From her bright red lips to her pale, porcelain skin, Queen Elizabeth I is arguably one of the most recognized monarchs in English history. But her iconic look, particularly her white makeup, hid a dark and deadly secret, something that historians believe led to her death at 69 years old. You’ll have to keep reading to learn the truth.
Queen Elizabeth I Needed To Remain Beautiful
When Elizabeth I took the throne on November 17, 1558, she became one of the last of the five monarchs of the House of Tudor. During her reign, Queen Elizabeth did all she could to hold her power. She was living in a male-dominated world, after all.
To stay on top and in control of the English monarchy, Elizabeth I believed she needed to remain as youthful and beautiful as possible.
She Was Greatly Influenced By The Beauty Of The Renaissance
Queen Elizabeth I was highly dependent on a beauty routine, something she would later become known for in various media depictions. Greatly influenced by art, literature, and the Renaissance, the queen was a bit of a romantic when it came to her personal style.
It was all about bringing the beauty ideals of the era to life, and that meant a very specific style, makeup palate, skin tone, and hair color.
Pale Skin, Red Lips, And Lighter-Colored Hair
During the Renaissance, a woman was considered beautiful with very pale skin, lighter-colored hair, bright eyes, and crimson red lips. While the standards might sound achievable in this day and age, they were almost impossible to maintain during the time.
It was the 1550s, and disease was so widespread that a simple infection was enough to leave a person disfigured. There wasn’t any modern medicine to speak of at the time.
The White Makeup Became Iconic
So, how was Queen Elizabeth I able to maintain her striking beauty and appearance? The answer is simple: the iconic white makeup that she would paint on her face each morning. Her routine would become even more prevalent as time went on and she grew older.
But while Queen Elizabeth I’s friends, family, and subjects became used to seeing their monarch in white face makeup, no one knew about the dark truth that lay underneath the mask.
It Was A Male-Dominated World
Elizabeth I took the throne over from her sister when she was only 25 years old. As the second-ever female in the court, Queen Elizabeth had to stand her ground in a male-dominated world.
For her, that meant retaining her beauty and youth for as long as possible; in those times, men were more likely to speak with her if she could hold their attention. The fact that she was unmarried made doing her job even harder.
Unmarried Women Were Considered Bothersome
Living and being queen in a male-dominated society meant Queen Elizabeth I had to work much harder to stake her claim as the ruler of the country. At the time, women were still considered property of their husbands.
And women who were unmarried weren’t seen as much more than a nuisance. As an unmarried woman herself, Queen Elizabeth I had that much more to prove, even though she sat on the throne of England.
Even Though There Were Many Suitors, She Never Married
As a young queen, it’s said that Elizabeth I was good-looking and used her feminine charms to get ahead in the court. The thing is, beauty and youth disappear with time, something Queen Elizabeth I soon found out.
Even so, during that time when her beauty was widely discussed, many men came to the palace asking to court her majesty. She never once took a husband, only bringing good-looking men into her court.
Beauty Equaled Power
At the time, beauty meant power. So, Queen Elizabeth I was set on keeping her youthful appearance for as long as possible. During an interview with BBC, British historian Dr. Anna Whitelock discussed the late queen, saying, “Elizabeth’s contemporaries believed that beauty amplified female power, and so they regarded the queen’s splendor as confirmation of her claim to the throne.”
If that was the case, it’s no wonder Elizabeth wanted to keep her looks.
Pale White Skin Was The Epitome Of Beauty
With people believing that beauty equaled power, Queen Elizabeth I did her best to keep a beautiful appearance, especially as she grew older. It became a huge part of her success.
And the biggest part of that beauty was Elizabeth’s iconic white skin. Thought to be the epitome of style, grace, and beauty, porcelain skin was very desirable during the time, as it represented innocence, fertility, and being part of the higher class.
