The Bisley Boy

Bram Stoker

Don’t you just love conspiracy theories?! 911, Roswell, the moon landing, JFK, Princess Diana, Michael Jackson…the list goes on, but did you know that there is a conspiracy theory relating to Elizabeth I which, if true, would make our present day Queen actually Queen Elizabeth I rather than Elizabeth II?

Before I go into the story, I must say a big thank you to Elizabeth Files visitor Jenny for mentioning this long forgotten legend or conspiracy and making me research it some more. I had heard that there were those who believed that Elizabeth I was actually a man but I had never really looked into it before and now I’m glad I did, it’s a fascinating story.

Bram Stoker and Bisley

This conspiracy theory has its roots in the writings of Bram Stoker, the famous writer of the Gothic novel Dracula (one of my favourite books!).

Stoker wasn’t just an author, he was also the personal assistant of the actor Henry Irving who had been looking for a house in the Cotswolds in Gloucestershire, England. It was in the village of Bisley that Irving came across the legend of “The Bisley Boy” and he passed the story on to Stoker who was keen to investigate. Both Stoker and Irving were intrigued by the fact that the village’s May Day celebrations involved a boy May Queen dressed in Elizabethan costume. Such traditions are generally based on an historical event or legend and Stoker wanted to find out more about this one – why a male Queen? His digging resulted in a chapter of his book “Famous Imposters” being devoted to “The Bisley Boy”.

You can read the whole story of The Bisley Boy legend in Bram Stoker’s “Famous Imposters”, which can be read online at Internet Archive or downloaded at, but I will give a synopsis of the story here and why some people have given credence to this conspiracy theory – Stoker seemed to be convinced of it!

The Bisley Boy Legend

The Story

According to legend, Princess Elizabeth (or rather the Lady Elizabeth) was sent to Overcourt House in Bisley sometime around 1543/1544 to get away from London, where the plague was rife, and enjoy the Cotswold country air. Unfortunately disaster struck and the ten year old princess was taken ill. As the princess lay gravely ill, her governess received word that the King was on his way to visit his daughter and while the house was preparing for the royal visit the princess died from acute fever. What on earth could the governess do? The King was famous for his awful temper and rages and the child’s governess was in a state of despair and complete panic – how could she tell the King of the death of his daughter?

Fearing for her life, the governess searched the local village for a suitable girl to replace Elizabeth so that they could delay this bad news, hide Elizabeth’s body and tell the King at a later date. Her search was utterly futile, no girl of the right age and colouring could be found but suddenly a thought struck her, there was a fair, red headed boy that had actually been a playmate to the little princess. He was a pretty boy, had the right colouring and was close at hand. In desperation, the governess dressed him in the princess’s dress and the deception began.

According to legend, the King, who did not frequently visit his daughter, did not notice the substitution, after all, Elizabeth had always been wary of him and he was in rather a hurry any way. The plan worked and worked so well that the King was never told the truth and Elizabeth’s body was never moved from the stone coffin in the garden at Overcourt where it had initially been hidden. Over three hundred years later, the Reverend Thomas Keble told his family of the discovery of the remains of a girl’s body in a stone coffin at Overcourt while building work was being carried out at the manor house. The remains included rags of fine, Tudor style clothing – cue “Twilight Zone” music!!

The Reasons Stoker Gave it Credence

Well, you can be forgiven for calling this story”tommyrot”, which is what The New York Times said of it in in its 1911 review of Stoker’s book, but here are some of the reasons why Stoker gave it so much credence:-

  • Elizabeth’s secretive nature – Her actions during her lifetime seemed to suggest, according to Stoker, that she had a closely guarded secret. Sir Robert Tyrwhitt wrote to Protector Somerset in 1549: “I do verily believe that there hath been some secret promise between my Lady, Mistress Ashley [Elizabeth’s governess] and the Cofferer [Sir Thomas Parry] never to confess to death. “
  • Elizabeth’s close relationship with Kat Ashley, Thomas Parry and Blanche Parry – She treated them all with favour and kept them close to her.
  • Elizabeth’s refusal to marry
  • Rumours that Elizabeth could not bear children – In April 1559, when Elizabeth was only 25, the Count de Feria wrote: “If my spies do not lie, which I believe they do not, for a certain reason which they have recently given me, I understand that she [Elizabeth] will not bear children.”
  • A significant change in literary style between the letters Elizabeth wrote Catherine Parr in 1543 and 1544.
  • Roger Ascham’s warning in one letter to Kat Ashley not to be too zealous in her teaching of Elizabeth and to go slowly and then a later letter written by Roger Ascham to John Sturmius, Rector of the Protestant University of Strasbourg in 1550 where he writes: The constitution of her mind is exempt from female weakness, and she is endued with a masculine power of application. No apprehension can be quicker than hers, no memory
    more retentive. French and Italian she speaks like English; Latin with fluency, propriety and judgment; she also spoke Greek with me, frequently, willingly, and understanding well. Nothing can be more elegant than her handwriting, whether in the Greek or Roman character. In music she is very skillful but does not greatly delight. With respect to personal decoration, she greatly prefers a simple elegance to show and splendour, so despising the outward adorning of plaiting the hair and of wearing of gold, that in the whole manner of her life she rather resembles Hippolyta than Phaedra.”
  • Catherine Parr’s encouragement of the “horseplay” between her husband, Thomas Seymour, and Elizabeth – Did she know that Elizabeth was a boy and this was her idea of  revenge on her husband?
  • Elizabeth’s huge stock of wigs – Were they to cover male baldness?
  • Elizabeth’s refusal to see other doctors – Stoker cites the occasion when Elizabeth was ill during her house arrest at Woodstock. Apparently, Elizabeth’s usual physicians were not available and Elizabeth refused to see anyone else.

Others who believe this conspiracy theory have also pointed out that Elizabeth left instructions for no post mortem to be carried out on her body and that she liked to wear big dresses and high necklines, which would have hid her male body and use thick drag queen-like makeup.

Henry Fitzroy

Who was the Boy?

You must read Stoker’s chapter on “The Bisley Boy” to fully understand this, it’s rather long-winded and complicated, but Stoker believed the boy to be the Duke of Richmond’s son by Mary Howard. As the Duke of Richmond was Henry VIII’s illegitimate son, this would explain the boy’s colouring being similar to Elizabeth’s, the resemblance and the intelligence.

Reasons to Discredit this Theory

As much as I love Bram Stoker, I have to say “Poppycock!” very loudly.

I just cannot believe this story has any truth in it whatsoever and I think it’s just people’s attempts to try and understand how a woman can live life without sex and marriage – she must have been a man!

Here are some of my reasons for not believing:-

  • Henry VIII was not thick – Surely he would have noticed a change in his daughter even if he hadn’t seen her for a while!
  • Elizabeth was not bald – She chose to wear wigs for her image and then to hide her greying hair. When the Earl of Essex famously burst into her bedchamber, he saw a grey haired Elizabeth and according to courtier Rowland Whyte the Queen was “newly up, her hair about her face”.
  • Elizabeth had periods – When Philip II’s emissary bribed the Queen’s laundress for details on Elizabeth’s health, the woman reported that the Queen was functioning normally, i.e. menstruating regularly.
  • According to Tracy Borman, Elizabeth delighted in wearing low necklines, even into old age. If she was trying to hide a lack of breasts then this was not the way to do it!
  • Puberty – Could a teenage boy really have hidden all of the changes involved in puberty?
  • Robert Dudley – Whether or not you believe that Elizabeth and Dudley had an intimate relationship, surely Dudley would have noticed that she was a man. I guess you could argue that this was why they never married or why Elizabeth never got pregnant – they could have been gay lovers! – but I’m sorry, I just don’t believe that.
  • The secret would have got out – As much as Stoker argues that Bisley was very cut off and that Kat Ashley and the Parrys kept this secret to their graves, I cannot believe that they could have got away with it.
  • Doctors – I know Elizabeth was very fussy about her doctors but a whole panel of doctors once examined her during marriage negotiations to see if she could still bear children and they decided that she could. Wouldn’t they have noticed that she was actually a he!

What do you think?

Is this just a story to satisfy those who can’t believe that a woman could rule England so successfully or live without marriage and children or do you think there’s some truth in it?

I do love conspiracy theories!

119 thoughts on “The Bisley Boy

  1. I have to agree with you Claire..they (crusty historians) always fall back on the ‘well she was too aggressive, witty, inelligent, (whatever) to have been a woman’ you say POPPYCOCK!!

  2. Oh, I thought it was a theory that Elizabeth had always been male from birth. That absolutely didn’t make sense as it would have been to Anne’s advantage to have a male heir.

    I still think it’s bunk, too. Elizabeth simply proved that a woman can indeed do a man’s job more than adequately.

