On Elizabeth I and Domestic Violence

By Christopher W. Taylor

On Thursday, March 20 2007, in the Forum of the Floyd-Payne Campus Center at Tennessee State University (TSU), Evelyn Moody, a representative of the University Honors Program (UHP) and the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (NACWC), hosted a seminar on domestic violence. The seminar began with a speech by Venus Allen, a TSU Crime Prevention Counselor. The majority of the seminar, however, involved a showing of Domestic Violence: Faces of Fear (1996), which is a documentary that defines domestic violence from a broad perspective. In this paper, I will examine the issues that this event brings up as they relate to Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603).

Elizabeth I has had a prominent impact on sexual equality in our society. She is partially responsible for helping to loosen female sex roles. It is no longer strange for us to hear about female politicians, lawyers, scientists, etc. Julia M. Walker in her book, The Elizabeth Icon, 1603-2003, said that Elizabeth’s “most profound change was worked within the minds of her subjects and the generations to follow them. ‘Monarch’ no longer meant only King” (1). Elizabeth achieved this because she was the first popular and successful female English monarch in a time constrained by ideas such as the great chain of being. The seminar on domestic violence mirrored the issues Elizabeth faced by its role in sex equality, its prominent use of individualism, and its emphasis on statistics to determine effects on society.

What does learning about domestic violence have to do with sexual equality? As the documentary explained, most domestic violence affects women. Indeed, according to the documentary, over 1,400 women die each year due to domestic violence, and two to four million women are abused each year. An expert on domestic violence in the documentary said that the major cause of the problem is the way most men are raised. These men believe that they are superior to women and it is, therefore, acceptable for them to abuse their wives. One officer even had to inform a surprised batterer that abusing his wife was illegal. Elizabeth always dealt with her male subjects’ belief that they were superior to her because she was female. Indeed, her most trusted minister, Sir William Cecil (1520-98) even withheld documents from her sometimes (Hibbert 119)  In addition, Elizabeth often dealt with her subjects wanting her to get married; according to Alison Weir, “it was unthinkable that a woman would attempt to rule alone without a man to guide and protect her” (25).

The documentary approached domestic violence from several perspectives. Given that the crowd was mostly Black females, Allen focused on domestic violence on them. The documentary started with domestic violence in heterosexual adult relationships. It then went on to discuss the effects of domestic violence on children, Puerto Ricans, Native Americans, Israelis, same-sex relationships, and teenagers. Throughout the documentary, the different perspectives of the documentary emphasized individualism by showing the effect individualistic decisions to commit domestic violence have on our society. In comparison, the Elizabethan Age was a period characterized by the development of individualism (Aronson XV). A man like Sir Walter Ralegh could be responsible for defeating the Irish and Spanish, popularizing the consumption of tobacco and the growth of potatoes, and naming a large section of land in North America in the name of Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen. Similarly, Elizabeth could be responsible for changing the fate of her nation (Walker 1).

Statistics showed the cumulative effects of domestic violence in the documentary. One expert in the documentary, for example, said that teenagers cause about twelve percent of domestic violence. Similarly, statistics was beginning to become a mainstay for decision making in Western Europe in the Elizabethan Age (Stone 1). At this time, Elizabeth’s ministers, especially Cecil, began to realize the difficulty of governing without quantitative fact; thus, like the producers of the documentary, Elizabeth’s ministers started gathered data to use in their analysis (2).

In our constant striving to perfect our society’s problems, such as domestic violence, it is appropriate to remember the past heroines like Elizabeth, who helped us along the way. Had she not decided to remain single, maintain an active role as a monarch, and struggle to win her people’s love, the sexual equality movement would not have progressed as much as it did during the Elizabethan Age.


Works Cited

Aronson, Marc. Sir Walter Ralegh and the Quest for El Dorado. New York: Clarion Books, 2000.

Domestic Violence: Faces of Fear. Prod. Janice Selinger. Perf. Diane Sawyer. PBS Video, 1996.

Hibbert, Christopher. The Virgin Queen: Elizabeth I, Genius of the Golden Age. Cambridge: Perseus Books. 1991.

Stone, Lawrence. “Elizabethan Overseas Trade.” The Economic History Review 2.1 (1949). Economic History Society. 26 March 2007 <http://www.jstor.org/>.

Walker, Julia M. The Elizabeth Icon, 1603-2003. New York: Palgrave, 2004.

Weir, Alison. The Life of Elizabeth I. New York: Ballantine Books, 1998.