Queen Elizabeth Painted Her Face With A Special Concoction
According to some, the white paint Queen Elizabeth I used on her skin was the epitome of beauty. It meant she worked inside, was higher class, and, because of how pale she was able to get the color, looked like she retained the innocence of a young girl.
Because of this, Queen Elizabeth I made sure to have her face painted each day with a special concoction, something that would not be allowed on the market today.
The White Paint’s Compounds Were Toxic
The paint that Queen Elizabeth used to get her iconic white face was known as Venetian ceruse. This compound was composed of lead and white vinegar. And, as one would expect with lead in the equation, the paint was extremely toxic.
Considering that Queen Elizabeth I painted her face each morning with the toxic substance and wore it all day long, it’s safe to say she wasn’t exactly in the healthiest state.
Women Would Wear The Lead-Laced Paint For Days
It was the 16th century, so people weren’t overly concerned with a little thing called lead poisoning. At the time, they didn’t even have a name for the health issue! Women would just go on about their lives, wearing lead-laced white paint on their faces for, sometimes, days at a time!
Even Queen Elizabeth I was said to have died with at least an inch of white makeup on her face!
The White Paint Was Worse Than They Could’ve Imagined
Not only was the white paint laced with toxic lead, but it really did no favors to anyone’s skin. In fact, the paint wound up leaving the complexion of a person with discolored lines, not exactly the face people want during a time where beauty was everything.
Not only that, but when the ladies actually took the time to remove the white makeup from their faces, they were spreading on even more toxins!
The “Remover” Was Laced With Mercury
Venetian ceruse was bad enough on its own, with toxic lead in its mixture. Of course, the people wearing the white paint had no idea they were spreading toxic chemicals on their faces.
And the paint mixture wasn’t the only toxic element to their beauty rituals. The remover Queen Elizabeth I and everyone else allegedly used was also bad, being laced with mercury! Everything about the makeup was a health risk.
Many Toxic Chemicals Were Used In The Name Of Beauty
Queen Elizabeth I and other high society ladies had no idea that while they were amplifying their beauty, they were actually poisoning their skin, making it look aged with lines and discoloration.
But strange practices such as using lead and mercury-laced products weren’t unheard of during the time. In fact, many women would use toxic substances such as sulfur and turpentine to remove what they considered imperfections on their skin, i.e., freckles.
Black Kohl Wasn’t Doing Queen Elizabeth Any Favors
The white lead-laced paint and the mercury-ridden remover weren’t the only toxic makeup products Queen Elizabeth I used. It’s been said that her majesty also used black kohl liner to help give her look a bit of drama.
Beauticians still argue over the long-term health issues that came with using such a substance back in the 16th century. Considering Queen Elizabeth was already using lead and mercury on a daily basis, the kohl probably didn’t help.
Kohl Was Made Using A Toxic Element
Black kohl wasn’t made of the non-toxic substance it is today. Back in the 1550s, Queen Elizabeth I was using a product made of powdered antimony, a metallic chemical element that is known to cause rashes if skin is exposed for a prolonged period of time.
And that’s just the beginning! Her majesty would also use eyedrops from the plant nightshade to widen her pupils and give her eyes a dewy look. Too bad nightshade is poisonous!
There Was One Thing That Wasn’t Toxic
Thankfully, Queen Elizabeth I’s beauty routine didn’t always involve toxic chemicals that were secretly aging her. She also favored very thin and arched eyebrows, plucking them for the desired effect.
And her iconic ruby-red lips and cheeks were a product of plant dye and beeswax, a far cry from the lead, mercury, and kohl used on her eyes and face. But between the pale white paint and crimson lips, Queen Elizabeth became quite a trendsetter!
Black Teeth Became In Vouge
Queen Elizabeth was quite the trendsetter. As a beloved and beautiful monarch, women wanted nothing more than to look like her majesty. So much so that when her teeth began to decay later in life, black teeth were suddenly in vogue!
While she didn’t necessarily hide her decaying teeth, which were thanks to a fondness for sweet desserts and a lack of oral hygiene, there was one aspect of her majesty that Queen Elizabeth I didn’t want anyone to notice.