  3. Hi everybody,

    I suppose I like to put “spanners in the works” but this idea was reallyplayed iup in Madrid theatre duringtheb80s and 90s so I had to look into it although I got veyr little information.

    In repy to Claire’s comments –
    .1)Yes Henry was not thick but I don’t think he had much interest in a daughter who was considered a bastard.
    2) We all know Eliabeh’s love of wearing wigs – but to hide her greying hair? It is a known fct thta redheads (and I am one) tend to be the last people to lose their colour and it goes from red to white. I had an aunt in her late 70s who stil, had shocking red hair.

    3) The lack of hair and the colouring could have been due to the fact that Elizabeth used lead makeup from an earliest age which would have affected the skin and the hair, It would also have hidden any “stubble”

    4) Whilst low necklines were in fashion, many men had hugh chests that could be simulated to produced bosoms. The lower garment hid whether there was a penis.

    5) Elizabeth’ fabourite doctor was Doctor Wendy who could have been paid off.

    6)= It was in the interests of the councillors to keep an “Elizabteh” on the throne.

    I am not saying I agree with the Bisley Boy theory bt there is a lot going for it. Unfortunately I am wuote busy with work so I quote often fon’t have time to sit down and read everything which is coming out .

    But this is such an interesting site – All thanks to Claire for etting it up and being able to communicate with people interested in the same issues (Sory I hate the phrase “like-minded people”

  4. As much as I love Dracula, I think that Bram Stoker might have been on the absinthe or something to come up with this one!! I know there’s a lot of contoversy over Elizabeth’s sexuality etc. but this theory is, as I said, complete poppycock and I’m not a feminist but it does strike me that it is men trying to downgrade a woman’s success by implying that she must have been a man!
    Totally agree with both of you, Gwenne and Cynthia!

  5. Hi Jenny,
    Thank you for your kind comments and I’m so glad that you like the site, I don’t think of it as my site more of a community site where people can exchange their views about Elizabeth.
    I think there was a mysterious period where Elizabeth was sent from court after having previously got on well with her father, perhaps there was some disagreement, but otherwise, from what I have read, Henry delighted in his rather precocious daughter. I suppose with royal children having their own households and Henry being busy with running the country, the troubles with Scotland and France, getting over Catherine Howard and marrying Catherine Parr etc. that he may not have seen his daughter that much but I can’t see how he could have not noticed.
    As far as redheads are concerned, my Mum was a redhead, she used to be called “carrot top” because her hair was bright red but she went grey in her 40s, not white and is grey now in her 60s. My grandmother went white but my Mum is definitely grey.
    Yes, the dresses of the time could have hidden a man, doctors can be paid off and it was in the interest if Elizabeth’s councillors to keep her on the throne but surely the story would have got out and given those who supported Mary Queen of Scots the fuel they needed to topple Elizabeth.
    I do love conspiracy theories but I just can’t give this one credence I’m afraid. Great story though, I loved researching it so thanks Jenny!

  6. Writers in Bram Stoker’s day were always on something – And you are right he was living in a man’s world. As you say Dracuka is a brilliant book. Stoker never visited Rumania ye I have been through Transylvania and recognied his descriptions of places –
    But back to “Liz 1” as I call her. She has been my heroine, ever since I could read. She was a redhead, she lioved to read, she was left alone a lot and not treated that wellby her family when she was young. I emphathise with her incredibly. And now, I can say that the greatest English wioman in history not oly had read hair but was highly educated. Well I have the red hair, I am well educated but could not have done half the stuff she did.

    So I think we all agree that the “Bisley Boy” story i another one of those 16th century tyoe “Hola” articles.

  7. Dracula is amazing, I love it even though I had to tear it apart in English at uni – books tend to lose their mystique when you do that to them!! Oooh, I want to got to Transylvania! Is it beautiful?
    Yes, Liz 1 was an amazing woman, a real role model and I admire her mum too.
    Are you in Madrid then?

  8. I have never heard of this. Thanks for an interesting piece! I also think it is poppycock!

    One thing that I wondered about was the boy May queen at Bisley. Could the tradition of a boy Queen come from the practice in Elizabethan times of men playing woman’s parts on stage?

  9. Hi Clairer and Carla

    For Claire – yes I am based in Madrid and had to do a study of Voctoria Eurgenia (the King’s garndmother) for a project I was working on – Another sad story.

    With regards to Transylvania, I went not long aftee Ceacescu died and the country was in a real mess. What was actually great was that we had a puncture in teh small van taking us to our hotel just near Drac’s Castle at midnight with a full mooon and with four Madrileños and 4 catalans you can imagine the set up. Obviously the country has changed but the Transylvania area is extremely beutiful and I believe it is now being looked after. BTW Vlad the Impaler is another interesting perso to research!!! – Lavibng Bran Sroker out of it.

    And Carla – Yes the Boy of Bisley could be the fact that boys had to play women – I think bu cannot be sure that it was “Restoration” England thataloowed real actresesses.

    Business wise I am workingwith tours in the Fjords of Norway (agaian a connection with England) which means more research but great.

    One day I a gong to have to sit down and really look at all the site that have been set up and the comments. I Have passed the site pver to a friend of mine Enzo who lives in Saudi and am sending a copy of everything I recive to a freind in the south west of Ireland because she doesn’t think that for the mo. she can join up with us all.

  10. The most unlikely part of the story is that Henry would have bothered to make the, then, long and arduous journey to the Cotswolds to visit a sick Elizabeth – a child he had little regard for at the best of times.
    Also there is absolutely no evidence that Elizabeth ever left the seat up in the privy.

  11. As you said, Poppycock!!!

    What utter rubbish. She would of been found out pretty quickly if she was a man. I can see why Stoker gave it credence, but as you said, he must of been on the vino tinto to take it seriously.

    And Carla – Good point! That probably has more to do with it than the fact than the Elizabeth-was-a-man theory.

  12. And… the Bisley Boy wrote Shakespeare’s plays in his spare time when he wasn’t busy being queen. I think there’s some patronizing towards women going on here too. QEI was a strong monarch with a good head, hence she couldn’t have been a woman, just as Shakespeare wasn’t well-educated enough to write what he wrote.

    Love those conspiracy theories. Dracula is proof enough that Stoker had an active imagination.

    On the other hand, surely some interprising novelist will turn this theory into a best-seller before too long.

  13. I think that Stoker was far off in believing that the child was Henry Fitzroy, and way off on a lot of other things too…

    – First off, Henry Fitzroy was several years older than Elizabeth- he was born in 1519, and died in 1536 at the age of 17 (when Elizabeth was a toddler). It would be hard to pass off a 25 y/o man as a 10 y/o girl, and I find it highly unlikely.
    – Secondly, if they found a boy going through puberty to play the part of Elizabeth, I have a hard time believing that it would be easy to hide the signs of a changing male body- lead make up or not (did pre-teens in those days wear makeup like the girls of today do?).
    -They could not have just found some random little boy running about the property to play a princess- one would have to had been highly educated to speak multiple languages, read, write, and play instruments (in those days). Despite the fact she was a girl, that sort of training was reserved for royal children…
    -Lastly the horseplay between Elizabeth and Thomas Seymour became inappropriate enough at one point Elizabeth was sent away after Catherine Parr found Seymour and Elizabeth embracing…most boys I know would be weirded out by some guy entering their room in their bed clothes for some night tickle parties…

    I too believe that the idea of a woman taking charge in a “man’s world” was too overwhelming for society- so what better way to explain it than by saying “she was a man.” We do it today in the fact that if a woman is an “alpha female” or in a position of power, she will be labeled all sorts of things by those who feel threatened by her. Just think of Anna Wintour (editor of Vogue)…they made a move about her (The Devil Wears Prada).

    I mean, if I woman can rule a country, what’s next? They’ll think that they can inherit property or even worse…VOTE! *gasp* (I hope my sarcasm translates)

    So did Stoker write a good story? Sure- but it is just that…a story.

  14. Hi Sheena,
    Stoker actually believed that the boy was Henry Fitzroy’s son, not Henry Fitzroy himself. There is a very long and complicated argument in Stpker’s chapter about why he thinks it is possible that Fitzroy and Mary Howard had a son. According to Stoker this boy would have been well educated and probably inherited his grandfather’s intelligence and looks, so was perfect for the role.
    Yes, totally agree with you about the puberty issue and the whole Seymour horseplay. I just can’t see how Elizabeth would have got away with it for all that time!
    Your sarcasm did come across brilliantly!

