Collecting Historical Dolls

The English Court - Elizabethan Britain

by Mary Harrsch

Early Britain
Medieval Britain
The Tudors
The French Court

The "Virgin Queen" and her court have been the subject of numerous books, films, and doll portraits. Michael Best writes "Living in a conservative society, in which both tradition and religion proclaimed the natural inferiority of women, Elizabeth used her sex to advantage by creating a personal myth that raised her above the ordinary."

This myth not only garnered her the worship of courtiers and commoners alike but influenced both literary artists and historians or her day. "In drama, several plays were written specifically to glorify the Queen: Lyly's Endymion (1588) personifies Elizabeth as Cynthia, chaste and unattainable goddess of the moon; Peele's The Arraignment of Paris (1589) dramatizes the choice Paris had to make between the goddesses of power, fame and love, but in this version he turns instead to the Queen sitting in the audience and gives the golden apple to her," Best reports.

"In poetry, the line ("Queen and huntress, chaste and fair") is from a poem by Ben Jonson included in his Court masque, Cynthia's Revels-- in which, again, the Queen is figured as the goddess of the moon. Also spectacular as a tribute was Spenser's epic, The Faerie Queene, in which Queen Elizabeth is represented in allegorical form by several different characters."

Thomas Weelkes even wrote a song in which the fair Oriana lured the Vestal Virgins away from the goddess Diana.

As Vesta was from Latmos hill descending,
She spied a maiden queen the same ascending,
Attended on by all the shepherds swain,
To whom Diana's darlings came running down amain,
First two by two, then three by three together,
Leaving their goddess all alone, hasted thither;
And mingling with the shepherds of her train,
With mirthful tunes her presence entertain.
Then sang the shepherds and nymphs of Diana,
Long live fair Oriana!

With all this attention throughout history, it is not surprising that I found so many different reincarnations of Elizabeth in the doll world. Probably my most rare Queen Elizabeth doll is a portrait doll by Ilse Ottenberg. Ilse and her German husband, Richard, were interned as enemy aliens on the Isle of Man at the outbreak of World War II. To occupy their time there, the Ottenbergs began making toys and soon involved other internees in their work. After the war, the Ottenbergs turned toy making into their primary livelihood. At the time of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation, Ilse submitted a commemorative doll to Buckingham Palace for the Queen's approval for a franchise of dolls depicting the Royals and was one of only two dollmakers who were granted the license. Ottenberg's dolls are highly detailed. Even the heeled shoes Elizabeth I wears are carefully hand stitched.

In an article about Ilse's dolls in the June/July 1985 issue of Doll Reader, author Nellie Roberts points out that Ottenberg dolls have been displayed at a number of British Embassies throughout the world. I feel very fortunate to have obtained one of these dolls on Ebay for a price of only $80. I continue to search for them (especially her Cleopatra or Nefertiti dolls).

In addition to my beautiful knitted version of Queen Elizabeth created by a very talented Janet Oliver, I obtained one of Janet's first efforts at a Barbie repaint redressed as the famous queen. Janet lives in Anchorage, Alaska. I have been very fortunate to obtain two other knitted dolls from her as well--Henry VIII and an Egyptian priest. They will be featured on other pages within this site. These knitted works of art are created from patterns described in "Knitted Historical Figures" by Jan Messent.

Barbie repainted as Queen ElizabethJanet's Elizabeth Barbie is lavishly decorated with pearls, a trademark of the this warrior queen. Sir Roy Strong in his book "The Portraits of Elizabeth" writes, "There was considerable attention given to the clothes and jewels Elizabeth wore in portraits. The Queen's favourite colours were black and white - these also being 'her colours' worn by her knights. In many of the portraits of her in middle age she is depicted in black with pearls draped across her bodice and a diaphanous veil pulled around her. Contemporary commentators commented on how well her black and white clothes complemented her red-gold hair. An inventory of the Queen's extensive wardrobe compiled in 1600 lists dozens of 'white satten' robes and 'blacke vellat cloakes' like the dress in the 'Kitchener' portrait. Her jewellery collection was vast and portraits often depict her covered in chains, pendants, pearls, rings, brooches and bracelets. She is often seen wearing enormous rubies and the famous black pearls which had belonged to Mary Queen of Scots whose colour was described as being 'like that of muscat grapes'. Whilst it is not rare for members of the Royal family to be painted wearing jewellery Francis Bacon suggested that there was another reason at play:
Elizabeth Doll with draped pearls

...she imagined that the people, who are much influenced by externals, would be diverted by the glitter of her jewels, from noticing the decay of her personal attractions.

Marin, a dollmaker in Chiclana, Spain most noted for their dolls depicting flamenco dancers, also produced historical costume dolls, especially a line of higher-priced collectible dolls for the House of Lloyderson. Even their historical dolls often have the broad smile of one of Marin's dancers and their hands are usually in the same expressive pose. However, this rendition of Elizabeth draped in her trademark pearls was more subdued although the queen would have approved of the hands. Sir Roy Strong observes, "The Queen was particular proud of her hands and contemporary accounts describe her making much of taking her gloves off and often she is posed in portraits with her hands gesturing or resting in front of her chest."

Of course the House of Nisbet produced several versions of this monarch, possibly the most famous Queen of England. Elizabeth was very particular about her portrait so I Queen Elizabeth by Nisbetwonder if she would have approved? Strong writes, "Her policing and concern over her image was reflected in the Privy Council's order in 1596 to destroy all portraits of her which were to her 'great offence'. Sir Walter Raleigh in The History of the World of 1687 describes the works of 'common Painters' being thrown in the fire. As a result we are justify with a smaller number of iconic portraits; interesting because of their fine quality and because they survived the Queen's rigorous editing. We are presented with images of the Queen fashioned in the way she wished to be presented and make her unmistakable."

- A pale Roman nose, a head of hair loaded with crowns and powdered with diamonds, a vast ruff, a vaster fardingdale, and a bushel of pearls, are the features by which everybody knows at once the pictures of Elizabeth I" - Horace Walpole





Collecting Historical Dolls.....The French Court......Early Britain...Medieval Britain...The Tudors....Mary's Home Page

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Last updated: 01/09/2007








Elizabethan Dolls
from Mary's Historical Doll Collection and exhibits I have seen

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