Queen Elizabeth I Contracted Smallpox
When Queen Elizabeth I was only 29 years old, she contracted a deadly disease: smallpox. With no cure or vaccine, smallpox was feared by pretty much everyone. In fact, when her physician, Dr. Burcot, first told Queen Elizabeth I that she had the illness, she thought he was lying.
In no way was the Queen of England sick with smallpox! But her high fever was telling a different story — her majesty was very ill.
A Lot Of The European Population Died From Smallpox
With no cure or vaccine, smallpox was the most feared contagion in Europe. And rightfully so! At the time, about a third of the people who were diagnosed with the illness died. It’s no wonder Queen Elizabeth I didn’t want to believe her physician’s diagnosis.
This was especially so, considering one of the stages of smallpox was going to ruin her appearance. One of the symptoms of smallpox was disfiguring lesions, something that would end up scarring a person if they become irritated.
Her Reaction Was A Bit Dramatic
With her fever, pains, and the inevitable lesions that were going to pocket her skin, Queen Elizabeth I had no choice but to believe Dr. Burcot’s diagnosis. She had smallpox and, therefore, was going to get scarring on her skin.
According to historical accounts, when her majesty finally came to terms with her smallpox diagnosis she was a bit dramatic. Reports say the queen cried “God’s pestilence. Which is better? To have the pox in the hand or in the face or in the heart and kill the whole body?”
It Didn’t Look Great For The Queen
For a time, things didn’t look great for the beloved queen. As her condition worsened, to the point of her voice going, the queen’s subjects were afraid she wasn’t going to make it.
As there was nothing in terms of a cure or even medicine, there was nothing physicians could even do to help her condition. Of course, that didn’t stop them from trying everything within their power to cure the queen.
Doctors Wrapped Her In A Red Cloth
At the time, physicians thought smallpox was contracted when a person had an “imbalance of humors” within the body. In Queen Elizabeth I’s case, her doctor believed she needed to be wrapped in a red cloth in order to rid her body of the scarlet lesions.
The fever and pains would go away, eventually. But the queen was horrified at the idea of being scarred and disfigured for the rest of her life.
Eventually, Queen Elizabeth I Returned To Full Health
Thankfully, the succession plans made by Queen Elizabeth I’s ministers fell through, as her majesty eventually returned to full health. Unfortunately, while her health was back, her skin took on a different look.
Her face was no longer smooth. It was now pocketed with the scars of smallpox lesions, something that would never go away, no matter how many times she was wrapped in a red cloth by her doctors.
She Couldn’t Use Her Beauty To Her Advantage Anymore
Before she was diagnosed with smallpox, Queen Elizabeth I used her beauty to her advantage. It helped her influence people in a male-dominated world. Now, she was riddled with scars, something the queen thought was going to hurt her position as the head of the monarchy.
So, she began layering on the Venetian ceruse makeup, hoping the white paint would cover up a majority of her scarring. From that point on, the queen was rarely seen without her face painted.
The Toxins Were Taking A Toll
The only people who saw Queen Elizabeth I without her inch-thick white mask were her inner circle. Even so, they would never comment on the queen’s actual skin. But, according to history, her majesty’s skin was going downhill fast.
Not only was it pocketed by smallpox scars, but the lead-laced paint and mercury-laced makeup remover were doing a number. The toxins were aging her beyond belief. It wasn’t a good look.
She Was Getting Older And More Self Conscious
As she got older, Queen Elizabeth I grew even more concerned about her looks. As she had been all about her beauty from a young age, the fact that she was getting older with wrinkles on top of her already scarred skin wasn’t going to fly.
She was now applying “her face” no matter the occasion. She even ordered the ladies of the court to wear drab dresses of black and white for a very specific reason!
