Fated Sky, Tor 2018), and Nalo Hopkinson (The Salt Roads, Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy 2015), impact the way readers think by incorporating an abundance of diversity in their novels. Their novels have a focus on the strength of women, the second-class role of women and people of color, sexism, and narratives of freedom, highlighted beautifully by fantasy/speculative elements. On her website, Cho states that she writes in the genres she does because “It’s as good a form for understanding the world as any other” (Cho, 2019). Kowal, in a blog post, makes an excellent point: homogeneity in historical literature is a choice, for the fact is that Europe and the UK had a “wide range of classes and abilities/disabilities. … People of color were throughout the UK and Europe and had been basically since people started to travel, which means always” (Robinette, 2012). Hopkinson draws on the deep traditions and narratives of the people brought as slaves to what is now Haiti, exploring various themes of freedom, linked by elements which bind women across the world: blood, sweat, tears, birth fluids, and sex. On her website, Hopkinson states that certain genres “…allow us to step outside our known reality and examine that reality from a different perspective. They do so by creating imaginary worlds as lenses through which we can view our world” (Hopkinson, 2019). 

Historical fantasy holds a striking place in literature through its universalizing effect to allow readers to internalize new views on social issues and to understand the ways in which history “rhymes.”
References

Hopkinson, Nalo. “FAQ.” Nalo Hopkinson, Author, 2019.

Kowal, Mary Robinette. “Don’t blame the homogeneity of your novel on historical accuracy. That’s your choice, as an author.” Mary Robinette Kowal, 2012.

Kowal, Mary Robinette. “About the Lady Astronaut series.” Mary Robinette Kowal, 2019.

Stetka, Bret. “Why Everyone Should Read Harry Potter.” Scientific American, 9 Sept 2014. 

Tolkien, JRR. “On Fairy Stories.” In Essays Presented to Charles Williams, compiled by CW Lewis, Oxford University Press, 1947.

Vezzali, Loris, et al. “The Greatest Magic of Harry Potter: Reducing Prejudice.” Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 45, 2015, pp. 105-121.

*Originally published in Historical Novels Review, issue 90, Nov 2019.

A Feather on the Breath of God

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Hildegard and her nuns

In the year 1112, a young girl who had been given to the church by her parents as a tithe was entombed in an anchorite’s cell with another woman, Jutta. The mass of the dead was performed over the enclosed cell, as was customary, and the girl became an anchoress until her eventual release in 1136 upon Jutta’s death. The girl, now around 38 years old, was then unanimously declared as the next abbess of the Disenbodenberg convent. She went on to become a renowned theologian, composer, and mystic. The girl was Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 17 Sept 1179), medieval firebrand, visionary, thorn in the side of her male contemporaries, and she remains as relevant today as she was in her own time.

Hildegard was a product of her time and was not a feminist by any modern definition of the word, but she was a fierce advocate of the sacred value of women. Her theology was feminine, focusing largely on the idea of God as a cosmic egg, a womb that nurtures all things. She acknowledged the dogma of her time, which decreed that God was male, but she claimed that she was unable to bear looking upon the divine in her visions unless it presented as female. Although women were prohibited from preaching, nevertheless, she persisted, going on several tours to preach to her male superiors about the sins of the Church, which was rife with sexual misconduct and corruption. One of Hildegard’s more interesting visions, Ecclesia, depicts the Church giving birth to the Antichrist because of the venality of its clergy. She was not afraid of confrontation, and even wrote scathing letters to Pope Anastasius IV about the sad state of his Church:

You are neglecting justice, the King’s daughter [the Church], the heavenly bride, the woman who was entrusted to you. And you are even tolerant that this princess be hurled to the ground. Her crown and jeweled raiment are torn to pieces through the moral crudeness of men who bark like dogs and make stupid sounds like chickens which sometimes begin to cackle in the middle of the night. They are hypocrites. (Fox, 1987, p. 274)

At one point, Hildegard and her nuns were even placed under interdict for refusing to comply with orders to disinter a suspected apostate, whom Hildegard allowed to be buried in hallowed ground in her convent. Hildegard refused to relent and eventually the interdict was lifted. She could, and did, go toe to toe with male authority, and bravely fought for her beliefs within the system that was available to her.

