Abroad with Mark Twain and Eugene Field/"Elizabeth Was a He," Said Mark


"Mark my word, Elizabeth was a he," said Clemens, when I was starting for London the end of June, 1894, leaving the Clemenses at the Normandie, Paris, "and when you have a little time in England, I wish you would look up all that pesky question for me."

"Not in Westminster Abbey?" I cried in alarm.

"Now, don't you try to be gay," said Mark. "It's bad enough if I got that reputation when I want to be taken seriously. I know they haven't got through ascertaining for the 'teenth time whether Charles I really lost his head when his overbearing noddle dropped into the basket on the scaffold opposite the Horse-Guards—you showed me the spot yourself. I don't want any ghoulish work done. Just go to the British Museum and every other library and nose up everything appertaining to Queen Elizabeth's manly character. You get the authorities (for a consideration, of course) and I'll do the rest. Then you go down Surrey-way and find a place or castle or summer house called Overcourt, or something. That's where Elizabeth lived in her teens, and metamorphosed into a boy."

"But the editor will never allow you to write on such a subject. Better let me do it."

"Not on your life," said Mark. "It's my discovery, and I'm paying you for the work you do, just as the New York 'World' and the 'Sun' do. When you come down to hard tacks you will find that there are no questionable proceedings whatever, just an exchange of babies, as in the old-time operas, Troubadour and the rest. The Editor will have no kick coming."

"The Editor," of course, was Mrs. Clemens, who as a rule censored Mark's manuscript—"tooth-combed it," as he called it, cutting out such gems as "the affairs of the Cat who had a family in every Port."

Mark told me that when he got through with "Joan of Arc" he would tackle "this here Elizabeth proposition"—"a person full of placid egotism and obsessed with self-importance," he called her. "If I do Elizabeth half as well as I intend to do 'Joan' and did 'The Prince and Pauper,' I will have three serious books to my credit, and after that I will be damned—'thrice damned,' Elizabeth would have said—if I allow anybody to take me for a mere funmaker."

He gave me some more instructions, talking at random mostly, and paid me in advance for the work I was to do. Twenty-four hours later I landed at Victoria Station, London, for, having business in Antwerp, I had travelled via Holland.

A foreign correspondent (that was my trade then) is shifted merrily from one place to another; so it happened that I went back to France after a fortnight in England, or even sooner. The Clemenses were packing, and I had Mark all to myself for an hour or so.

"What made you first doubt the Virgin Queen's sex?" I asked.

"Never mind—her gorgeous swearing maybe. What did you find out in Surrey?"

I duly reported that I had gone to Overcourt with a friend, had explored the Queen Elizabeth chambers, the woods and countryside, and had interviewed a lot of old and some young gossips, with this result:

Elizabeth, I was told, came to Overcourt when a child of four or five, and a young person supposed to be Elizabeth—that is, the daughter of Ann Boleyn and Henry the Eighth—left there some ten years later. When the Princess was seven or eight. King Henry, who was attending Parliament, had promised to come and see his little girl two weeks hence (Overcourt is within easy riding distance of London). But even as they were preparing to give Hal—("Ought to be Hell," interpolated Mark)—a rousing reception; to feed the brute in particular, Elizabeth was suddenly attacked by malignant fever and died. There was only one "in the know," her Grace's governess—I gave her name to Mark, but have quite forgotten it. I remember, though, that she remained in the royal service for some forty years afterwards, in fact, that she and "Elizabeth" never separated while both lived.

"I can imagine how that poor woman felt," commented Mark—"went through all the horrors of having her hair bobbed behind, and her neck shaved—what else was there in store for her but a beheading party if Hal found his daughter dead? And when, in your mind's eye, you see the executioner try the edge of his axe on his thumb nail, life's delicatessen—considerations for truth, politics, and common everyday decency—lose their appeal. The axe-man was coming and that governess didn't want to be the chicken."

"That's what the gossips told me, and they had it from their great-great-great-grand-mothers, a blessed heritage."

"Go on," said Mark.

"Well, that governess knew that her life depended upon finding a substitute for Elizabeth, and the substitute couldn't materialize quickly enough. Briefly, it did materialize in the person of the late Princess' boy playmate—here are his name and affiliations, as Overcourt neighborhood has it."

"Fine," said Mark, "the rest I know or can imagine. She dressed up that kid in Elizabeth's petticoats and togs and frightened the life out of him not to betray her or himself with the King or any one else."