  15. I’m afraid this kind of sexist myth about Elizabeth is not that uncommon. In the sixteenth century it was believed that women who exercised power over men lost their femininity and were rendered barren. It was an idea drawn from the Greek myth of the masculine women called the Virago, And these beliefs are surprisingly persistent, In 1985 a doctor Bakan went so far as to suggest that Elizabeth’s mental toughness suggested she suffered from testicular feminization and was genetically male. I discuss these theories briefly in my book on the Grey sisters (Jane, Katherien and Mary) best wishes, Leanda de Lisle

  16. Since ten years old Elizabeth was just seen as a witch’s bastard who would never become sovereign, Kat Ashley wouldn’t have been blamed the way the way this story suggest! At this time the death of a child hadn’t the same impact as today: little lives are fragile, there is plague and other diseases, lot of children died and life went on. I’ve never hezrd that someone was much blamed for the death of Arthur of Wales, or for baby prine Henry’s ( Katherine of Aragon son). But placing a commoner instead of a King’s daughter would have been pure betrayal. And what about Mary’s constant defiance of Elizabeth? She would have discoverd the truth I’m sure, or at least Spanish spies at her court!

  17. Hi Everyone – Just to put a Spanner in the works and really this should go on to Elizabeth’s men. But during her reign there was man (and I have the info. somehwere at home where I only tend to sleep thesde days) that Elizbathe did have a son by Dudley who landed up in the panish Court and for a while Phillip II `played up this “farce”

  18. Hi Leanda,
    I think you need to write a book on Elizabeth! I hadn’t heard about Dr Bakan, must look into him and his theory, and your book is sat next to me on my desk ready to read!

    Hi Lexy,
    I agree, even if Henry hadn’t noticed I’m sure that Mary or other people would have noticed.

    Hi Jenny,
    I’d like to hear more about that story, sounds interesting, I think I read that somewhere too nut can’t remember which book it was in.

  19. Hi Claire,

    Sorry I have not been in touch. My only compllaint is that these posts are absorbing more time than I have available BUT to answer your question – Can’t find the bookds at home (well am hardly ever there except to sleep) but if you go on to Google and put in Arthur Dudley, some info DOES come up. Probably Spanish propaganda.

    On another note to do with different posts on why Elizabeth was so strong in a so called “man’s world” -there is a very long list of famous women who may not have been “upfront” but were definitely the power behind the thrones at some stage or another – Eleanor of Aquitaine who lived until 89!!!!, Isbaella of France (ex of Edward II) and a much longer list. Personally I think that has to do with the fact that women are by nature “multi-taskers” whereas I have found men in general can only focus on one thing at a time and/or get other people to do the rest.

  20. I have a new theory! Elizabeth was really a vampire who only pretended to age and then left England to live in Virginia where she met Carlisle Cullen and became a vegetarian vampire. She is the English teacher in Forks, Washington right now.

  21. hello everyone, i’m new to this site but i have been studying tudor history since i was 13 years old, the story of elizbeth being a man was first introduced to me by my mother, i obviously tought it was ludicrous, however after many years of reading and information, not just on elizabeth but on all the figures that were close to her I have managed to cross examine all the ambassador reports and historical eveidence, i say historical evidence with a smile as some parts of history asre written to suit the times. on the fact of elizabeth beinga man there are possibilities, we tend to be a bit naive as to think that it could not have been pulled off as she led such a pubblic life, as said before it was on englands best interest that she be kept on the throne to prevent civil war, even now days we know nothing of the secretes that are going on with pubblic figures or with events that happened, we are only told what they think we need to know. the theory that she died, might be true, but i have reserached it to be shightly different, apaprently she died after her ascension on the throne, when she contracted smallpox, she was near deaths door, she appointed Robert dudley as lord protector of the realm in event of her death, (now we know how this would have went down with the council and court!) apparently thought she survived amazingly with no marks on her face or body which was unnatural as it always left victims horribly disfigured, this is how the swap took place, had she died she had only been on the throne for a few years, leaving country with no heir, and the possibility of a catholic queen, unrest, invasion, so they swapped her witha man closely resenbling her hence the unscarred face, and the need of wigs, it is evident through reading evidence that her way of ruing changed drastically from this point on, and her fashion changed over night, as she hadn’t always worn wigs or painted her face, so the charade started and he/she would never have been able to
    marry now, even though before the ilness there is evidence that she was close to marrying robert dudley, why was essex later on executed? was his failed attempt to seize london and revolt gainst the queen? after all she had pardoned him worse? or was it that he saw something on that moprning when he stormed into her chamber unannounced? history puts it down as thw queen being mortified of having a man she loved see her as an old woman as she really was by then, not hidden behind her paint and finery, or did he see what she really was, and needed to be executed. it would have been easy to pass as a woman in those days, the clothes gave ample space to hide anything, in regards to breast she was famous for being very thin, so that could not have caused much problems. Robert dudley was famous for being her favourite, yet the evidence suggests that he did not kow how to handle her moods one day she wnated him reeled him in and then abroptly he wa dropped and taken back, he never knew where he stood at times, she liked men about her court, but only ahd few female friends and servants she could trust, Mary dudley famously nursed her through her smallpox and fell ill with the ilnees herself, being so terribly disfigured she asked to leave court and retire. there is lots of eveidence and i could go on for a while, anyway hope this makes people think a little.


  22. Hi Hayley,
    Thank you so much for your comment and welcome to the site. It is interesting what you say about how there’s another story that Elizabeth died of smallpox, that’s one I hadn’t heard. I love these conspiracy theories and I take your point that you can use historical evidence to back them up, but I cant see it myself. I think that Elizabeth was slightly disfigured by smallpox and that was the point at which she started wearing the thicker make-up in an effort to disguise the scars. I also think that, like her father, as she got older she became more conscious of how people saw her and needed to keep the image of youth and strength. That’s why she was so strict on how artists portrayed her in portraits. She may have been an old woman in reality but she made sure that the propaganda showed the nation that she was still strong, beautiful and the iconic queen they knew. I think her clothes, wigs and make-up were all part of this image, rather than being an effort to cover up the fact that she was a man or an imposter. I guess we’ll never know!

  23. Claire — I had never heard this story before, although I’ve heard the tale of Elizabeth actually being a man (which never made sense to me because if she was born a male, Henry VIII”s dream, the King would have announced it to the world and it might have been “all’s well that ends well” with him and Anne). I always said the rumor likely came from the typical male of the time who would never believe that a “frail” female could be a ruler without the help of a husband! Her enemies, naturally, would look for anything to disparage her so any nonsense on their part about her being a man, or born with no female parts or whatever else they dreamt up was propaganda on their part (after all, we’re talking about the “bastard” daughter of the evil Concubine). But the Bisley Boy tale had me LMAO! I like “Dracula” just like you Clare, but Bram Stoker needed to stick with his vampire tales. Bu you have definitely made my day as far as over-the-top stories historic stories. Funny that these folks can’t just accept that you had an incredible female and leave it at that.

  24. It is a great story isn’t it, Tina! Yes, perhaps people just couldn’t cope with Elizabeth being a strong woman in her own right and not needing a male consort to guide her. I just love these myths!

  25. This tale is complete rubbish and the sad thing is that it goes on even today, because a woman can’t be intelligent, talented, and sexual. Just look how the media portrays Lady Gaga, saying that she has male parts or that she is a man, because she has a strong sexuality. It makes me mad. However, it can go both ways. In high school, in english class, we were about to read Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare and my teacher at the time mentioned a conspiracy theory about Shakespeare and that theory was that he was actually a woman.

  26. With great respect to all the interesting ideas/theories exressed here (although most peopl – myself included – reject them), I suspect the old May Day festival at Bisley had little or nothing to do with Elizabeth I – in drag or otherwise. Some of you may remember the now-famous film “The Wicker Man” from the 1970’s (or have noted its recent re-make). In one shoreline sequence there is a procession led by Lord Summerisle (played by Chr istopher Lee). He is shown wearing a long woman’s wig and a skirt. This follows closely other folk festivals noted by British antiquarians and some are still performed. This Man/Woman character is frequently called “The Betty” – a well-known diminutive of “Elizabeth”.

    May Day festivals with their Maypoles, dancing, gathering flowers and herbs in the local woods, were wholly pagan fertilty rites barely tolerated by the Catholic Church. They were, however, extremely popular with ordinary people, the Nobility and most mediaeval kings. Henry VIII celebrated May Day with extraorinary enthusiasm – especially during the first two decades of his reign. It was only during the Puritan ascendancy in the 17th century that there was a ferocious crack-down initiated by Cromwell and Parliament. When the Monarchy was restored in 1660, all the old customs (including Christmas) were joyfully revived.

    I strongly suspect that the “Bisley Boy” was a “Betty”. Why “Betty” ? I have no real idea. The name “Elizabeth” appears in The New Testament as the mother of John The Baptist and “kinswoman” of The Virgin Mary. “El” was a name given to God in The Old Testament and is connected in some way with the Canaanite god “Bel” or “Ba’al”. This was the god of the famous “Jezebel”, the wife of the infamous King Ahab and synonymous with female ‘excess’ by the prophets. The names “Isobel/Isabel(la)” are closely related to Jezebel and Elizabeth.

