The Heart and Stomach of a King: Elizabeth I and the Politics of Sex and Power

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Chosen as one of the ten best academic books of the 1990s by Lingua Franca readers

"I may have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king."—Elizabeth I

Whether this sentence is an accurate transcription of Elizabeth's speech at Tilbury in 1588, it does characterize some of the struggles, contradictions, and cultural anxieties that dominated the collective consciousness of England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. In The Heart and Stomach of a King, Carole Levin explores contemporary representations of the unmarried, childless Elizabeth and focuses on the ways in which members of her court, foreign ambassadors, and a motley—and sometimes delusional—collection of subjects responded to her. Throughout, Levin's purpose is to explore how gender constructions, role expectations, and beliefs about sexuality influenced both Elizabeth's self-presentation and others' perceptions of her as a female, and Protestant, ruler.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This study will appeal to anyone interested in Elizabeth Tudor or, more generally, women in power."—Publishers Weekly

"An important book. . . . Levin breaks out of the usual stale biographical packaging of Elizabeth by using traditional sources in imaginative ways."—Shakespeare Quarterly

"A persuasive analysis of how perception of gender roles helped to constitute power in Tudor England."—Choice

"Promises to become a classic of enduring interest to specialists and general readers alike."—Sixteenth Century Journal

"Levin is stimulating on topics such as Elizabeth I's use of the image of the Virgin Queen, one which could be helpfully confused in the popular imagination with that of the discarded Catholic Virgin Mary."—London Times

"The Heart and Stomach of a King occupies the realm where political and social history overlap with anthropology, art history, and literary criticism. Enriched by all these viewpoints, Levin's work is remarkably in tune with Elizabeth. The innovative and allusive quality of Levin's prose matches the fluidity and creativity of Elizabeth's behavior."—Albion

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This study uses Elizabeth Tudor's life to show ``the intersection of politics with gender, of sexuality with power,'' but its real strength is the intriguing portrait of Elizabeth Levin constructs from anecdotes, trivia and gossip often overlooked or dismissed by traditional biographies. A study of Elizabeth I, who successfully ruled England when women were considered too ``feeble and foolish'' to manage their own private affairs, can tell much about power and gender expectations, but too often this book shapes the material to fit the thesis. Concerning the healing royal touch ritual, we're told: ``One can see, however, the gendered nature of the way she approached these ceremonies,'' although Elizabeth doesn't seem to have acted differently from her male predecessors. Similarly, a full chapter isn't needed to convince the reader of a sexual double standard where male and female rulers were concerned and that rumors about Elizabeth's wantonness reflected public unease with a female ruler. Despite some awkward repetitions, this study of how the public responded to Elizabeth and to her extraordinarily successful reign will appeal to anyone interested in Elizabeth Tudor or, more generally, women in power. (Sept.)
Library Journal
She was England's virgin queen, king but for her sex, "ever her own mistress," as Francis Bacon and his contemporaries proclaimed. Elizabeth I was besieged on all sides: to marry, to go to war, to name an heir. Was she trapped by her gender or able to rise above it? Levin (history, SUNY-New Paltz) attempts to shed new light on this question. Unfortunately, extraneous detail and a scattershot approach detract from the power of her argument. There are some fresh insights here (Elizabeth as healer, and as hater of war, where others would reap the glory), and certainly no one will ever be able to claim full knowledge of what motivated the queen. However, a thorough grounding in Elizabeth's life and times is necessary for understanding Levin's narrative. Recommended for larger academic history collections only.-Nancy L. Whitfield, Meriden P.L., Ct.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812215335
  • Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/28/1994
  • Series: New Cultural Studies Series
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 1,124,858
  • Product dimensions: 6.02 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Meet the Author

Carole Levin is Professor of History at the State University of New York. She is the author of Propaganda in the English Reformation: Heroic and Villainous Images of King John, and editor (with Karen Robertson) of Sexuality and Politics in Renaissance Drama and (with Jeanie Watson) Ambiguous Realities: Women in the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1 Introduction 1
2 Elizabeth as Sacred Monarch 10
3 The Official Courtships of the Queen 39
4 Wanton and Whore 65
5 The Return of the King 91
6 Elizabeth as King and Queen 121
7 Dreaming the Queen 149
Notes 173
Bibliography 215
Index 235
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