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  • Kristin Bundesen, PhD

Adventures of an historian - in which she impersonates a political analyst

Last fall, I agreed to give a lecture during Women's History month for Renesan, a life long learning organization in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (Yes, it will be via Zoom so anyone can attend.) The title "Elizabeth I: Lessons in Governance for Today's Leaders" was suggested to me and in a fog of overdue work and trivial domestic details, I agreed and even wrote an abstract. Renesan is a wonderful organization and I've lectured and taught courses for them periodically over the past 8 years .

Now that I am writing the lecture, I am a bit aghast that I agreed to impersonate a political analyst. Such is the glory of history, and the Humanities in general, that all the stray bits and bobs for pulling this together should be lying about somewhere in my memory banks, the books scattered throughout the house, and my own personal digital archives. At least, I hope so. The lecture is on March 25, 2021 at 1:00 PM Mountain Time

As I sit down to write this lecture, I wonder if Elizabeth I is that great a role model for governance. She faced years of civil discord, riots, a dismal economy, a kingdom with a strong streak of xenophobia, religious extremism, and seemingly endless wars. After 450-ish years, this sounds awfully familiar. But, she had hereditary monarchy on her side and so had 45 years to work on these things.

In her youth, she was not expected to ascend the throne. She'd been bastardized by her father, displaced by a younger brother and an older sister, and to add insult to injury, her brother, King Edward VI wrote her out of the line of succession in his will. He was 16 at the time and she was 20 although she did not ascend the throne until she was 25. The older sister ruled in the intervening years. Still, she had no elections to win. She didn't even need to raise an army to claim her throne as her sister did.

Unknown English artist, formerly attributed to George Gower.1558.
The Armada Portrait is laden with political messaging. A bit of a TikTok still frame.

These days when I'm thinking about strong female leaders my internal movie projector flashes images of Jacinda Arden addressing her nation via a Facebook live stream or Instagram. (Sorry, Angela Merkel.) I admit I'm a bit of a Jacinda fangirl. On the other hand, New Zealand is officially covid free and the white culture and the indigenous Mãori culture seem to have worked out a reasonable relationship although there is still social justice work to be done to reduce tensions. Jacinda, yes I'm on a first name basis with her in my head, sprinkles Mãori words and phrases through all her public remarks. Imagine if a U.S. president threw in words in Dine or Cherokee as a matter of course when speaking from the White House. It's a lot more than just si se puede. Elizabeth I was conversant is several languages (Latin, French, Italian, Spanish, etc.) to the delight of several ambassadors putting all modern leaders to shame.

Lecture Snippet: Despite having been disinherited, Elizabeth I took the throne and ruled for a relatively stable 45 years. During her reign, the arts flourished, navigational advancements led to exploration and expansion, religious moderation became the norm, and relative peace seemed possible. Under her direction, Parliament took up the issues of poverty, jobs, and social welfare. History now calls her reign “the Golden Age”. Without Facebook, Twitter, or an independent press, Elizabeth carefully - and for the most part successfully - managed her image and her relationship with her government and people.

After this short break for shameless self-promotion, I now return to sorting through the flotsam currently masquerading as a first draft of this 2-hour lecture. If you would like to attend please visit Renesan to purchase tickets and reserve your digital seat.


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