He calls them monarchs by default, but Dr. Charles Beem said England’s queens were often skillful rulers and always burdened by a male-dominated society.
Dr. Beem’s new book, “The Lioness Roared: The Problems of Female Rule in English History” (April, 2006; Palgrave MacMillan Ltd.), which was published April 3, 2006, explores the interplay of royalty and gender in English history.
A faculty member of the History Department at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, Dr. Beem said English history is his long-time passion. The book evolved from his doctoral dissertation about the women in English history who wielded the power of kingship.
“Women ascended to the throne only because there was a temporary lack of a male candidate. It’s a default mechanism,” he said in a recent interview. “We call them queens, but they performed the role of kings.”
Elizabeth and Victoria were popular rulers whose reigns were characterized by brilliant statesmanship and growing empire. At the same time, they carried the special burden of being women, he said.
When America finally elects a female president, Dr. Beem said, “the nation will wonder if a woman can be the commander in chief and be a cool and rational decision-maker under pressure.” Long before, the English wondered the same things about their female heads of state.
“Women of that day were considered to be inferior,” he said. “They were legally and socially subordinate.”
Another issue for female monarchs was the powerful men around them, he said. With the exception of Elizabeth, they had husbands, who often posed problems, and there were politicians, who often strived to dominate the royal policies of female rulers.
Queens were held to a different standard, he said. Elizabeth never married and was the subject of many rumors.
“Elizabeth was a dazzling and capable monarch, but people talked,” Dr. Beem said. “She liked to flirt with men of the court, and there were many malicious rumors.”
“If kings could have affairs, queens had to tow the line of acceptable female behavior,” he said. “Only late in life did Elizabeth evolve into the Virgin Queen.”
Victoria, with nine children and happily married to Prince Albert, was a symbol of “moral harmony within the family,” Dr. Beem said. But before she married, her choice of advisors provoked what is known as the Bedchamber Crisis, and Victoria’s marriage to Albert provoked a constitutional crisis.
“English law was ambiguous, so Parliament had to act,” he said. “When Victoria married, she requested that Albert be her king. But her ministers said no.”
Dr. Beem warns that his book does not dwell on Elizabeth and Victoria alone.
“I focus on the other, more obscure queens, who are considered to be less successful rulers in English history,” he said. “It is a history dotted with queens.”
“The Lioness Roared” was available for purchase on April 3. With headquarters in New York and London, its publisher will release it on two continents.
“I promise an interesting read for all audiences,” Dr. Beem said. “I believe that it will be accessible, and it will take readers to a place which no historian has been before.”
Dr. Beem joined UNCP’s faculty in 2002 after earning his doctorate from the University of Arizona. He teaches world civilization, medieval history and the history of the British Empire.
For more information about Dr. Beem, his book or UNCP’s History Department, please contact 910.521.6229