It is not only the history of one woman, the way she was perceived by her people and subsequent generations, but the history of literature, of art, of politics, of religion, and culture, for each generation writes its own history, and they write it according to their understandings of the world, their experiences and expectations.
To begin with, the Queen's reputation in her own life time, can perhaps give an interesting insight into sixteenth century life - their values and beliefs, attitudes towards monarchy, religion, sex and marriage, and the role of women in society.
Yet, by treading cautiously through this melange, tracing as far as possible the origin and development of various trains of thought, in the process extricating both prevarications and truths, it is perhaps possible to get closer to what Elizabeth was really like as a person and a monarch.
But the history of Elizabeth's reputation is a subject of interest in itself.
If both Anne and Elizabeth were abhorred by the people in these years, then this means that the sheer acceptance of Elizabeth as sovereign some two decades later, needs some consideration.
The hypothesis that immediately arises, is that somewhere between her birth and accession to the throne, her reputation suffered a transformation from unpopular to popular. Elizabeth's reputation from her accession to her death is no less perplexing to understand because of its many facets.On the one hand there is the "cult of Elizabeth", which presents Elizabeth very much as the capable monarch, the virtuous virgin who renounced worldly happiness for the sake of her country, and on the other hand, the scandalous rumours which asserted that Elizabeth was a nymphomaniac who presided over a court of corruption and lasciviousness.It was asserted, amongst other things, that the Queen used malevolent powers to seduce the men, even women, around her; would have those who refused her advances beheaded; and had secretly mothered many children.It seems that slanders against Elizabeth were more pronounced in areas away from the capital.This is perhaps suggestive about regional variation in the perception of Elizabeth, and the remoteness of her monarchy in those areas that she never visited.If Lacey Baldwin Smith asserts that in this respect Elizabeth is a "Queen of Addiction" (1), she is also a "Queen of contention".She may have gone down in the annals of history as "Good Queen Bess", but this epithet belies the fact that her character and reign have been exposed to profound debate over the centuries.Elizabeth Tudor is undoubtedly one of the most famous English monarchs.Her life and reign have inspired many biographies, histories, novels, and dramatic works.On a more macroscopic level, her ability as a ruler, as a politician, and her religious policy, have been disputed.It can perhaps be said that the real Elizabeth has become so embroiled in myth and legend, that it is now impossible to recover her.