Queen Elizabeth I vs Queen Victoria

Monday 30 January 2017, 7pm | Emmanuel Centre

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Queen Elizabeth I vs Queen Victoria

They are the eternal queens, the monarchs who transcend history, forever reinvented on page and screen.

Elizabeth I was known as ‘Gloriana’, and not for nothing. Her 45-year reign set England on an even keel after a century of civil war, regicides and desperate, national anxiety. The defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 raised her into the pantheon of military monarchs. She secured the future of the English Protestant Church after the brief, fevered reign of her Catholic sister, Bloody Mary.

With Elizabeth’s patronage, Sir Francis Drake ensured England ruled the waves. Under Elizabeth, Sir Walter Raleigh founded Virginia – named after his Virgin Queen – and laid the foundations of a British America. No age is as closely associated with its monarch as the Elizabethan period, a time of astounding cultural revolution, of Shakespeare, Marlowe and Jonson.

All this happened under a woman, in a time when women were marginalised in every other sphere. Elizabeth held near-absolute power, with no Prime Minister to delegate to – while the threat of murder, or losing her throne, was everywhere. Her mother, Anne Boleyn, and her predecessor but one, Lady Jane Grey, were beheaded. With that sort of background – not to mention four stepmothers – it’s no wonder she never married or had children. England was her husband; England her child. Just before the Armada was annihilated, she proclaimed, ‘I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too.’ She was the best of England’s queens – and monarchs.

Except for one. To fans of Queen Victoria, her glory was all the greater. Succeeding to the throne aged only 18, she could have buckled under the strain and deferred to her advisers. Instead, she took a politics masterclass from her first, adored Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne. Her later Prime Ministers – Gladstone and Disraeli, in particular – were made greater by her guidance. Under her 63-year rule – only recently surpassed by Elizabeth II – the British Empire stretched to the four corners of the earth. In architecture, engineering and industry, Britain hit a global pre-eminence never matched before or since. Under the guiding genius of Brunel, the railway network spread across the country, opening up a new world of commerce and leisure and allowing fresh food and newspapers to be transported across Britain in a day. And it was during Victoria’s reign that the great social reform movement began, with figures such as William Wilberforce leading the campaign to abolish slavery, Lord Shaftesbury bringing in laws to reduce child labour and Elizabeth Fry working to improve prisons.

While Victoria presided over this great age of innovation in the country, in her personal life she could be radical too. She was the first modern female ruler to balance the duties of marriage and children with the obligations of state. When she married, she was careful to excise the word ‘obey’ from her vows. Her pioneering use of chloroform in childbirth paved the way to painless labour for women everywhere. And at a time when women were generally sexually repressed, in her unabashed passion for Prince Albert she lived a full life that was denied Elizabeth I.

In this battle of the queens, Daisy Goodwin, writer of the hit ITV series Victoria, and the accompanying novel of the same name, will argue the case for her heroine. In the Elizabethan corner will stand Philippa Gregory, queen of British historical fiction, author of the Tudor Court series of novels. On stage, a cast of star actors will bring to life the diaries, letters and speeches of the two queens. Who will win the day? Join us on January 30th, hear the arguments, and make up your own mind.

Speaker advocating Queen Elizabeth I

Philippa Gregory

One of the most popular novelists writing today. She is best known for her portrayals of women in the Tudor period, and her novel The Other Boleyn Girl was made into a TV drama and a major film. She also wrote the No 1 bestseller The Queen’s Fool, a novel about the rivalry between the young Elizabeth and her half-sister Queen Mary.

Speaker advocating Queen Victoria

Daisy Goodwin

Screenwriter and novelist. She created and wrote the recent hit ITV series Victoria and is currently working on its second season. She has also published the novel Victoria: A Novel of a Young Queen. She has written two other novels, My Last Duchess and The Fortune Hunter, both set in the 19th century, which were New York Times bestsellers. As a television producer, she created a number of programmes including Grand Designs, which is now in its 18th year on Channel 4.


Greta Scacchi

Award-winning actress whose film credits include Heat and Dust, White Mischief, The Browning Version, Jefferson in Paris, The Player and The Falling. In 2016, she appeared in the BBC production of War and Peace as Countess Natalya Rostova. Her other television credits include Poirot, Miss Austen Regrets, Miss Marple, Daniel Deronda and Broken Trail. Scacchi’s West End credits include The Entertainer, Deep Blue Sea, and Uncle Vanya. She has done numerous audiobooks and radio drama for BBC Radio 3 and 4.

Fiona Shaw

Widely acclaimed Irish actress as well as a theatre and opera director. Her stage credits include As You Like It, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Joan of Arc, and a one-woman reading of T.S. Eliot’s epic poem The Waste Land, to name a few. Her roles in film have included My Left Foot, Harry Potter, Persuasion and Jane Eyre. In the theatre she is perhaps most renowned for her powerful portrayal of Richard II. She has worked extensively with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre, twice winning the Olivier Award for Best Actress, for various roles including Electra in 1990, and for Machinal in 1994.


Dan Jones

Bestselling historian, TV presenter and award-winning journalist. His books include The Plantagenets and The Hollow Crown. He has presented several TV series including Britain’s Bloodiest Dynasty: The Plantagenets. His journalism appears on both sides of the Atlantic, and he writes a regular column for The Evening Standard.


Tickets are subject to Intelligence Squared’s right to make alterations to the speaker panel and cast, rendered necessary by any unavoidable cause.