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

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"I may have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king." - Elizabeth I. Whether or not 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. Levin focuses on topics such as the queen's succession; the representation of Elizabeth as a religious figure; reports of her sexual license and rumors about her legions of illegitimate children; and recurring stories of the survival - and return to power - of Elizabeth's long-dead brother, King Edward VI. Levin mines an extraordinary number of sources: tracts, pamphlets, religious works, Parliamentary statutes and speeches, sermons and homilies, plays and ballads, and diplomatic correspondence. But it is her reconstruction of gossip and rumor, and the use she makes of records of court cases involving people arrested for slandering the queen, that give The Heart and Stomach of a King much of its distinctive character. Levin notes that while these sources do not always provide accurate factual information about Elizabeth's life, they do provide a great deal of information about the social-psychological response to queenship. The Heart and Stomach of a King is a fresh, insightful, and provocative examination of Elizabeth I that helps us to understand the intersection of politics wi
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Editorial Reviews

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.
From the Publisher
Praise for the first edition:

"Levin breaks out of the usual stale biographical packaging of Elizabeth by using traditional sources in imaginative ways, as well as by incorporating a number of less usual texts."—Shakespeare Quarterly

"Written in a lucid, often witty prose style, Carole Levin's volume. . . promises to become a classic of enduring interest to specialists and general readers alike."—Sixteenth Century Journal

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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: 1,328,941
  • Product dimensions: 6.02 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Meet the Author

Carole Levin is Willa Cather Professor of History and Director of the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program at the University of Nebraska. She is author of Dreaming the English Renaissance: Politics and Desire in Court and Culture and Propaganda in the English Reformation: Heroic and Villainous Images of King John.

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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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