Regal Style: From Eleanor of Aquitane to Queen Elizabeth II
This weekend, Queen Elizabeth II will be celebrating her diamond jubilee. In other words, it's her 60th anniversary as the Queen of England. There's been much buzz about style and the House of Windsor lately, thanks to lovebirds Kate Middleton and Prince William. But Queen Elizabeth II is just one of many great ladies in England's history. The monarchy dates back thousands of years, each with their own style—from dress to policies.
During the Dark and Middle ages, being royal wasn't exactly a blessing. In the case of Eleanor of Aquitane, it was certainly more of a curse. She was Queen of France with a bad marriage, battled in the crusades, became Queen of England by another bad marriage, lived in exile from her husband, was imprisoned by her husband, and finally freed after a rebellion by her children. That's stressful. Rumor has it she and her ladies dressed as Amazons, but it's largely disputed by historians. However, her golden robes, along with her supposed unmatched beauty, are often mentioned when recalling her reign.
To be one of Henry VIII's wives was to be a dead queen walking. They all had their own style of life and ruling, but none is remembered so much as Anne Boelyn. She was Henry's second wife after Catherine of Aragon, a conservative Catholic Spanish queen. Anne was raised in France, where she learned "worldly" things and when she returned to England, she ensnared the King. Political intrigue surrounded her reign and she eventually lost her head, which was rarely without her famous "B" necklace.
Yikes, Mary. Do you remember that scene in Home Alone when Kevin goes through Buzz's trunk and goes, "Buzz, your girlfriend, woof!"? We always used to say that about Mary. She was King Henry VIII's daughter with Catherine of Aragon. Raised to be a devout and conservative woman by her mother and caretakers, she grew up with an axe to grind. After ascending the throne she plunged England turmoil by burning every Protestant she could find, earning her the nickname "Bloody Mary." Fun! She, like her mother, was a modest woman and rarely frivolous.
They call her the Virgin Queen, but before becoming the great monarch we know Elizabeth enjoyed a life of leisure. As a princess and young queen, she celebrated often and lavishly with her courtiers. As unrest in the country grew in the wake of Queen Mary's crusades and the rise of protestant Elizabeth, she snapped in to action. Her enemies failed in attempts to depose her and she claimed herself wedded to her country. What followed was England's Golden Age where exploration, thought and culture advanced to new heights. Elizabeth was often depicted with elaborate collars atop a map of her empire and with pale makeup, an imposing image to the rest of the world.
Unlike Queen Mary I, Queen Mary II enjoyed a prosperous time on the throne. Her rise to power wasn't so easy though—she and her husband, William of Orange, joined forces to overthrow her Catholic father from the throne in the Glorious Revolution. Once seated, William & Mary limited their power with the signing of the Bill of Rights, which helped the parliament govern the common people. The pair also endowed the College of William and Mary in Virgina, which still churns out happy undergrads today.
Queen Anne is one of the lesser-known monarchs of British history, especially when compared against titans like Elizabeth and Victoria, but she had a lasting effect on her nation. Although detractors say that she was of inferior intelligence and rarely contributed to the government, it is largely heresay. The stability brought during her reign enabled the country to move forward culturally. And while "Queen Anne" style and architecture is not literally related to the queen, it flourished under her tenure.
By Victoria's reign, England had enjoyed the success of many women in power. Her strength of character showed at an early age—as a young girl, she was a toy of those around her and was nearly forced to sign a regency agreement that would essentially allow others to usurp her power. She was barely of age when crowned and after mitigating some political unrest, went on to lead England into the modern era with her husband Albert. She remains the longest ruling queen in the country's history.
Now we're up to today and about to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's diamond jubilee. She's got a style all her own, there's no denying that with all those hunting jackets and matchy matchy suits. There are those that say she's now a dowdy and outdated dresser, but give the woman some credit: she dresses for herself and her people, not trends.
Image c/o British Monarch Website, Cecil Beaton, 1968
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