Was Queen Elizabeth I Killed by her Poisonous White Makeup?

Was Queen Elizabeth I Killed by her Poisonous White Makeup?

Queen Elizabeth I was one of the crucial profitable, celebrated queens in British historical past. The daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn , she got here to the throne on November 17, 1558, following the loss of life of her older half-sister, Mary I. While her rule is well-known for ushering in a golden age, Elizabeth herself can be identified for her distinctive make-up. Her make-up gave her an iconic look, however it additionally could have been the factor that killed her.
A Dance with Death
In 1562, when Elizabeth was nonetheless in her late 20’s, she got here down with a violent fever that left her bedridden. Upon being examined by docs, it grew to become clear that Elizabeth had contracted smallpox. Smallpox was an especially lethal illness that first contaminated people roughly 12,000 years in the past and continued to take action regularly till the invention of the smallpox vaccine by Edward Jenner in 1796. At the time of Elizabeth, it killed round 30% of the folks contaminated.

Was Queen Elizabeth I killed by her make-up? Source: Public Domain
While the illness wreaked havoc on Europe, killing many monarchs, it didn’t kill Elizabeth. Despite surviving, Elizabeth didn’t escape unhurt. She was left with many scars and blemishes on her pores and skin. Elizabeth was identified to be a bit of useless and would have any portraits of herself she didn’t like destroyed. One customer to her court docket acknowledged: ‘When anybody speaks of her magnificence she says she was by no means stunning. Nevertheless, she speaks of her magnificence as usually as she will’ (as cited in Johnson). The marks and blemishes left by smallpox will need to have left her with a determined have to cowl them up.

Elizabeth I’s Makeup Routine
In her youth, Elizabeth had used loads much less make-up, however following her battle with smallpox, she started making use of extra make-up, creating what we consider right this moment as her iconic look. During the Elizabethan period, white, pale pores and skin was thought-about extremely stunning by the English higher class. In an article by historian Paige Reynolds, she notes that Elizabeth knew that ‘she herself was being judged.’ She backs this declare up by citing a speech Elizabeth made the place she states, ‘The eyes of many behold our actions; a spot is quickly spied in our clothes; a blemish shortly famous in our doings.’
Luckily for her, there was a preferred make-up accessible within the sixteenth century known as ‘Venetian Ceruse’. This was a extremely sought-after pores and skin whitener by the European aristocracy because of its top quality and it was continuously used to hide scars. It was made with vinegar and white lead sourced from Venice that gave girls an extremely pale look. The lead, nevertheless, was toxic. Over time, Venetian Ceruse brought on hair loss and pores and skin fading, two issues Elizabeth suffered from as she bought older.

A up to date portrait exhibiting Elizabeth I in the direction of the top of her life. It could have been based mostly on a picture taken from life. Elizabeth I is proven sporting a richly jewelled gown, head-dress, and veil. ( Public Domain )
To make issues worse, Elizabeth bought her iconic pink lips via using cinnabar. Cinnabar is a mineral containing mercury. Mercury poisoning could cause reminiscence loss, despair, or in excessive instances, loss of life. Unfortunately for her, when Elizabeth started sporting a wig following her hair loss, the wig was dyed pink with much more mercury. It shouldn’t be precisely shocking that by the top of her life, she was reported to be in a state of deep despair.
Perhaps the worst factor about Elizabeth’s magnificence routine wasn’t the make-up itself however how lengthy she left it on for. The Venetian Ceruse was left on for every week with day by day touch-ups, leaving loads of time for the result in soak into her pores and skin. When it will definitely got here time to take away the make-up, issues someway get even worse. To take away it, she used a mix of eggshells, alum, and much more mercury. This would solely worsen the results of the make-up that was killing Elizabeth.

Was Elizabeth I Killed by her Makeup?
Elizabeth I’s magnificence was mentioned to have light badly with time. Her self-consciousness about her picture solely brought on her to make use of heavier make-up, which in flip worsened her look. This could also be why she had such an incredible love for extremely elaborate clothes and exorbitant jewels. Francis Bacon, a British thinker and statesman wrote on the time ‘She imagined that the folks, who’re a lot influenced by externals, could be diverted by the glitter of her jewels, from noticing the decay of her private points of interest’ (as cited in Morrill, 2022).

As already talked about, she was in a state of deep despair by the top of her life. She refused to have a mirror in any of her rooms. Along with her poor bodily well being, she confirmed indicators of declining cognitive capability and delirium. Despite this, her stubbornness pushed her forwards. She refused to relaxation and reportedly stood for hours upon hours, maybe afraid that if she have been to sit down down she would by no means stand up once more. She doubtless knew how frail she was and feared that her loss of life was shut. She refused to let docs bodily study her, probably as a result of she feared the worst.

A real and sensible c.1595 portrait of Queen Elizabeth I by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger. ( Public Domain )
Unfortunately for Elizabeth, she was proper. Having named her successor in James VI of Scotland, she died quietly on March 24, 1603. The causes of her loss of life are hotly debated, however many strongly recommend she died due to the poisonous build-up in her physique on account of her decades-long use of make-up. Others consider she died of most cancers or probably of pneumonia that developed on account of a easy bronchial an infection.
Unfortunately, as a result of she didn’t permit docs to look at her, nor did she have a autopsy, it’s inconceivable to say for sure what killed Elizabeth I. Regardless of whether or not or not her make-up killed her, what it has definitely executed is helped to make her one of the crucial iconic and revered monarchs to have ever lived.
Top Image: Queen Elizabeth I as depicted within the movie Mary, Queen of Scots. Credit: Focus Features
By Mark Brophy


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About the Author: Jessica