She Ordered A Dress Code
As she got older, Queen Elizabeth I became more self-conscious about her looks. She even made it so women of the court could only wear black and white dresses while she wore lavish gowns. She wanted it so no one could take their eyes off her.
But the years upon years of putting toxins on her skin were about to catch up with her. When she was 69 years old, Queen Elizabeth I died.
Lead Poisoning Was Her Downfall
In her last year, Queen Elizabeth I was experiencing hair loss, lapses in her memory, fatigue, and digestive issues. According to modern-day doctors, those are all signs of lead poisoning.
It seems as though Queen Elizabeth I took the phrase “beauty is pain” to a whole new level, as she continued to use the white lead-laced paint on her face up until her death. She was even buried in it. Ultimately, her vanity and the need to be the most beautiful person in the room was the queen’s downfall.
Queen Maria I Of Portugal Was Known As The Mad Queen
Ruling over Portugal from 1777 to 1816, the mentally unstable Queen Maria I was married to her uncle, who was also unwell. During her reign, she witnessed two of her children die from smallpox, along with her son-in-law and grandson. It is believed these deaths only drove her further into insanity.
At times, she would throw violent tantrums no for no reason and took to wearing clothes meant for little girls, earning her the nickname the Mad Queen. By 1799, her son was running the country, with Maria being queen only by title. She died in a convent shortly after fleeing to Brazil during the Napoleonic Wars.
Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich’s Disease Brought The Infamous Rasputin Into The Romanov Household
Although nobody knew it at the time, Alexei Nikolaevich Romanov, the heir apparent to the Russian Empire, suffered from hemophilia, a hereditary disease in which blood does not clot normally. In an attempt to heal her son, his mother, Alexandra, invited the less-than-respected Rasputin into their home, who claimed he could help.
Becoming close with the family, Rasputin used his cunning to influence Alexandra’s decisions and beliefs, even gaining power himself. In the end, he indirectly helped spur the Russian Revolution in 1917, resulting in the entire family being executed.
King Tut Had Numerous Things Wrong With Him
While King Tutankhamun may be regarded as one of the most well-known and discussed pharaohs of ancient Egypt, DNA tests have revealed that he was far from healthy. Ruling around 1300 BC, studies have shown that “Tut” was incredibly weak, with most of his ailments being traced back to the royal tradition of brothers and sisters marrying each other within his family.
Ascending the throne at the young age of 10 until his death at 19, it is believed that Tut had a cleft palate, a club foot, severe scoliosis, and a deformed skull. Experts also found traces of malaria which he most likely contracted due to a weak immune system.
The Medici Line Was Cursed With Rickets
During the Florentine Renaissance, the Medicis were the most powerful family in Italy. However, their money and influence couldn’t protect their offspring from rickets, a vitamin D deficiency that results in the distortion of bones such as bow legs.
Scientists analyzed nine child skeletons from the Medici family including Don Filippo, only to discover that six of the nine children demonstrated signs of rickets with curved arms and bow legs. It is believed this was the result of the family being overly-protective of their offspring by keeping them inside, prolonging breastfeeding, and exposing very little skin.
Empress Elisabeth Of Austria Suffered From Anorexia And Depression
Referred to as “Sisi,” Empress Elisabeth came from a family with prominent members who were known for their uncommon behavior, such as her cousin King Ludwig II of Bavaria. At 16, she married her cousin, Franz Joseph, establishing her as the Empress of Austria. Although Franz loved Elisabeth, she did not share his affection and particularly despised his mother, Archduchess Sophie.
Known for her beauty in her youth, as she aged, she became increasingly paranoid about her appearance, slipping into a deep depression. It came to a point where she began to starve herself and refused to let anyone paint her portrait. She even spoke openly about taking her own life until the deed was committed by an anarchist in 1898.
Princess Nahienaena Lost Her Child
Born in 1815, Princess Nahienaena was a high-ranking princess during the founding of the Kingdom of Hawaii. The princess had been romantically involved with her brother, King Kamehameha III, starting from a young age.
