History, Department of


Date of this Version



A Thesis Presented to the Faculty of
The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska
In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements
For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: History
Under the Supervision of Professor Carole Levin
Lincoln, Nebraska: April, 2011

Copyright 2011 Catherine Medici-Thiemann


Elizabeth’s England saw the emergence of formal institutions of political power, but the importance of the personal politics, ruled by patronage, reputation, and favor still held. Looking at the ways that women participated in personal politics, through their communication and patronage networks, illuminates how women gained political power in sixteenth century England.

The intersection of personal politics and a female queen allowed women to The intersection of personal politics and a female queen allowed women to maintain significant political power in Elizabethan England. Women at Elizabeth’s court gained great political importance through their proximity to the queen, their ability to direct patronage and their importance as information sources. Mary Sidney’s actions throughout her life exemplify how women used patronage and information sharing to hold political power in Elizabeth’s reign.

Early modern English dependence on personal relationship and patronage allowed women to hold political power and influence despite their absence from the formal structures of political and governmental power. The presence of a reigning Queen only increased the amount of influence and power that aristocratic women held in the sixteenth century. Mary Sidney’s actions and the way that she was represented clearly show that women in Elizabeth’s court controlled real political power.