  27. I think Elizabeth’s toughness and strength was due to the fact she was Anne Boleyn’s daughter.
    That’s all 🙂

  28. Very Interesting.
    I agree that this is “Poppycock,” but very interesting and entertaining poppycock.
    Taken together with other conspiracy theories of the time it could form the basis of a lengthy “Historical” Novel.
    There is, however, no possibility that it is anything other than a story. Apart from your well argued defence, Elizabeth sometimes refered to her childhood. She would have made many mistakes if she were not the real Elizabeth, and would have been found out.

  29. Not in my wildest dreams can I imagine Henry contemplating the thought of going to visit his sick daughter. Or anyone else who was sick. Henry ran from illness. He did not go toward it.
    The whole thing is poppycock. Stoker should have stuck to his vampire stories. They were more believable than is Elizabeth having been a boy/man.
    Just an aside: If this boy grew into a man, wouldn’t his/her ladies-in-waiting wonder about the beard he had to shave off everyday?

  30. I found this story very interesting—I just saw it on the History channel, and decided to look up related stories and websites on the Internet. The most interesting thing is that my family (Dudley-on my Mom’s side) has passed the same exact story down for hundreds of years.
    Same story–Elzabeth died, and a boy was substituted–however in the Dudley family story, the Castle Elizabeth went to was Dudley Castle (abt 90 miles NW of London) and the substituted child was “Arthur Dudley”.
    This story does continue, though, as Arthur, was Robert Dudey’s younger brother–which would explain the close relationship of Robert and the “Queen”, and why Robert never blew the whistle on the substitution.
    I might add–one of the traits of the Dudley family is red hair

  31. I wrote this legend into a story of mine in the 80s and posted it to myself,never having opened it.Since then I have done more research and have ended up shooting myself in the foot and it all hinges on the fact that Elizabeth`s skin and eyes were the close match of her mother`s ,the late dear Ann Bullen.The eyes and skin of both of them were dark,as if they had Gipsy or Spanish blood.Later Ann signed herself Anna de Boullan;is this a clue to her origins?Anyway – -I can now say that I do not believe the story,fascinating as it may be.

  32. The remains of a dead child? That does sound a bit creepy, but who says it’s Elizabeth?
    This is a sexist theory. Who says a woman has to have children or be a powerful monarch?

    I do enjoy reading and laughing at the absurdity of these theories, though.

  33. Interesting theory
    Things over looked.
    If Elizabeth had died in childhood. Then it is far more likely that protestant powers would of wanted someone to take her place. After all Edward was never a well boy and if anything happened to him, then it would be her the protestants of England would look to. Mary tried during her reign to find evidence of betrayal to send Elizabeth to her death, but was unable to.
    If Elizabeth had died and been replaced by a boy. The boy’s genitals would obviously have been removed, probably entirely. A proces sthat was well versed in that age, castration was often carried out on young choir boys through Europe to keep their voices sweet high and fresh, This would negate any secondary male characteristics if done before the full onset of puberty, A form of corseting would of moved and pushed flesh to appear like breasts.
    Although possible, I think it unlikely.
    There are very good reasons why Elizabeth stayed single and trusted very few people. One has only to look at her upbringing, how turbulent, unsettled and dangerous it was. no one was safe in Henry’s reign. If she had married alot of her influence would of been nullified. She understood this, she had grown up watching women used as playthings, in favour, out of favour, executed, with very little say in their defence. She was the main stay in gradually bringing catholic and protestant to see themselves as English first.
    She may have had smallpox, then again it may have been a lesser affliction such as chicken pox, which could still be deadly in those days, but not as dangerous as smallpox. The young Elizabeth was in and out of Henry’s favour, one wonders how many times Henry wondered was she actually his. He had no doubts about Mary or Edward. Yet the demise of Anne and the way she was accused must have long left him wondering. So his love for bess amy have been tempered by that. He also knew that she would carry on his church, if she ever came to the throne.
    There is no doubt that Elizabeth was kept away form Henry for much of his reign and the above would of been why. She was seldom seen at court in her early years. Whilst there is the slightest possibility that Elizabeth could of died as a child and been replaced by a boy. It is highly unlikely. Elizabeth had strong parents, she grew up in constant danger. Her childhood would of built the strength of character we saw in the woman.
    Of course if the skeleton of the buried child still exists, a DNA test would clear it up.
    DNA testing solved the mystery of what happened to the young dauphin in the french revolution. He died two years after being taken prisoner. His heart had been kept in a jar and samples were taken and matched his parents. So the same could be done here.

  34. An addition- Her refusal to allow doctors other than one near her, is far more likely to be one of trust, rather than gender identity. I would not be surprised if she felt the deaths both of Edward and Mary were contrived. Powerful men played behind the throne, both Catholic and Protestant, who would manipulate to get the monarch on the throne who would do them the most good.

  35. Also the May Day is about mother earth and fertility rights including sexual union. The Bisley boy May queen, may well have nothing to do with Elizabeth the first. But more to do with the combining of the sexes and of us being one together being a complete whole.
    Maybe again the first Bisley may Queen boy took the place of the little girl in the wall. Maybe the girl in the wall was was a young trainee lady in waiting. If she did exist and was not just a reverend’s fantasy. If we had her body all would be revealed.

  36. I just saw this nonsense on National Geographic, of all programs. I thought they were immune from this kind of rubbish, sadly I was wrong. Elizabeth I was the greatest Monarch England has produced to date. I believe she refused to marry as she would not play second fiddle to a “foreign” Prince! She was, after all, the daughter of Henry VIII.

    I grew up a mere 2 miles from Buckingham Palace & attended Westminster City Grammar School on Palace Street adjacent to the palace, I am a staunch Monarchist & an admirer of “Good Queen Bess”. In regards to this “story”, I think the motto of the Order of the Garter says it all. “Honi soit qui mal y pense” (Evil to him who evil thinks)

    Regnum Defende

  37. I heard this story many years ago. You never know! It does make sense because she wore high neck collars which could have disguised an Adam’s apple and heavy makeup to cover possible stubble. It could be the reasons some of her alleged lovers could have been because they knew the truth and she had to rub them out. If anyone found out she was a man, they’d know she wasn’t really Henry VIII’s daughter and she(he) would have been driven out of power and likely executed. So there are reasons to consider this story true. Only an exhumation of the body and a DNA test with Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn would be proof.

  38. This is total hogwash. At the age of 11 Elizabeth had been dishoned by her father and was removed from the line of succession. Her death at that time wouldn’t have mattered to her father at all. If she was born a male then her fathers problem would have been solved and the events leading to her mothers death wouldn’t have happened, The rest is all speculation because she didn’t marry or produce an heir. Her father spent his life trying to provide a male heir to succeed him. He never know that he had already produced the greatest monarch that England would ever know. The little red-headed Elizabeth. 400 years later she remains as such.

  39. i do not belive that the story is true because if elizibeth was born a man why wouldnt they say shes a male air, and if she died and people covered it up, well they wouldnt need to fake her because she was dissowened by her father

  40. Surely by now the evidence is rather promising that she was both mentally and physically a Viirago. If you google Elizabeth1 and Virago together and then actually read what the Professor says to the very end it does make extraordinary sense.

  41. Intriguing story everyone!

    Why are we saying that a woman cannot do a better job than a man? She was an amazing woman who was ahead of her time and an absolute ruler. It had nothing whatsoever to do with her gender. She stood up to the mongrels and executed anyone who got in her way.

    She is an incredible woman of her times and should be honoured as such!

  42. Why would the illegitimate son of a king (A Duke!) choose to pretend to be the illegitimized second daughter of a king? No one thought Elizabeth would ever become queen with an older sister and a younger brother ahead of her. Henry Fitzroy had no motive to risk his life and pretend to be an unwanted Princess.

  43. I think I’m missing something. The idea that the rumor that she was boy was made upto explain a life without marriage or sex, I’m really confused. Are they saying that a woman in Elizabethan times could not live their lives without sex, but a man posing as a woman could? I would think if ELizabeth had been a man the stories and rumors about her sex lfe and numerous illegitmate children would be rife. No woman at court would have been safe.

  44. I live in a town called Stroud which is a couple of miles from Bisley, and as far as I can tell around our area its common knowledge that she was a boy. I remember as a child talking about Elizabeth in front of my parents, I remember them saying as if it was fact that she was a boy, and I thought to myself that cant be right and then they told me what happened. I will admit its a freaky story and its quite freaky how most people round our area know it as fact, but whether it is true or not I cant say, but I can say its plausible, because not only was she known as the virgin queen, but at the time of her fathers reign, relations with Europe were quite unsteady and without a secure English bloodline, it meant that people Henry wouldn’t particularly like on the throne, could or would have a claim to it. With that in mind I think he could easily have ignored it for the sake of his country.