Hildegard was also a gifted composer of music, another realm generally designated for men only. Because she was a Benedictine nun and adhered to that order’s strict daily schedule, she sang the Divine Office eight times a day. She believed that singing was the highest form of prayer and music connected humankind directly to the divine. During her interdict, she was prohibited from singing, which was the harshest punishment for her. Hildegard said in a letter to the prelates of Mainz that “the soul is arises from heavenly harmony” (Fox, 1987, p. 359) and in music she referred to herself as a feather on the breath of God. She wrote over 70 songs and Ordo Virtutum, which is sometimes considered to be the first opera. A sampling of her songs may be found at the following sites: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8gK0_PgIgY or http://www.slacker.com/artist/hildegard-von-bingen

Her mystical visions still bring inspiration. Often, they reflect her concept of Viriditas, the greening power, which she believed was the divine made manifest in everything on earth. She wrote, “I, the fiery life of divine essence, am aflame beyond the beauty of the meadows, I gleam in the waters, and I burn in the sun, moon and stars … I awaken everything to life” (Fox, 1987, p. 8-10). Hildegard felt the creation of all things reflected the face of the divine and that nature was sacred, something that is “highly relevant for us in this age of climate change and the destruction of natural habitats” (Sharratt, 2012, para. 6).

Hildegard’s death on September 17, 1179 marks a date of commemoration for this woman, a medieval mystic, visionary, healer, and saint. She was ordained a Doctor of the Church 900 years after her death. Today, women the world over still find solace and strength in her words and songs. We can use her for guidance to find our own viriditas, strength, and sacredness in nature, regardless of faith or lack thereof.

References

Classical Music goturhjem2. (2013, Feb 13). Hildegard von Bingen – Music and Visions [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8gK0_PgIgY.

Hildegard of Bingen. (1987). Hildegard of Bingen’s Book of Divine Works: With Letters and Songs. Matthew Fox (Ed.). Santa Fe, NM: Bear & Company.  

Hildegard von Bingen. (n.d.). Slacker Radio. Retrieved from http://www.slacker.com/artist/hildegard-von-bingen.

Newman, B. (1987). Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard’s Theology of the Feminine. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Sharratt, M. (2012, Oct 27). 8 Reasons Why Hildegard Matters Now. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mary-sharratt/8-reasons-why-hildegard-matters-now_b_2006626.html.

“…The Common Ties of Humanity…:” 20th Century Lessons from More’s Utopia and Roddenberry’s Star Trek

Throwback Thursday meets fandom and academia. I was cleaning out a bunch of old files on my computer and found a paper I wrote when I was a little baby undergrad many moons ago. I am amused. LOL. And yes, it was still the 20th century when I wrote it. I am an old.

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Image copyright watschi, posted on https://www.designcrowd.com/community/contest.aspx?id=1673030

Is it possible for two men who lived 400 years apart to have similar premonitions of the possibilities human society could achieve? Although there is no way to tell for sure, seems that Thomas More, author of Utopia, and Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, both had such visions. The society of the 24th century that Roddenberry so vividly brought to life and the society of the Utopians are both ideal cultures and are similar to each other in many ways. They also have some contrasts as well. Despite the few differences between the two works, Star Trek and Utopia both paint very realistic descriptions of an idyllic society that humanity may one day attain.Read More »

The Heart and Stomach of a King

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Elizabeth I in her Coronation Robes

The Virgin Queen. Good Queen Bess. Gloriana. By whatever name one called her, Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, granddaughter of the indomitable Elizabeth of York, was no woman to be trifled with. On September 7, we mark the 484th anniversary of her birth and the beginning of a long, tumultuous, vibrant life. Her reign is known as the Golden Age of England, during which time writers such as Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Spenser crafted their literary masterpieces; artists like Hilliard, Gower, and Segar painted portraits still recognized the world over; and the music of Tallis, Dowland, and Campion echoed in cathedrals and town squares alike. Elizabeth was quite possibly the apex of the British monarchy, but there are several things not commonly known about this Renaissance powerhouse.

Elizabeth may have been more traumatized by her mother’s execution than she could risk admitting to. She grew up hearing her mother called “The Great Whore,” who was beheaded by her father, Henry VIII, on false accusations of treason and adultery, before Elizabeth was three. However, there are signs that Elizabeth was secretly devoted to her lost mother in ways she couldn’t express openly. A locket ring was removed from her hand after her death which held a miniature of Anne. In a family portrait, she also wore a necklace with her mother’s “A” at her throat, an act which would have landed her in quite a lot of trouble had her father noticed it. At various times of her youth, she was a princess, declared a bastard and removed from the line of succession, reinstated, a political prisoner held in the Tower, and survived sexual scandal that led, in part, to the execution of Sir Thomas Seymour. All without a mother to comfort her.

