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"Gloriana! The Golden Legend of Elizabeth I"
2002-12-20 until 2002-06-15
Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
San Marino, CA, USA

The life and legend of one of Englands greatest monarchs will be the subject of a new exhibition entitled Gloriana! The Golden Legend of Elizabeth I, on view December 20, 2002, through June 15, 2003, at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Drawn exclusively from materials in The Huntingtons collections, the exhibition commemorates the 400th anniversary of the Queens death on March 24, 1603. One of the central themes explored in the exhibit is how the Virgin Queen used the media of the day to create and control her own image.

I am no lover of pompous title, Queen Elizabeth I is said to have told her ladies-in-waiting, but only desire that my name may be recorded in a line or two, which shall briefly express my name, my virginity, the years of my reign, the reformation of religion under it, and my preservation of peace.

History, legend, and modern scholarship have recorded rather more than this about the last and greatest Tudor queen. In Elizabeths forty-four-year reign (1558-1603), England grew from a small weak nation on the northwest edge of Europe, reeling from three decades of political and religious strife, to a stable world power, challenging Spains monopoly in the New World and founding a maritime empire of her own. Elizabeth ended the religious persecutions of her Catholic sister Mary, established the Anglican Church of England, defeated the invincible Spanish Armada, kept her nation at peace in a belligerent age, presided over a glittering court, and inspired a Golden Age of Renaissance culture.

So runs the legend, and so runs much truth, for Elizabeth was indeed an extraordinary woman, coming to power at a time when Englands past experience of ruling queens was uniformly poor and most believed that any female was simply incapable of governing. She read seven languages, translated Boethius for fun, delivered impromptu speeches in Latin, played the lute like a professional, and gave the name to the first English colony of Virginia. She sent daring English privateers out to raid Spanish possessions around the world, inspired her army with a stirring speech as the Armada approached, and patronized poets, artists, explorers, and scientists.

In addition to such royal accomplishments, however, Elizabeth also possessed skills more familiar to our modern world: She was a genius at public relations, and understood instinctively how best to use the media of the day. In speeches and writing, public appearances and official ceremonies, dress and comportment, and paintings and prints, the Queen displayed a hard-headed approach to controlling her own image. With her ministers help and the half-knowing connivance of her subjects, she created a monarch who was part real woman and part legendary goddess. Together they crafted and largely sustained a royal image of power, justice, benevolence, Protestant piety, unattainable beauty, and firm Tudor resolve. And if at the end of her long reign growing religious division and social unrest caused the mask to slip a little, showing snatches of the lonely, tired, and increasingly unpopular old woman behind the red wig and extravagant gowns, then poets, artists, and historians took over the enterprise. They preserved for posterity the still-familiar persona of a timeless, ever beautiful Gloriana, the Virgin Queen, Good Queen Bess, the greatest of all English monarchs.

Featured in the exhibit will be original letters and documents bearing Elizabeths distinctive signature along with rare books synonymous with Renaissance English literature. A stunning selection of early prints will document the most famous people and events of Elizabethan England: the Queen and her Court, the establishment of the Anglican Church, the danger of Mary Queen of Scots, the defeat of the Spanish Armada, Sir Francis Drakes circumnavigation of the world, and the extraordinary outpouring of poetry, prose and drama inspired by the queen. Among the items displayed will be one of the famous Nicholas Hilliard miniature paintings of the Queen; Elizabeths original signed manuscript proclamation in support of the Book of Common Prayer; an illustrated English Bible of 1575; John Foxes popular Book of Martyrs; a pristine Great Seal of England still affixed to the elaborate vellum document granting lands to Elizabeths chief minister Lord Burghley; Privy Council and Signet letters concerning Mary Queen of Scots; Christopher Saxtons spectacular hand-colored Atlas of the Counties of England; the first edition of Richard Hakluyts Voyages; Shakespeares Merry Wives of Windsor (written by tradition at the Queens request); and Spensers Faerie Queene with its allegorical celebration of Elizabeth as Gloriana.

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