Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Robert J. Bast

Committee Members

Lynn A. Sacco, Thomas E. Burman, Heather A. Hirschfeld


This study examines the political lives of the most powerful men in Elizabethan England. It explores how the careers of these politicians were influenced by the models of masculinity they followed. This study argues that there were “inherited” masculinities in early modern England that functioned as both paternal and cultural forms of inheritance. By looking at the two father-son pairs that most dominated Elizabethan politics, this study examines the generational differences in Elizabethan politics and the changes in court culture during Elizabeth’s long reign. Examining the two father-son pairs that strongly guided and helped define Elizabethan politics—William Cecil and his son Robert Cecil, and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and his (step) son, Robert Devereux, second Earl of Essex—this analysis shows how models of masculinity shaped the self-representations and political careers of the Virgin Queen’s most powerful courtiers. After explicating ideal versions of the husband, knight, and courtier in conduct and sermonic literature, the study explores the distinct court cultures of the first and second Elizabethan generations. It situates each courtier’s career within the evolving context of Elizabethan politics and court culture. This dissertation reveals the ways in which aristocratic masculinity in Elizabethan England was shaped by the unique challenges of courtiers who served an unmarried queen who ruled in her own right.

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