Her difficult childhood tempered her, though, and her humanist education honed her already keen intelligence. Elizabeth was a polyglot, fluent in six languages by the time she was 11 years old – French, Greek, Latin, Spanish, Welsh and of course English. She also studied others and had a functional understanding of Flemish, Italian, and Gaelic. She learned Gaelic as part of her diplomatic attempts to subdue an Irish rebellion in the 1590s. Diplomacy and oration were great strengths for Elizabeth. She often used flirtation and flattery in her diplomacy to goad her male contemporaries into granting her political wishes. England was in dire straits when she came to the throne and she was pressured on many fronts to marry to secure various alliances and produce an heir, yet Elizabeth remained steadfastly unwed while still maintaining good relations with the majority of Europe throughout her reign. In a 1559 speech to Parliament, she said,

…I am already bound unto an husband, which is the kingdom of England, and that may suffice you. And this… makes me wonder that you forget, yourselves, the pledge of this alliance which I have made with my kingdom. … And reproach me so no more … that I have no children: for every one of you, and as many as are English, are my children and kinsfolks…. (Elizabeth I, 2000, p. 59)

Remaining unwed and fully in control of her government during a time in which women were most often used as bargaining chips, means to getting heirs, securing alliances, and bettering one’s social standing was a testament to Elizabeth’s strength of will and shrewd political acumen.

Another pressing issue of her reign was poverty. Elizabeth created the Act for the Relief of the Poor in 1597, which was the first fully comprehensive bill for poverty relief. It was later amended by the Elizabethan Poor Act of 1601, which remained unchanged until the mid-1800s. The Elizabethan Poor Act essentially taxed the wealthier citizens of the country to provide food, shelter, and clothing to the poor, generally within their own communities. People who were unable to work, such as the very young, the elderly, or the mentally or physically disabled, were cared for in an almshouse or poorhouse. People who could work were sent to “houses of industry.” These were the precursors to the infamous Victorian workhouses, but in Elizabeth’s time, they were a vast improvement over being labeled a vagrant, a hanging offence. Children who were old enough to work were made apprentices in various trades. People who were too lazy to work, though, were on their own and would either have to decide to work or would eventually wind up in prison or be hanged as a persistent beggar, as the term was known under the Vagrancy Act of 1547 (Rathbone, 2017). Elizabeth instituted what were, for the time, sweeping reforms for the care of the poor.

Elizabeth may be best known for reigning during the time of Shakespeare, Spenser, Marlowe, and the like, but her own contributions to her country and culture cannot be overlooked. She was the woman who was never meant to be Queen but who became one of the most beloved monarchs of the British monarchy. She was the woman who roused her troops with speeches worthy of the gods. Gloriana.

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The Darnley Portrait

Elizabeth I. (2000). Elizabeth I: Collected Works. Leah S. Marcus (Ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Rathbone, Mark. “Vagabond!” History Review. March 2005, Issue 51, p. 8-13.

Margery Kempe, a Pronoun, and her Earthly Associations*

*I wrote this paper something like 15+ years ago in grad school, in one of my Middle English courses. My instructor was the amazing Dhira Mahoney, who recently passed away. I wanted to repost one of my newbie grad student papers that I wrote for her as a tribute to the mentoring she gave me and the lessons I learned, both from her and since then because of her. 

Margery Kempe, a Pronoun, and her Earthly Associations

Margery Kempe is a woman of many titles. She is a wife, a mother, a mystic. Her contemporaries termed her a nuisance, a heretic, a saint. One scholar accurately calls her ‘the woman who would not go away.’1 But how does one woman fall under so many titles? Regardless of how people regard her, it is Margery’s use of language that defines her identity to various individuals. This paper will examine how Margery uses language and tone in her dialogues between earthly men and women in her Book to define her relationship with and authority to the people in her life.Read More »

Rereading Mordred

I have a paper due tonight, 3000-4000 words. I started writing it yesterday, which is the absolute earliest I could find time to sit my butt down and start writing. It is no reflection on the calibre of my instructor, the course, or the institution, though, which are all excellent. 

Rereading Mordred

Once upon a time in literature, a boy pulled a sword from a stone and Arthurian literature was born. However, there is no one genesis of the Arthur legend. Correspondingly, various changes take place throughout the canon, from the way the knights’ armour looks to the way the characters themselves are portrayed. A character who has undergone a great deal of change over time is Mordred. From various medieval texts to J.R.R. Tolkien’s interpretation, Mordred’s competence, approach to leadership, and relationship with Gwenhwyfar are woven together to create a highly complex, often misunderstood character. Read More »