Was Queen Elizabeth I killed by her toxic makeup?



Thu, 16 Jun 2022 - 12:43 GMT


Thu, 16 Jun 2022 - 12:43 GMT

Queen Elizabeth I - Mar 9, 2022 • By Marie-Madeleine Renauld, MA & BA Art History and Archaeology

Queen Elizabeth I - Mar 9, 2022 • By Marie-Madeleine Renauld, MA & BA Art History and Archaeology

CAIRO – 16 June 2022: Queen Elizabeth I is one of the most famous queens in British history. She is the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.





She ascended the throne on November 17, 1558, after the death of her older sister, Mary I. She's known for her signature makeup that may have been the thing that killed her.





In 1562, when Elizabeth was still in her late twenties, she developed a high fever that left her bedridden. When she was examined by doctors, it turned out that Elizabeth had contracted smallpox, which was a very deadly disease that first infected humans about 12,000 years ago. Infections occurred regularly until the invention of the smallpox vaccine by Edward Jenner in 1796.





In Elizabeth's time, smallpox killed about 30 percent of people infected with it, according to the ancient-origins website. The disease caused havoc in Europe, killing many kings, but it did not kill Elizabeth. Although she survived, Elizabeth did not escape unharmed. Smallpox left many scars and blemishes on her skin.





In her youth, Elizabeth used little makeup, but after her battle with smallpox, she began to wear more makeup, creating what we think of today as her iconic look. During the Elizabethan era, the English upper class considered their fair-white skin incredibly beautiful.





Fortunately for her, there was a famous makeup available in the 16th century called "Venetian Ceruse". This skin bleach was highly sought after by European aristocrats due to its high quality and was often used to conceal scars. It was made with vinegar and white lead from Venice which gave the woman an incredibly pale appearance.





However, the lead was poisonous. Over time, the Venetian Ceruse caused hair loss and skin shedding, two things Elizabeth struggled with as she got older. She was in severe depression towards the end of her life. She refused to have a mirror in any of her rooms.





In addition to her poor physical health, she showed signs of deteriorating cognitive ability and delirium. Despite that, her stubbornness pushed her forward. She refused to rest and stood for hours upon hours, perhaps afraid that she would not rise again if she sat down. She probably knew how vulnerable she was and feared that her death was imminent. She refused to allow doctors to physically examine her, perhaps out of fear of the worst.





Unfortunately, since she did not allow doctors to examine her, nor did she have a postmortem autopsy, it is impossible to say for sure what killed Elizabeth I.





Regardless of whether or not her makeup killed her, it did  help make her one of the most famous queens.





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