Erotic Subjects: The Sexuality of Politics in Early Modern English Literature

By Melissa E. Sanchez | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
“She Therein Ruling”
Hagiographic Politics in The Countess of
Pembroke’s Arcadia

On New Year’s Day 1581, Philip Sidney gave Elizabeth I a notoriously provocative gift: a “jewel of gold, being a whip garnished with small diamonds in four rows, and cords of small seed pearle.”1 Scholars have typically interpreted this present in topical, rather than theoretical, terms. In this reading, Sidney’s offer of a bejeweled whip marks the end of his part in debates over Elizabeth’s proposed marriage to François, Duc d’Anjou. In 1579, Sidney had spoken for the forward Protestant faction of Elizabeth’s Privy Council when he wrote Elizabeth a publicly circulated letter opposing the union—a liberty for which John Stubbes had notoriously lost his right hand. Shortly afterward, Sidney withdrew from court. Sidney’s readers have generally assumed that he was banished as a result of the letter and that the bejeweled whip signified a witty apology for his earlier act of lèse majesté and a promise to defer to royal authority in the future.2

But the supposition that Sidney’s gift admits defeat and confirms the queen’s authority does not fit the actual status of the Anjou debate in 1581. Nor does it fit the generally accepted theory of government that operated in Elizabethan England. Until 1582, Elizabeth officially kept open the possibility of an Anglo-French alliance that would counter Spanish power. However, at the time of Sidney’s gift she gave

1. Zouch, Memoirs, 332.

2. McCoy, Rebellion, 69; Minogue, “Astrophil, Stella, and Queen Virture’s Court,” 555; and Brennan, Sidney’s, 84–85. Duncan-Jones challenges the assumption that Sidney’s letter occasioned his banishment from court (Sidney, 164).

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