  45. Blimey,I have heard it all now.Our beloved Anne would surely be turning in her grave if she could hear all this poppycock.Lizzie Numero Uno was very much a woman and a above all,a very intelligent and forward thinking lady who was an absolute hero of English history.We had seen what a mess the men could make of it with her father.She obviously inherited much from her beautiful mother who could also have done a wonderful job if she had not been murdered by that tyrant.Lizzie Two seems to do a great job.It must be a Girl Power thing.

    Lizzie one was not a Dick Emery creation.

  46. I definitely don’t buy the theory. The lives of the royals were lived so much in the public eye that the “secret” would have come out. She was a strong woman in some ways, who had lived a traumatic younger life, I don’t blame her for not wanting to marry! She was a great queen for England in a very difficult time.

  47. Elizabeth was a girl that is why another “s” had been inserted to the letter that was written just before her birth afterwards.

  48. I don’t believe it. I can’t believe that no one would have seen her body after she died, and then everyone would have known. And also, so many of the so-called “proofs” have to do with Elizabeth behaving “like a man,” which is hugely sexist. “Her mind is exempt from female weakness.” That’s supposed to be proof that she was a man? Because she was smart and learned quickly? And her refusal to marry is neither here nor there. She refused to marry because she knew it would mean giving up some or most of her power to her husband. That seems much more plausible than because she was a man. I say sure, open up her tomb just to stop the slander. They’re not going to find anything surprising in there.

  49. Whist at first the deception seems absurd, the driving forces would have been religion, politics, and succession. Mary Queen of Scots, a catholic with strong French ties stood to come to power. Unacceptable! Equally, revolt and civil war at home, and the certainty of invasion from abroad made the deception a matter of urgent necessity.

    It didn’t simply happen all at once, but after the Boy King Edward died, and the disastrous reign of Bloody Mary (a catholic) the Powers that Be were committed to maintaining Elizabeth in power. Failure to do so, and the resultant bloodbath of all involved, along with very real threats from the continent would have made it a life or death matter.

    Equally, for anyone to even suggest that anything about Elizabeth’s legitimacy as Queen would have been treason… to even whisper such doubts would bring on an agonizing and prolonged death.

    Truth is stranger than fiction, and history is a distant cousin to reality.

  50. Equally, for anyone to even suggest that anything about Elizabeth’s legitimacy as Queen [was in doubt or questionable] would have been treason… to even whisper such doubts would bring on an agonizing and prolonged death.

    And… once The Bisley Boy took that first (forced) step, there was no going back ~ he had as much, or more, to lose than anyone. His “handlers” made it possible for their Queen to avoid her single most imperative duty ~ to provide an heir.

  51. Final note, and Many Thanks to you Claire,

    I just finished reading all the Comments, and surely “facial stubble” or simply anything regarding “ladies in waiting” fall short of careful, conspiratorial thinking.

    Pluck the facial hair and leave the girls alone. Alternative? Violent death!

    We’ll never know how many famous men were actually women, or men women.

    PS; this is all going to heat up with the new Steve Berry novel.

    PPS; I never imagined the possibility of Elizabeth being a man, until I thought about it.

  52. Is there no documentation of The Duke of Richmond past that date? Surely we have some lineage of a Duke on record? If this were to be true (no, it isn’t) then Henry Fitzroy would have fallen off the face of the planet that day.

  53. I agree with you 180%, Claire, and a few other thoughts occur to me. First: a boy playing the part of the May Day Queen? Probably goes back to the Elizabethan tradition of men playing women’s parts. Second, we know from the Thomas Seymour episode that Kat Ashley and Parry were incapable of keeping their mouths shut. Seymour was also the reason why Elizabeth suddenly adopted a very severe hairstyle and wardrobe: it was her way of showing people how unfounded the rumors were.
    Henry VIII was many things, but stupid wasn’t one of them. Elizabeth was at court enough, especially after Catherine Parr became queen consort, that he would’ve noticed any difference. I also don’t remember anything about Fitzroy having had a son.
    Last, but not least, let’s consider the source, Stoker. We’re talking about a novelist and one who went in for supernatural/sensational stories. His DRACULA is a drastic re-working of the Vlad the Impaler legend. He also had a very negative attitude toward women that comes out in his supernatural stories. In fact, it becomes more pronounced in a his later fiction, and there has been some speculation that he died of tertiary syphilis — ergo, the images of women as supernatural predators in those stories. Syphilitic or not, Stoker strikes me as having been the type of man who would’ve had a knee-jerk reaction to a strong woman like Elizabeth. So, of course, he would’ve bought this inane story — it satisfied his sense of the way things should be,

  54. Nobody can blame Elizabeth for not wanting to marry- look what happen to her Mother and her second cousin! I don’t get this. Interesting, but nonsense.

  55. My question is: what happened to the supposed Tudor-era body in the Stone coffin? If it existed, surely it was reburied (the belief in Christian burial being very strong then). I don’t like “smoking guns” that promptly disappear, making scientific analysis impossible. That always smacks of urban legend, rather than truth, to me.

  56. Elizabeth grew up in the same house hold as her half sister Mary, so I think she would have noticed the change. The two sisters dined with their father Henry in Essex when she was ten. She was supposed to be ten when she died. Robert Dudley new her from the age of eight as they were taught together so he would have known.

  57. i would not put it past the royal family to cover all this up, as much stranger things in this family have happened that we the public will never know about, its all hidden in the vaults under a palace somewhere. just think of all the possibilities. Jack the ripper,
    princess di, homosexuality and illegitimate offspring.
    Makes you think

  58. I have been reading the new Steven Berry novel, and have just become acquainted with the myth of the Bisley Boy. I have always admired Elizabeth I, a strong, intelligent
    woman and one of the greatest monarchs that England has ever known.
    If there was a secret there, it may be that in her own time, she could not declare her nature, but she may have had a tendency to love another woman rather than a man.
    Her more elegant declaration, I believe, is that she was married to England. In our day and time, perhaps it would be easier for such a woman. But if you think about it, very few children must live with the memory of a father who has had your mother executed.
    The actions of her father and of those of the men around her were perhaps frightening examples of the true power of men, and powerlessness of women in her time.
    At any rate, England was fortunate to have such an excellent sovereign, the last true
    absolute monarch of England

  59. Utter BS.

    1) Henry Fitzroy was MARRIED to Mary Howard. According to everything I’ve read, Henry insisted that the marriage not be consummated due to Fitzroy’s uncertain health, but if it had been, even against his wishes, why on EARTH would any child have been kept a secret, especially a male child? One would think Henry would have been delighted to have a grandchild, especially after Fitzroy’s death.

    2) As many people have pointed out, Thomas Seymour was crawling into bed with her and groping her – an experienced womanizer like him would not have noticed, seriously?

    3) For much of her first twenty-five years she was powerless (yet a threat, too, at least during her siblings’ reigns) and the people who were in power would have dearly loved to discredit her and would have paid very well to anyone who could assist them. After the Thomas Seymour affair, Kat Ashley was put in the Tower (where she only had to be SHOWN The instruments of torture to spill the beans about Seymour) and Elizabeth’s household was put into the charge of people appointed by her enemies. Yet nobody noticed and nobody talked?

    4) Even at ten years of age, Elizabeth would have been incredibly well educated – people tend to forget that the children of her family were studying Latin and Greek before that age – yet her tutors never noticed that all of a sudden she had lost a great deal of her knowledge?

    5) As far as I’ve always heard, she wore heavy makeup after her bout with smallpox, probably to hide pockmarks.

    6) As for her not marrying, one only needs to look at her mother’s fate (as well as that of her stepmothers, including Jane Seymour, who died in childbirth), the way Katherine Parr was treated by Thomas Seymour and HER death in childbirth, the way her sister was treated by Philip II, and there were probably numerous other object lessons in her life that we know nothing about.

  60. My opinion is that she was not going to let a man rule her and tell her what to do as Queen
    and she was not going to just marry anyone.

    I feel she felt the burden of being responsible for her people and country that was in
    turmoil was enough for her to handle. She had a lot of stuff left from her sister Mary
    to clean up and improve her country.
    since Mary did not do a very good job and was not for people of another belief
    or faith.

    Just like someone said Lincoln was really a woman.

  61. We will all know the truth when our time comes to leave this earth
    I feel she felt the burden of being responsible for her people and country that was in
    turmoil was enough for her to handle. She had a lot of stuff left from her sister Mary
    to clean up and improve her country.
    since Mary did not do a very good job and was not for people of another belief
    or faith.

    Just like someone said Lincoln was really a woman.

