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Conflicting Gender Expectations in the Tudor Dynasty

Strict gender roles existed throughout the Tudor Dynasty, affecting all sectors of society. Tudor men believed that their role was being the head of the household whilst women, on the other hand, were raised to believe that they were inferior to men. The Tudor Dynasty somehow both adhered to and rejected these expected gender roles.

Henry VIII is a prime example of a Tudor monarch who embraced his expected gender role. Henry was known to regularly project his masculinity in jousting tournaments, where he insisted on only challenging the strongest, most talented competitors to demonstrate his masculinity. Tudor gender roles also greatly encouraged Henry’s actions as a husband. His many affairs, especially while married to Catherine of Aragon, were presented as the actions of a caring and dutiful husband, seeking sexual outlets during his wife’s pregnancy. To many, this was the honourable thing for Henry to do as it protected his wife from any issues Henry might experience from not ‘releasing his seed’. Maintaining his masculinity remained of the upmost importance in all aspects of his life, not only to the King himself, but also to those surrounding him in court and his people. For example, during the tumultuous Reformation of England, Henry fathering a son as an heir to the throne remained at the centre of the country’s goals. Following this, Henry’s masculinity was utilised advantageously during his many divorces. One of the charges against Anne Boleyn, for example, included Anne and her brother occasionally laughing at the King’s clothing, which was treated as a great offence during her trial as Henry’s clothing was seen as an extension of the man he made of himself. The protection and maintenance of Henry’s masculine image enabled him to make many harsh decisions throughout his reign without repercussions, particularly against his six wives.

There were completely different gender roles surrounding women of the Tudor period. Elizabeth I was subject to pressing expectations from the outset of her reign, as the people of England felt a profound unease at being subjected to the rule of a woman, particularly after the turbulent rule of her sister, Mary I.  However, Elizabeth managed to use the expectations of women to her advantage throughout her reign. On one hand, Elizabeth colluded with blatant misogyny by consistently referring to herself as a weak, feeble woman. On the other hand, however, she used more masculine terms, such as referring to herself as a ‘Prince’, to appear more powerful and assertive. By pretending to regret that she had been born a woman, Elizabeth was able to manipulate her male courtiers and establish her authority in what was essentially a man’s world. Elizabeth used stereotypes in this way to further assert control in her court and in international politics. She gained the famous label the ‘Virgin Queen’, but also as a flirtatious woman throughout court. The Tudors expected a wife to submit to her husband, but Elizabeth had no intention of being governed by a man. Elizabeth attempted to maintain a good relationship with those who had proposed marriage through her flirtatious nature to ensure good relations remained in court and therefore with other countries. However, Elizabeth could not entirely escape the misogynistic attitudes faced by Tudor women, as there was much gossip surrounding her relationships at court. For example, rumours regarding an allegedly ‘explicit’ relationship with her favourite courtier, Robert Dudley, could have proved dangerous for Elizabeth. If gossip that Elizabeth had not remained a virgin had spread to international court, it would have not only negatively impacted her relations with those who had previously made marriage proposals, but may have also impacted her position as monarch, as rumours also spread that the sudden death of Dudley’s wife in 1560 was orchestrated by Elizabeth.

 

Henry was front and foremost a man so it was easier for him to control those around him to comply with what he required to keep his masculinity in check, whether that be taking part in sporting activities, or finding a new wife. Elizabeth, however, needed to take more care with how she treated the court. It was more important for her to create a strong relationship with the court by playing up a role as a ‘feeble’ women so that she could maintain stability as monarch.