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Journal > Volumes > 49 (2018) / 2 (Summer)
Queen Bees, Queen Bess, and the Gender Politics of Butler’s Feminine Monarchie
Elizabeth Crachiolo
University of California, Davis

This article examines Charles Butler’s beekeeping treatise The Feminine Monarchie (1609), the first to popularize the notion of the queen bee. Butler espouses firsthand scientific knowledge in the empirical tradition, yet he includes a bizarre story of plague-stricken bees that are miraculously cured after fashioning a wax chapel for a Catholic Host. By examining Butler’s source story, exploring the history of beekeeping, and tracing connections between the Virgin Mary’s iconography and Elizabeth I, this article argues that Butler’s inclusion of the story enacts a critique of female power. Despite a long tradition linking political meaning and texts about bees, Butler’s work has never been examined in terms of the long rule and recent death of Elizabeth I, its most salient political context. This approach situates the text within a larger tradition of works that appeared to praise but actually undermined Elizabeth’s authority and disputed the ability of women to rule.

Pages: 323 - 338