  62. I don’t buy that story.I just don’t belive that a man could pretend to be a woman,and queen which had a loads of people on her court.And what about taking a bath?I don’t know how it really worked in 16th century England but in all the films Elizabeth is not taking a bath by herself.I think that.she had sex with Robin cause his chambers were next to hers and they had a door so she could come in his bed and had intercouse.And why wouldn’t she?I belive that her calling herself a virgin queen.

  63. Doesn’t even mean that she was.In her.age a woman called virgin means that she is not married.And she didn’t want marry because love with Robert.She locked herself in her chambers when he died and when she died his last letter was found in her desk.And another reason is that her mother was executed by her father!I also belive that she didn’t want to lose her power.

  64. First of all:
    If it was true, it happened several hundred years ago. Second, to those of you asking if it wouldn’t be easier to open her tomb and check, bear in mind that if it were ever done and proved to be true, then everyrhing that happened during her reign would be put to the question of legitimacy. Is that something Great Britain needs right now? Would you be willing to sacrifice the progress of a great and beautiful and rich in history country for something that happened hundreds of years ago? And last but not least, if it was true, don’t you think that whoever was in charge of interring her or him would have noticed and taken precautions to make sure that if anyone ever tried to check couldn’t?

    To those of you who are skeptics for whatever reason think of this: every legend has a grain of truth to make it plausible. So somewhere along history there must be something to prove at least some part of the story. Second, for those of you who got the idea AFTER reading Steve Berry’s new book, please try to remember that it is a work of FICTION and if you do not believe me, refer to the author’s note at the end. Third, to those of you who think it cannot possibly be true because Stoker said it, beware. Not only are you messing with a great author, but you are letting your personal opinions about his works influence your judgement and in doing that you are kidding yourselves that although a wee bit far stretched, the man IS OR WAS a brilliant storyteller.

  65. I do not believe it to be fact! I believe that Elizabeth was afraid of having a child ~ that she would die. She had seen Jane Seymour die as a result of giving birth to her half brother, Edward VI, and such were the times! I believe that she desparately wanted to marry, especially the love of her life, Sir Thomas Seymour, but he was not royalty, and she had stated that she had to marry royalty or not marry, so she didn’t marry! I believe that she didn’t marry royalty because she gave her heart and perhaps more importantly to her, her trust, to Seymour, and she didn’t trust lightly. There was no way, after seeing what her father had done to his former wives and what intrigues they may have been party to, that she felt she could really trust herself to anyone, other than Seymour. She was “married” to England and to her people! She gave up a life of physical love and intimacy and marriage in order to serve England and fulfill her destiny. She was a woman of duty, faith and courage!

  66. Hello Caroline Fowler
    I agree with most of what you say but im not sure about Thomas Seymour. Thomas onnly featured in her life for around a year or two and she was only 13, not exactly an age for true love is it? I’m not sure where you are going with the marrying thing because Thomas was execueted during Edward’s reign for treason and he plotted to marry Elizabeth. This woke Elizabeth up to the danger she was in and while the teenage Elizabeth probably enjoyed Thomas company i dont think Thomas was her true love. I think Robert Dudley was, he was her childhood companion then when she got older it grew into love. She didn’t marry him because England was against the marriage, and England always came first in Elizabeth’s priority list. Yes Elizabeth was married to England and England was married to her. I think the whle ‘ i shan’t marrry anyone but him’ was about Alecon (??) not Thomas.

    BTW i have a question, the boy was supposedly replaced Elizabeth is suppose to be the son of Henry Fitzroy and Mary Howard right? But Henry VIII had specifically ordered the couple to not cosummate their marriage because they were only 14/15 then. As far as i know the marriage didnt result in any children because Henry Fitzroy aged only 17. Where did this mystery child come from? Was he suppose ot be the illigitimate child of an illigitimate son of Henry VIII?

  67. I think the Bisley Boy theory is really quite ridiculous. Elizabeth was frequently seen by many people in various states of undress- how could she not be with the very public life that she led? She was constantly surrounded by Catholic spies who were looking for any reason to discredit or even dethrone her. That would have been too big of a secret for three people to keep considering the amount of people who lived in close proximity at court and the rituals involved just with the queen’s day to day activities.
    Never mind the fact that she basically exposed her breasts in old age to the French ambassador. There were no breast implants available then: all of her low necklines would have surely revealed that she had a man’s body.
    Although it is hard to verify the authenticity of many portraits, it is easy to see in all of the verified paintings of Elizabeth the resemblance to her father and her mother. She also had many of her mother’s personality traits but her father’s temper. She was a very balanced mix of both of her parents in appearance and personality.
    I think it is reasonable to speculate that the reason she never married or had children had something to do with her father beheading her mother when she was two years and eight months old. I can only imagine the psychological impact was profound.
    I know people love a good conspiracy theory and I found it interesting when I came to read these comments that in some places, the “fact” that Elizabeth was a man is widely accepted. I know there has been talk of running DNA tests on her body. In a way, I think that DNA tests could confirm her paternity (which her sister doubted) and also her gender. However, it is disrespectful and will probably never happen.
    I love your websites by the way 🙂

  68. Elizabeth ruled for decades which meant that her court and waiting ladies changed frequently. I think that at that time, there were ladies in waiting who for what ever reason may have had a big mouth! I’m sure with a secret so delicious as her being a boy, someone would have spilled the beans .
    Elizabeth was a strong woman who grew up in a man’s world. Having finally attained the power of a Queen, why should she give it up to the rule of some man, especially if she married outside her kingdom. By staying unmarried, she ruled supremely being under no man’s thumb!

  69. PS….I’m also sure that Lord Essex whom she had an affair would have know if she was male. I think that the many men who were interested in her would have surmised that “something was amiss”!
    I love Steve Berry’s books, but as an author who writes historical fiction, is often at liberty to fit his words to fit the novel.

  70. Elizabeth never married due to knowing in advance that her husband would be king and England would then become subjugate to another country. Elizabeth fully realized that in order for England to survive as a country, she could never marry. It would seem that she did toy with the idea of marrying someone from the English Peerage; however, with the way the laws were at the time, her throne would pass to him and she would only be queen and she would no longer have any power or say in the ruling of her country. Women at the time were considered chattel just as cattle, dogs, cats and property. Additionally, Elizabeth did not have a good relationship with her father due in part to knowing that “dad” had “mom’s” head cut off because she had failed to produce a male heir. It is most definitely reported that both Elizabeth and Mary suffered from dysmenorrhea and Elizabeth may have been wise enough, or had spoken to enough doctors to know that her chances of being able to become pregnant were very slim. And finally, I firmly believe that she was unwilling to share her power with anyone.

  71. I wonder ; is there anything in historical text that gives us a hint of how her voice sounded. Was it deep “for a woman”. One could hardly fake a voice for 50 years.

  72. I find this very humoring ! I don’t believe the story myself but its entertaining to read what soemone else has to say about it.

  73. Wow I had no idea this was even a legend. But I must agree that it is not very likely at all. After all the amazing research done on this topic from so many people I found that everyone votes she was absolutely a girl.

  74. I saw that documentary and it was laughable, it said that Elizabeth had masculine features you only have to look at her portraits to see that she was female, yes she had a strong nose but look at her face, she looked like her mother and her body was very slim, no way was she a man, you can tell a transvestite a mile off, the shoulders are bigger, the jaw and the voice for one thing not forgetting the legs, tho of course those were hidden, no it was a silly legend that Bram Stoker embroiled on later and what do you expect from some one who wrote such rubbish as Dracula in the first place?

  75. What is so nice is the fact that authors have such vivid imaginations. People get carried along and start to believe that what is written is the gospel truth. The fact that wevhave all responded to this story is proof of a good author. Well done Mr. Berry

  76. 100% plausable. That explains a whole lot. Look at that time women were not allowed to be actors so boy actors would be used to play female roles, (which tended to be small parts) when the boy grew up and became a man, he had made hundreds of performances and knew the scripts so he could play the male characters with more lines.
    It is also well known that most of the actors were homosexual. So the rumors of Dudley being a “womanizer” may have been just that rumors to cover his homosexuality. If not the rumors of Dudley and Elizabeth could have been lies to throw people off the track. Elizabeth could have threatened the doctors to give false testimony about being able to bear children.
    But all the forensic evidence (aka – everything not eyewitnessed, rumored or hearsay) indicates this could likely be true. And it all fits better than the “orthodox” storyline.
    The only things left to do is DNA testing, and find the “real” body.

  77. I write to defend the author Bram Stoker. ANYONE who calls the novel “Dracula” garbage either has never read it or is judging the book by what Hollywood has done to “Stoker’s” novel. There is no stronger female character than Mina Harker in 19th century literature!
    Only a fool could or would state that Bram Stoker was woman bayer.

