By the end of Elizabeth Tudor's reign, scandal had transformed from its thirteenth century meaning as an offense against religion into its modern etymology as moral opprobrium injurious to one's reputation. In essence, personal behavior had become a focus of public scrutiny, and public honor increasingly ascribed to a common understanding of moral propriety. This dissertation will examine Tudor dynastic scandals against the background of this emerging public, moral consensus.
The study will focus on the Tudor crown as both source and subject of sexual scandal. Beginning with Henry VII, the dynasty was inherently compromised by its illegitimate Beaufort lineage. In 1527, his son's annulment politicized royal sexuality when the Great Divorce became public gossip. Amidst emergent Protestant Reformation tensions, the court of public opinion found Henry, and particularly, Anne Boleyn, guilty of immoral concupiscence, and judged their sexual scandal responsible for England's uncertain future. When Henry and Anne's daughter ascended the throne in 1558, their scandal, and its specter of illegitimacy, cast a shadow over every facet of Elizabeth Tudor's reign, while her personal character became a contentious subject for public debate between Protestant and Catholic.
In response to these scandals, the Tudors introduced increasingly comprehensive propaganda techniques to promote their dynastic and moral virtues. Henry VII employed ancient British mythology to construct early Tudor iconography, linking the Welsh Tudor lineage to King Arthur's Golden Age. Queen Anne Boleyn's iconography renewed the Golden Age theme with Protestant imagery. When Anne fell from power, the crown used her sexual disrepute to legitimize the queen's crimes. Elizabeth, the dynasty's most infamously compromised ruler, was also its most ubiquitous propagandist. Using Elizabethan court documents, pageantry, poetry, art, architecture, personal narratives, political records, and Protestant texts, this study will argue that a subtle culture of propaganda, asserting the queen's rightful sovereignty as Anne Boleyn's true, Protestant daughter, and legitimate Tudor heir, permeated Elizabethan court culture; responding to the growing political threat public scandal posed with a consummate royal portrait of dynastic legitimacy and sexual virtue.