Today, the 21st April 2016, we pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth II, as she celebrates her 90th birthday – many happy returns to her Majesty.
This is a birthday Queen Elizabeth shares with Charlotte Brontë. The author was born 200 years ago in 1816 in the Regency Period, when George III was still King, and lived through the reigns of George IV and William IV, before her early death in 1855, when Queen Victoria had been on the throne for 18 years.
Queen Elizabeth II is Britain’s longest reigning monarch, followed closely by Queen Victoria, who reigned from 1837 until her death in 1901. And Queens through history, and in all nations, have been admired and used as inspiration by a wide variety of women writers. Monarchs – and indeed Queen consorts – are frequently held up as ‘illustrious women’ who should be emulated. They are commemorated in compilations and biographical tributes that became increasingly popular throughout the long eighteenth century.
Chawton House Library holds several of these collective biographies. Madeleine de Scudéry’s Les Femmes illustres, ou les harangues héroïques (1642) is one of the earliest – we hold the 1714 English translation, the Female Orators: or. The Courage and Constancy of Divers Famous Queens which contains monologues of famous women from antiquity, addressed by characters such as Cleopatra to Mark Anthony.
At the other end of the century, Mary Hays’s Female Biography; or, Memoirs of Illustrious and Celebrated Women, of All Ages and Countries (1803) includes lengthy accounts of the lives of several Queens, included Catherine the Great of Russia, Christina of Sweden and Elizabeth I of England. Of her, Mary Hays writes:
If the question respecting the equality of the sexes was to be determined by an appeal to the characters of sovereign princes, the comparison is, in proportion, manifestly in favour of woman, and that without having recourse to the trite and flippant observation, proved to have been ill founded, of male and female influence. Elizabeth of England affords a glorious example in truth of this position.
So let us raise a toast to Elizabeth II on this day, and remember all the illustrious women who came before her.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]