  78. Its an intriguing but ridiculous idea. Elizabeth’s life was exposed to scrutiny constantly. She did not dress herself or bathe herself, but had no doubt over the years dozens of different people who did this. Royals even had servants or ladies in waiting assigned to carry off their chamber pot, soiled linens etc. Hence her servants knowing when she had her periods.
    There is even a story that she chose to embarrass a visiting dignitary by having him brought to her when her breasts were exposed and as already stated her gowns were very low cut.

  79. This is an interesting story and one that does raise a few questions and possibilities. However the story states that the Bisley Boy, Henry Fitzroy was the son of the Duke and Duchess of Richmond, the Duchess being Mary Howard. The records show that there were no children from this marriage and that Mary Howard never had children.
    Henry Fitzroy who was the son of the Duke of Richmond died on the 23rd July 1536, whereas Elizabeth 1 lived until 24th May 1603.
    Its a fine story but with the continual infighting and mistrust of that era I’m sure that such a rouse would have been discovered.

  80. My first exposure to this myth was via Steve Berry’s book, The King’s Deception. Although it was a fictional writing, there are many verifiable facts contained in the book. I think this is what makes the myth so intriguing. And there are also many unanswered questions that make you think “hmmm, that’s unusual.” For example: Why would Elizabeth leave instructions that no autopsy be performed after her death and Why was Elizabeth’s corpse entombed with Mary’s?
    Female or male, Elizabeth was a remarkable monarch in spite of her father’s disgraceful reign. If she and her aids were able to pull it off, kudos to them! If it’s all malarky, it certainly makes for a great myth.

  81. I’m not saying it’s true or not but one thing I find interesting is that since the boy in question was probably Henry Fitzroy (or his son) and Henry VIII did acknowledge him he was not only similar (check out pics online) he also would have had some education…

  82. Love the discussion. Until reading ‘King’s Deception’ the Bisley Boy Legend was unknown to me. I will give props to Steve Berry for bringing the legend to life in a very entertaining way. His work took me to check out Elizabeth’s image on her tomb and to this website. That’s what an engaging book will do – keep you interested long after you put it down.

    Was Elizabeth a man? Not likely but exploring this new-found legend was certainly a lot of fun!

  83. Isn’t it odd that even today we inexplicably want to question that a woman could govern/rule so successfully for so long? “Tommyrot!” “Poppycock!” Elizabeth chose not to marry because she was the powerless daughter of a crazed king who never hesitated to burn, imprison or cut the off the head of any woman he chose. From childhood every man at court had an agenda to use her as his own stair step to power and wealth. She simply grew, through experience and trauma, to distrust men! And, after finally gaining power over her own life, she would never, could never, legally release self-autonomy to any man; which is exactly what marriage would do. Yes, she would remain Queen, but marriage would elevate her husband to a King-like position and court politics and intrigue could put her in a position to be sub-planted by a male (because it was believed at the time … and now?…. that a woman was too weak and frail of mind and body to rule!). If she married the heir to a foreign crown, such as Spain, she would find her power and vulnerability greatly diminished and the security of England very much in question. For Elizabeth, she was simply safer not to marry. And without marriage, there would be no children. A Queen, unlike a King, does not have illegitimate children. As to her looks, Elizabeth was deemed attractive enough until she suffered small pox and was left scarred with life-long damage to hair folicales resulting in thin, lifeless hair. Thus, the makeup and wigs to make her look more regal and attractive. Her portraits were painted to make her look young and strong mainly because it presented to the world and her people a strong heir, thus stability and national strength. Vanity may have played a role also because it is reported that Elizabeth was quite proud of her looks prior to small pox. Yet, it is not uncommon for monarchs to have themselves painted better looking and stronger than actually were to show their country, who they embodied, as strong and power … so keep away. (Henry VIII did this as he aged so Elizabeth had a model.) England would have been construed as vulnerable to invasion if their monarch, a woman, appeared aged, weak and frail. As to Elizabeth’s constitution being different than her siblings, they each had different mothers, consequentially different genes! Elizabeth obviously inherited her mother’s DNA! To compare siblings each must share the same parents, nothing else would validate the analysis. Also, one must look at the cause of death and the average lifespan of people at the time. Mary died of some kind of uterine cancer in her 40’s. Edward as a youth, of a fever, some think typhoid. Elizabeth did not suffer these. Much of her youth was spent away from court so she would have received less exposure to illness in the country. The average lifespan in Tudor England, even for monarchs, was much lower than today. Example: Henry’s older brother died unexpectedly young, shortly after being married to Catherine. Conspiracy theories make fun, exciting reading but are rarely validated by research and truth. Truth will out, always…the smallest detail can give them away…to maintain a secret of that magnitude for close to 50 years is simply impossible for even the closest of allies.

  84. No, there have been many “conspiracy theories” kept secret for a century or more. For example. Jefferson really DID have children with Sally Hemings.

    Elizabeth was born in 1533. Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond was born in 1519 and lived 17 years. Apart from being 24 years older than she was, (and not at all in a position to be mistaken for a ten year old girl), Fitzroy had been dead since 1536. That doesn’t mean some random red-headed ten year old boy wouldn’t have done every bit as well, and kept silent to keep his parents alive.

    But the body in the stone coffin was examined on a documentary I saw, and found to date from the 13th century.

  85. Whether, this is true or not let us look at some options, possible evidence.
    1/Periods could easily be faked, with a quantity of fresh blood reality easily at that date easily aquired. That to site that as a reason does’nt hold up!
    2/Also, although people think on ‘Elizabethian England as a free and wonderful era, which it untimatly saw great achievements but it was also by modern standards ‘a police state’,! with ‘the fear of Catholic’s under the bed! , as America’s parniod fear of Commie’s in the 1950’s, that media sources were xarefully guarded and controlled!!
    3/The modern image of Elizabethian England to some degree, was manifactured propergander, during WWII, when appropreate hero’s were sought to forfill, the image of ‘a nation alone’
    4/Modern People also readily mix up what they believe to be Elizabethian England to actually be the early era of James I of England and VI of Scotland like people percieve, the supposed image of wild Sixities as being the whole Decade, when so much that sums up the 1960’s is the Early 1970’s
    If, you wanted to paint a portrate of Elizabeth I, you had to apply and pay for a licence, which you were provided with ‘a stencil’, of ‘the desired image’. It is known that some unoffishial or unsantioned portrates of Elizabeth I were broken up and destroy’d

    So do I believe the legend, unlikely but there are enough facts in peoples perception of image of what was actual history and what was not, along with mefia malipulation in the C20th and C16th to give this a creadence of possibility!

  86. I read the story of the Bisley Boy in an ex-library edition of Stoker’s book and of course the whole thing looks very dubious. Claire’s comments are accurate and sensible and it is much easier to disbelieve than accept. Perhaps the most interesting point is – where did Stoker get tyhe story? Was it really passed on to him by Irving or did Stoker make the whole thing up?

  87. I know I got into this conversation late but wanted to say…

    With that outside of the box thinking (sarcasm), it’s a wonder that Stoker never accused H8 of secretly being a woman.

    If Elizabeth was too “manly” to be a woman because she ruled as a ruler should instead of being weak and fragile, then H8 must have been a woman by Stoker’s logic.

    I do not believe back word of this “secret”. She was a good and strong ruler who just happened to be a woman.

  88. Also wanted to add:

    If heads did not roll when Fitzroy died (I actually don’t know if anyone was put to death over his death, so please correct me if I am wrong), why in the world would anyone believe that H8 would freak out and behead a woman over a 10 year old girl which he himself made a bastard by murdering her mother?

    I am 100% positive that H8 understood that children can fail suddenly if the right illness came along.

    He didn’t even think of beheading COA, the wetnurse and or anyone else over all the babies which died while married to COA.

    Not to mention the fact that he would have known that the child was not his. Even if he didn’t notice, Mary definitely would have and would have used that against Elizabeth when she was taken to the tower.

    What I think may have happened (just my opinion), was that Elizabeth may have indeed had a fever. There may have been talk of using a changeling had she died. Then it snowballed from there. People love gossip and everyone knows that stories have a way of getting embellished to make them more interesting.

    But that is my opinion only.

  89. Check out the novel “King’s Deception” by Steve Berry. Whether the legend is true or not, Berry incorporates it into this Cotton Malone novel in a most entertaining way and uses plenty of real history to support his case that this is more than a legend.

  90. I have found this “story” fascinating. The purported changeling in the above explanation was supposedly the CHILD of Fitzroy and Lady Mary Howard (see other articles). There is a school of thought that, taking into account you can not apply 20/21st century psychological reasons to persons living in the 16th century, there may have been an actual physical defect with Elizabeth (I refer to “testicular feminisation” – source Greenblatt, R. 1986, British Journal of Sexual Medicine, (The Virgin Queen) and also a paper by Professor Bakan). I would never wish to de-feminise Elizabeth and hold her in the highest esteem. With regard to defaming her memory, we all tend to agree Elizabeth had no progeny so therefore no direct living descendants to upset and if she did “suffer” from this “affliction” I believe Elizabeth should be elevated higher for triumph against adversity. The author Deryn Lake touches on this in her novel, “Pour the Dark Wine”.

