"The Queen of Sacrifice" 24x30 Oil on Canvas. (Originally created for the “Birds of War” series.
In her portraits Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603) wears all the trappings of royalty--but these decorations are more than just for show. Every stitch and jewel is symbolic. Elizabethan propoganda. Tudor roses decorate the fabric to prove her connection to the Tudors. Pearls symbolize purity. Red, black, white, and gold, prove her wealth and status. Crosses show her connection to God (she was convinced she had a direct line). And, often, a pelican appears on or around her person.
The pelican symbolizes her selfless love for her people, a mother’s love, because, according to legend, a female pelican would pluck her own breast to feed her dying young with her own blood. The pelican was also a symbol, in the Middle Ages, of Jesus’ crucifixion, the ultimate sacrifice, and of the Eucharist. The bird to represent the queen, then, was an easy choice.
However, the choice of the Queen to represent England was not always so easy. Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, was famously beheaded and her marriage to King Henry VIII annulled. Elizabeth was the last of Henry’s line remaining after her elder sister Mary Tudor died. But many proclaimed that, because of Elizabeth’s illegitimacy that her distant cousin Mary Stuart was the true heir to the throne.
In the midst of all these legitimacy claims there was the larger problem of religion. Elizabeth was a Protestant and Mary a Catholic. Religious wars were boiling all over Europe and the ruler of the British Empire was a big prize.
In the end, as you may already know, Elizabeth won the prize. Ultimately this win was due to her council of advisors that ran the Elizabethan propaganda machine. Every downfall they turned into a win. The childless illegitimate bastard transformed into a virgin queen chosen by God. Voila. The moral of this story is: always keep good council.
Painting inspired by "Queen Elizabeth I in Coronation Robes" Unknown Artist, 1600.