Carole Levin is the Willa Cather Professor of History and Director of the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program at the University of Nebraska as well as author of „Elizabeth’s Ghost: The afterlife of the Queen in Stuart England“ in the inaugural issue of our journal. She specializes in early modern English women’s and cultural history and has written extensively on the English Renaissance and Elizabethan England. At the moment she is a Fulbright Scholar at the University of York, UK.
We asked her to tell us a bit about the article and her current work.
Niki & Cathleen: Hi Carole! Thanks for doing this interview. First, please tell us a little more about the Elizabethan ghost story? It sounds fascinating.
Carole: In my essay, “Elizabeth’s Ghost,” that I am so honored was in the premiere issue of the Royal Studies Journal, I ended with a kind of ghost story about Queen Elizabeth that ironically was when she was still alive but on her deathbed. A lady-in-waiting, Elizabeth Guilford, who was sitting with her, decided to get up and take a break, given the queen was asleep, and walked into some other rooms. She was shocked to see Elizabeth walking in the room ahead of her but when she went on the queen vanished, and when she returned to Elizabeth’s chamber, the queen was still in bed.
But I had another ghost story about Elizabeth I did not use in the essay, as its source was later than the Stuart Age, the topic of my essay. A few centuries after Elizabeth’s death a Spanish monk wrote that after she died her ghost would wander about London, shrieking, “The sovereignty of the kingdom was for forty years, but hell is forever.” Either as a ghost Elizabeth forgot how long her reign was – or the monk did not have the correct information.
Niki & Cathleen: Spooky! Besides appearing as a ghost, how does a dead queen, such as Elizabeth I, influence politics long after her time on the throne? Also, seeing that you’re an expert on Elizabethan England, yet your article deals mostly with Stuart England, were there any particular difficulties you encountered?
Carole: I love this question, as it goes to the heart of the work I’m now doing.
As a strong unmarried woman ruling alone, Elizabeth is a great example even today of what women can do in terms of being powerful, and their involvement in politics, and her image really resonates. In the United States in 2008 the Washington Post reported that the presidential primaries were so intense people were dreaming about the candidates. One woman described a dream she had:
“I was at a Hillary Clinton press conference. When she appeared we were all stunned. She was wearing a gown reminiscent of Queen Elizabeth I — a tight bodice with bubble-like bustles completely surrounding her waist like petals on a flower, and voluminous sleeves.”
But I am also very interested in how her image was used in the century after her death to make contemporary political points about Protestantism and nationalism. And yes, before now my work has centered on Elizabethan England so in this new research project I am learning so much about the Stuart period. It is fascinating but a lot of work! The article is part of a larger project on how the representations of earlier queens such as Elizabeth – but others as well – were used in the Stuart Age.
Right on this topic: you are also an editor for the book series Queenship and Power (Palgrave Macmillian), could you please tell us more about it?
Carole: I am so proud of the queenship and power series with Palgrave Macmillan that I co-edit with Charles Beem. About a decade ago I started thinking that I would like to start a series on queenship and power as this was such a dynamic area of research, and one dear to my heart. I had read Charles’ book, The Lioness Roared, and thought it was superb so I asked him to be my co-editor, and it was the best decision I could have made. Charles is not only an excellent scholar but wonderful at working with authors and such a great collaborator on this project. Here is the description of the series:
This series focuses on works specializing in gender analysis, women’s studies, literary interpretation, and cultural, political, constitutional, and diplomatic history. It aims to broaden our understanding of the strategies that queens – both consorts and regnants, as well as female regents – pursued in order to wield political power within the structures of male-dominant societies.
We already have over twenty-five books in the series, and they are all first-rate.
Niki & Cathleen: Back to your article and Queen Elizabeth: Why do you find studying Elizabethan England so fascinating?
Carole: I have to confess that I do find Elizabethan England endlessly fascinating, and I have for many years and expect to for the rest of my life. Elizabeth herself is such a multi-faceted person and there is so much in this time period that is both strange and different and yet resonates strongly with today. That really came home to me when I did the book Dreaming the English Renaissance (Palgrave Macmillan 2008), and saw some dreams that are so universals while some ways dreams understood so different from today.
Niki & Cathleen: Multi-facetedness is sure an argument, but what other epoch would you like to explore when you want to take a vacation from early modern England?
Carole: There is still so much to explore in sixteenth and seventeenth-century England, but there are aspects of medieval history that are fascinating to me as well.
Niki & Cathleen: We are coming to the end of this interview – so we would like to hear about what you are working on right now?
Carole: My new book project is called Boadicea’s Daughters: Representations of British Queens in Early Modern Nationalist and Religious Discourse and Fantasy. I am looking at how the first century Celtic queen who fought the Romans was rediscovered in the Tudor period, and comparisons made between her and Queen Elizabeth’s in Elizabeth’s reign, and how both they, Anne Boleyn, and Mary I were represented during the Stuart age. I’m fascinated in the ways these queens are used to promote Protestantism and the rule of queens.
Niki & Cathleen: Finally, will we see you at the next Kings & Queens Conference in Lisbon?
Carole: Alas, I will not be able to attend the next Kings and Queens Conference, which is a shame as the two I have attended are among the best conferences I’ve experienced in terms of fine papers, mutually valuable conversations, and a strong sense of community. I definitely am planning to attend this conference in future years.
Niki & Cathleen: Thanks so much for doing this interview, Carole!