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Whore Queens: The Sexualized Female Body and the State

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Part of the Queenship and Power book series (QAP)


In the summer of 1567, a rebellion forced Mary Stuart off the throne of Scotland. Mary’s political failure resulted, in part, from her unwise personal choices: her preference for her court favorites, particularly David Rizzio; her inability to extricate herself from the suspicion surrounding the murder of her husband, Lord Darnley; and her hasty marriage to James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, who was also suspected of taking part in Darnley’s murder. By 1567, the queen, whose “grace and good humour [had] made her appeal to the general populace” earlier in her reign, could no longer command the loyalty and respect of the nobility or the people.1 As Mary was taken to Edinburgh as a prisoner, the crowds revealed their contempt for their queen, crying out “burn the whore!… burn her, burn her, she is not worthy to live, kill her, drown her.”2 Their response to the fallen monarch, presented in unambiguously gendered terms, reveals a preoccupation with Mary’s physical body and her alleged sexual transgressions. In the eyes of her people, Mary was not only a murderess, she was a whore, and her sexual “taintedness” proved as deplorable as her other “crime.” Because of her position as queen, Mary’s physical body possessed political significance, and the crowd’s condemnation of Mary suggests anger at a woman who had sullied not only herself but also, by extension, Scotland.

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© 2003 Carole Levin, Jo Eldridge Carney, Debra Barrett-Graves

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Dunn-Hensley, S. (2003). Whore Queens: The Sexualized Female Body and the State. In: Levin, C., Carney, J.E., Barrett-Graves, D. (eds) “High and Mighty Queens” of Early Modern England: Realities and Representations. Queenship and Power. Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

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  • Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, New York

  • Print ISBN: 978-0-230-62118-3

  • Online ISBN: 978-1-137-10676-6

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