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The Eroticization of Tudor Queens in Early Modern England and Beyond

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This project traces the eroticization of England's Tudor queens, which began in the sixteenth century, and persists in scholarly and popular representations to this day. First, I locate the process of sexualization and eroticization in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century epistles, dispatches, and testimonies which were central to managing courtships and spreading rumors. I then place that early modern evidence alongside a range of popular genres from plays and poems to television shows and fanfiction to show how early modern male writers set up the perspectives on Tudor queens that will last hundreds of years and be picked up by modern popular media. I argue that calls for historical accuracy in period dramas like The Tudors miss the point, which is that the focus on the sexualized body of Tudor queens is history. The eroticization of Tudor queens in popular media is precisely “historical” because it uses many of the same methods Tudor courtiers used to manipulate our perception of these women including surveillance, sexual coercion, and colorism.

Drawing on a multi-media archive, I examine letters, dispatches, testimonies, plays, poetry, portraits, period dramas, fanfiction depositories, and social media platforms to show how Tudor queens are represented. In addition to including period dramas, I also consult interviews with screenwriters, showrunners, and actors to gain a better understanding of their creative choices, as well as the overall artistic vision for each series. Drawing on such a wide array of material enables me to show how the Tudors have permeated popular culture as well as how popular media appears to be the primary way that new audiences learn about the lives of Tudor queens, as well as the life and times of the Tudors more generally.

My project brings together several disciplines including histories of early modern queenship, gender and sexuality, early modern epistolography, media and fan studies, and premodern critical race studies. This interdisciplinary approach allows me to consider the myriad of ways that Tudor queens are presented, sexualized, and eroticized on the page, stage, and screen across centuries. This research offers a feminist intervention that will challenge long-held views about the sexualization, racialization, and agency of Tudor queens, inviting readers to rethink how public perception of Tudor queens first took shape, how they are reimagined for popular audiences, and the ways in which they continue to be rewritten and reimagined. At the same time, I interrogate what constitutes feminism in some of the most recent representations of these queens. As I demonstrate, we aren’t failing to depict the past accurately enough; we’re reproducing its sexist and racist logics, even when we also claim to provide more feminist versions of these old narratives. Understanding the past fully can help us untie the nexus of sexism and colorism that we inherit and continue to reproduce.

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This item is under embargo until December 9, 2028.