The prowess to exercise her governmental duties as queen of England, how witchcraft and the advent of science influenced her kingdom, and why two collectors of Elizabeth I books turned devotees of her dress codes were the topics of a lecture titled ‘The Sun That Lights the Rainbow: The Life and Times of Elizabeth I.”
Dr. Jeffrey Auerbach, CSUN professor of history, spoke at the exhibition last Thursday at 8 p.m. in the lower level of the Oviatt Library. Auerbach spoke on how Elizabeth I is regarded as one of the most glorious rulers in what became the British Empire. She was a strong supporter of colonial expansion.
However, he said her times as head of state were tainted with gender backslash because she was a woman in power. Elizabeth I was queen of England from 1558 to 1603. During her ruling period, she was constantly discriminated against because of her gender and her role in society.
Philosophers and others wrote essays about male superiority in almost every aspect of human cognition and life. Some even quoted theologians to support their thoughts. However, the 16th century in Europe was a historical period where several queens dominated politics in countries like Spain and France.
“It’s an exaggeration to say Elizabeth I ruled in a world of men. It was a rule in a world of women too,” said Auerbach.
Elizabeth I relied on her wit to garner support to defend her country, and defeat the Spaniards, which at the end of the 16th century had the most powerful navy in the world, Auerbach said.
She was a shrewd, intelligent woman able to speak Italian, Russian and Greek. But many criticized her out of envy or because of her unique place in history.
“Her unmarried status was part of her difference. Elizabeth I understood marriage would make her an ordinary woman in light of her kingdom,” Auerbach said. “She became a virgin, and even competed with virgin Mary for virginity.”
Her dress codes included ornamented dresses with bubbling arms, expensive jewelry and long gowns. Auerbach said Elizabeth I was simply the most astute politician of her times, given the highly religious upbringings amongst British people in the 16th century. Although she strongly supported the Anglican church, she was able to negotiate with the Catholic church to avoid serious rifts within her country.
“She bestowed religious unity to political unity,” Auerbach said.
Sabina Magliocco, CSUN professor of anthropology, said witchcraft and science’s coming of age permeated Elizabeth I’s cultural and social ruling. Although direct links to the queen’s rumored stints with witchcraft have never been established, many in her country believed there were practitioners of witch-craft. Popular books that dealt with demons and witchcraft were written to alert the population about how to avoid deceit and fraud.
“Elizabethans thought differently from us during that age. Witchcraft was not only a way to heal humans in certain ways. It was believed it was used to overthrow governments,” Magliocco said.
Magliocco said witchcraft’s power lied in the work of the devil. On occasions, squabbles among neighbors finished after one of them mysteriously became ill, and would never recover. About 270 witches were trailed in England in these times. Although there are records that indicate men also practiced witchcraft, mostly women were accused, and punished for it.
“Many people who practice this craft were believed to be good scientists. We don’t have to believe the notion that only poor people practiced the craft,” Magliocco said.
In fact, Magliocco said, the practice was so widespread that Elizabeth I’s foreign minister believed that witchcraft would decipher hidden messages contained in foreign languages.
Alchemy, the medieval forerunner of chemistry, was also highly regarded. Astronomy, the scientific study of celestial bodies and their position in the galaxy and the solar system, was also believed to have an effect in public and social outcomes.
Tom Seehof, a Woodland Hills resident, whom along with his wife Jean, has become a strong follower of Elizabeth I, said their travels to England to get acquainted with her castle, living styles and customs have strongly impacted their lives. Both were dressed in medieval royal court attire during the two-hour lecture.
“Many students saw us with these customs and wondered what are these folks doing with these customs,” said Tom Seehof, as most of the 100 attendants smiled.
The Seehofs have donated a 3,000 book collection about Queen Elizabeth I to the Oviatt Library. Tom said he was amazed to find out that many books of her times, jewelry and clothing were looted from London and the surrounding towns. Tom said the queen lost many personal items all through her life.
Jean Seehof, who has created several dresses that resemble those worn during the reign of Elizabeth I, said she became a connoisseur of renaissance dress styles after she discovered the queen’s living style. “People ask me how I learn to do these dresses. I tell them ‘I’m a sewer. I just sew,” Jean said.
Jean is a talented seamstress whose creations are part of a wide arts exhibit currently open at the Oviatt Library. The gallery is located in the second floor. The exhibition will run until Dec. 20.
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