  91. Yes I believe that Queen Elizabeth was a man. If you go to Bisley they have a strange tradition of dressing a boy in girls clothes and parading them, why?? secondly, one only has to look at the tomb, how strange to put the following in Latin; and excellent for princely virtues beyond her sex??
    The bone structure from the portraits we see are that of a man. She/he, would only be examined around the face, neck and not quite to the chest area, this is through research.
    Yes she wore wigs, to hide grey? but she would not have been grey at an early age, she wore them right from the start. The Queen’s laundress, is there any proof that she was not held in this secret?, that she might have stated this to cover the truth? The King apparantly would have known, how? most of the time he was gorging himself on food and mostly drunk, also it is known that he refused to show any affection towards his daughters, getting close enough for a hug. for example. When visiting his daughter, she would have been some distance away from him, across the other side of the room.
    Next; she went to her grave with her secret inviolate. Then; I will have no rascal to succeed me and whi should succeed me but a King.
    Lastly, her famous speech; I have the heart and stomach of a King and of a King of England too.
    Yes I believe it, there is so much conspiracy surrounding the Royal Family. The Church of England built and headed by a murderer, then this, then we see Charles having an affair all the way through his courtship with Diana which did not cease, an affair with a married woman, he only wanted Diana for….sons! Hery VIII again. History repeats. The only reason that the Royals and parliament would try to dismiss this story is because of Ireland and all the problems it would bring, all the treaty’s being false.

  92. Has anyone wondered why the village of Bisley, right up until the second half of the 20th century, continued to have a male dressed in Elizabethan Costume, as the Queen of the May.

    Villagers tend to know everyone’s business within a small community, but at the same time guard their secrets from the outside world.

    There appears to be too much circumstantial evidence.

    One question – if it is true then what is supposed to have happened to the Duke of Richmond’s son? It could be that his mothers family were in on the deception, they became a prominent family during Elizabeth’s reign, or they were glad for the child to disappear/die because of the ‘circumstances’ of his birth. Is there documented evidence of his death>

  93. I’ve come into this conversation very late in the piece and most would have moved on to another subject by now. But this is absolutely fascinating from the theory that Elizabeth I may in fact have been ‘the Bisley boy’ to the other side of the coin where she indeed did have a child named Arthur to Robert Dudley. In the summer of 1587, a Spanish ship intercepted a boat off the coast of San Sebastian that had been heading to France. One of the passengers was a young man who claimed his name was Arthur Dudley, raised by Robert Southern, a man who had once been a servant of Kat Ashley, Elizabeth’s governess. On his father’s deathbed, he admitted to the young man that he was not his father. The young man was the son of Robert Dudley and the Queen. It’s not too much of a jump to imagine this as the truth as she in fact had already stated she was ‘fond’ of Robert Dudley, who had bed chambers moved next to hers. Just saying…..

  94. The reasons mentioned above for the story being just yet another conspiracy is a little misunderstood. Those were the times totally different than we can ever imagine.e.g In 1980’s if ever anyone said that you can carry a small pocket phone around and talk it would have been a sci-fi . Those were the ages when people had extremely limited contact in my opinion. Let alone a royal family and a single Queen. Who is to question Tudors or speak the truth?? They would exactly report in her words and she had no one to answer. The fact that she dated Dudley a man who was not of her stature makes a statement that she would never be questioned by authority.To pain the face with such colors, those huge dressed were all cover ups for public appearances. If anyone could expose her it was Mary Stuart whom she never met and sentenced her. Just to heir her son. It’s far beyond our perception as they say A rich mans joke is always funny

  95. I think it is an interesting idea and some of the reasons against could have been attended to
    but, I think it would have been VERY hard to keep such a secret even back then.
    It would make a good movie lol

  96. One thing that has not been mentioned, which could give credence to this story is simply that you must remember that during this time in history boys dressed as girls were everywhere as they were on stage as no female performed on stage. Also the said drag performers would often appear off stage in female role, as a common occurrence therefore a boy as a girl would be a simple way to hide in plain sight also low necklines can give you cleavage if correctly structured. There is a book called Drag which came out in the sixties and would add validity to the fact that Elizabeth could have been a man

  97. One thing that has not been mentioned, which could give credence to this story is simply that you must remember that during this time in history boys dressed as girls were everywhere as they were on stage as no female performed on stage. Also the said drag performers would often appear off stage in female role, as a common occurrence therefore a boy as a girl would be a simple way to hide in plain sight also low necklines can give you cleavage if correctly structured. There is a book called Drag which came out in the sixties and would add validity to the fact that Elizabeth could have been a man

  98. I believe that Elizabeth was sick and they thought she was going to die. While Elizabeth was lying in bed, the king was coming and they decided to dress a boy up and pass him off as Elizabeth to the king. And after the king leaves Elizabeth gets better and possible the little boy gets sick and dies. They bury him with the clothes, since they so-call said they find a female with royal clothes. Are they sure a female? But the rumors already begin and you cannot stop rumors about a boy pretending to be queen Elizabeth. Was there rumors about a little boy missing from the village, and did the servants pay the little boy family to keep quiet? I cannot believe the king did not hear those rumors, especially if someone wanted money or food. Why not tell the king. Also, her sister Mary hated her if she heard the rumors, I believe she would of expose the imposter and off with the imposter’s head. I just got into this story if more info out there please let me know. Who was this Bisley boy and his family? Extraordinary story!

  99. It is a great story but I do not believe it! So much could have gone wrong! Surely the king would have been devastated at the loss of his little daughter but no one would have been killed over it.

    It is an intriguing story though!

  100. I am clearly very late to this comment, but I believe with certainty that a secret can be kept by a select few for life. It is done frequently. How often do we find out about serial killers who lived secret lives no one suspected or people who find out in adulthood that their parents weren’t their true biological parents? When people are afraid enough of the consequences, they will certainly keep a secret. Being drawn and quartered or disemboweled while alive would be pretty good incentive. So would the threat of a bloody civil war in which everyone’s families and friends were at risk of death.

    I do believe that there is evidence for it. First, Henry 8 is noted to have rarely seen his daughter. Kings during that time spent little time with their children… Heck, even queens spent little time with their children! They had wet nurses and nannies to care for them and historical accounts note that Henry 8 was even more distant to Elizabeth than most kings with their offspring.

    Second, Henry 8 was impulsive and cruel. It didn’t have to be true that he would have beheaded the caregivers. They simply had to believe it. By the time she would have died, he was very sick and probably not able to closely examine his daughter. Let’s also not forget that lighting in castles is not great.

    Third, we know the Elizabethean fashion developed around the “ideal” version of Elizabeth’s body shape- very flat chested, tall, with a conical torso. Uhh… that doesn’t sound like a woman’s physique to me. In addition, as a previous commenter said, it’s not that hard to fake small breasts. Go to a drag show. You’ll see how easy it is. In fact, with the costuming of that time period, it would be extremely easy to fake being a woman. I also find it interesting that this is the time period during which plucking became such a trend. And let’s not forget Les Mignons, Henri III’s effeminate “friends”, who were essentially dressing as drag in that very time in France! There are written accounts of these young men which state that it was nearly impossible to tell them from a woman. Clearly, it was possible to do disguise one’s gender. Certainly, from the few paintings of the men I have in books, I cannot tell the difference. (In fact, they appear more feminine than paintings of Elizabeth I does!)

    Fourth, menstrual cycles would NOT be hard to fake. They had no DNA, no way of telling whether the blood was human blood. Not to mention, if you have a female in on the secret, it’s pretty easy for her to help you out in that department.

    Fifth, with the medical knowledge at that time, how else would they suddenly be made aware that Elizabeth wouldn’t bear children? Even women who do not menstruate regularly can get pregnant. To declare with certainty that she would never have children implies that she did not have the proper genitalia, whether it was from a deformity or from being an imposter.

    Sixth, even the most beautiful paintings of Elizabeth look masculine to me and I had thought so even before I was aware of the rumor. In fact, some have a faint 5 o’clock shadow look around the mouth. I don’t know why anyone would have been allowed to live painting such a thing unless it was an accurate representation, and I don’t think (from my limited understanding of how paintings age) that is something that has occurred over the years to the painting.

    Seventh, it seems to me that quite a bit of commentary on Elizabeth was attempting, as best they could without being treasonous, to draw attention to her eccentricies. Elizabeth was not liked by everyone, and one reason traditionally pointed out is that she was not a very “feminine” queen, as opposed to Mary Stuart.

    So, yes. I believe it’s possible this story is true.

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