"Quite right," mused Mark, "for the eighth Henry was an ogre—the very unborn children of England knew it. Besides, reading up the official history of Elizabeth, I find that Hal hadn't seen his daughter for three or four years previous to his visit in Overcourt. The deception, then, worked easily enough. I could have done it at a pinch."

Mark next went into the life history of the great Queen, or supposed Queen. "She was a male character all over—a thousand acts of hers prove it," he insisted. "Now tell me what were the conspicuous Tudor traits—"

"But you said she wasn't a Tudor," I interrupted.

"Precisely, but she had to copy the Tudors as our stage impersonators imitate Bernhardt and Henry Dixie. Now what were those Tudor traits: remorselessness, cunning, lying till the cows come home, murder, robbery, despoliation! All of them Elizabeth, or the man who impersonated the Queen, practiced to the dotlet on the i. Think of the letters she wrote to Francis Drake, the inventor of fried potatoes, and to the second Philip of Spain. Wasn't that a man's game? Could woman ever get up anything so misleading and contraband?

"And the way she fooled her English, Spanish, Austrian, German and French admirers, setting each against the other, never neglecting to threaten Spain's flank, and, at the last, throwing them the head of Mary of Scots as a gage of battle—regular male strumpet's chicanery, I tell you."

From a drawer Mark pulled a highly decorated volume, and turned the leaves quickly. "Elizabeth's official lovers," he explained. "Lord Seymour, second husband of her step-mother, Queen Catherine Parr. Catherine, I gather, was in the secret; otherwise she wouldn't have allowed Seymour to carry on with 'Elizabeth' as he did. And he had about a yard of whiskers on his face at that. There was Leicester, this big chap here with the goatee. She had him beheaded, not because he knew anything against her, or about her real sex, but because he had the reputation of knowing things. The Virgin Queen made her alleged lover a head shorter, just to show that she didn't care what she did. Henry and Francis, the French Valois brothers, Dukes of something or other, were likewise large, sinister looking fellows. These, too, she used, man fashion, like boobs, and as no other crowned harridan ever used a lover. Think of Catharine (of Russia) and of Josephine and Marie Louise—to be loved by those ladies was real fun, a treat." Mark lowered his voice to add: "I read somewhere that Catharine allowed the brothers Orloff no less than fifty thousand roubles pajama money—fifty thousand! One can buy a powerful lot of nighties for that much money, even at the Louvre, across the way."

"There's the Britannica," continued Mark, jumping up. He found a paragraph under the caption of "Elizabeth" that tickled him immensely. "Read this, and call me a liar if you dare."

The paragraph states that there was "some physical defect" in Elizabeth's make-up, that she was "masculine in mind and temperament," likewise, that no man ever lost his head over her as they did over Mary of Scots.

"'Nuff said on the score of love-making and lying," concluded Mark. "'Nuff for the present, I mean; but here is another thing. We all know there is only one Hetty Green, that there never was another. Yet this here Elizabeth, so called—i.e., the man who impersonated her—was as clever a financier as John D. Rockefeller. As John D. gobbled up all the oil in creation, or out of it, so Elizabeth, so called, lapped up all the gold, minted and otherwise. Up to the sixties and seventies (of the sixteenth century) Spain had an absolute monopoly of the yellow and white metals, you know. When the person called Elizabeth died, all the gold of the world was in English hands, and, besides, England dominated all the ocean trade routes, where formerly the Spanish flag had been unchallenged."

"As circumstantial evidence, can't be beat," I suggested timidly, "but—"

"You remind me of the cat that bolted a whole box of Seidlitz powders and then had no more judgment than to lie under the open hydrant," exploded Mark. "Why don't you ask me to trot out Elizabeth in an Andy Carnegie Highland costume, kilts and all? There will be missing links, plenty of them, after all these years, that goes without saying, but it's a great story, nevertheless. Needs a hunk of brain, though, to puzzle it out to its logical conclusion."

Soon after this conversation, the Clemenses went to Italy, and for some little time I expected to hear from Mark further on the Elizabeth legend. But the yarn seems to have slipped his memory, and as I found him engrossed in matters of the moment, I didn't try to revive his interest in one so remote.

But I have often wondered whether, or not, his many unpublished writings show that he brought "his hunk of brains" to work on unsexing Elizabeth.