This wasn’t uncommon in the early days of the Kingdom of Hawaii, and the two were encouraged to continue their relationship in order to keep their bloodline pure. The siblings attempted to marry but were met with opposition by Christian missionaries. Although the two never married, they did conceive a child, however, it only lived a few hours, most likely due to health complications resulting from their union.
Cleopatra Is Believed To Have Been Obese
Although Cleopatra is typically described in legend and portrayed in art as being slender and the very essence of beauty, likely, this wasn’t the case. Recently, archeologists have begun to speculate that Cleopatra was, in fact, obese, like most of her family members.
Traditionally, Cleopatra’s family was known for being overweight and keeping their bloodline pure. So, the genes that led to obesity were continuously being passed down until they afflicted Cleopatra, as well as her brother and sister.
King George III Lost His Mind
King George II of England is best known for losing the American Revolution, but also for his insanity. It was believed that he inherited porphyria, a genetic disorder causing bouts of insanity, although it could have been the result of bipolar disorder.
His condition became worse later in his life, leading him to give up on his duties as king with his delusions becoming so severe that at times he was put into straitjackets, his blood was leeched, or he was placed into ice baths in order to calm down. Medical tests show that porphyria was common in the House of Hanover, which King George II was a part of.
Joanna Of Castile Succumbed To Grief
Joanna of Castile was never supposed to inherit the thrones of Castile and Aragon, but after outliving a number of her siblings, she ended up wearing the crown. Unfortunately, she was mentally unprepared for her position as Queen of Spain, especially the standards set by her mother.
However, she ended up marrying and falling deeply in love with her husband, a member of the Habsburg family known as Philip the Handsome. Philip did not return her love and was unfaithful on numerous occasions before his death. The loss of her husband drove Joanna into insanity, leading to her removal from power and imprisonment until her death in 1555.
Ludwig II Of Bavaria Was Slain For His Unpredictability
Cousin of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, King Ludwig II of Bavaria’s family had been inbreeding for generations, which came to a head at the birth of Ludwig II. In his early years, people began to notice that Ludwig was exceedingly paranoid and lived in his own fantastical world. It is believed that he suffered from a schizotypal personality disorder and possibly Pick’s disease later in his life.
He preferred to build extravagant estates and commission massive art projects, which led to unrest with both the public and the Bavarian government, with people annoyed at his wastefulness and inability to lead. In 1886, his body was found by a lake, and it was assumed that he had been slain.
Princess Victoria Melita Lost Two Children
The granddaughter of Queen Victoria, Princess Victoria Melita, was spared from hemophilia, a disease caused by rampant inbreeding amongst royals throughout Europe. However, she had her fair share of problems. She went on to marry her cousin, the Grand Duke of Hesse, although there was no love in the marriage.
The two fought constantly, and the arguments were known for being particularly vicious. Yet, the couple had two children, with their first-born daughter dying at the age of eight, and their second, a son, was stillborn. It is assumed that their children’s deaths were most likely due to the Princess and the Duke being cousins.
Caligula Was Ruthless And Without A Conscience
Rome had its fair share of cruel emperors, but Caligula tops the list. Known for his sadism and insanity, he often commanded lavish projects to be completed for no reason while Rome suffered. It is even said that he had an entire section of an audience at the gladiatorial games thrown to wild animals because he was bored.
After recovering from a serious illness that was believed to be caused by poison, Caligula descended into madness, banning or executing anyone whom he thought was a threat, as well as participating in horrendous acts of depravity and torture to secure complete power. Eventually, he was assassinated for his tyranny.
King Henry VI Thought He Was Made Of Glass
King Henry VI of England was made king before his first birthday and spent the majority of his life battling mental illness as England was slowly engulfed in the War of the Roses. He suffered his first mental breakdown in 1453, which rendered him completely useless as a ruler.
As time went on, his condition worsened to the point that he thought he was made of glass and would break at even the slightest touch. He was disposed of in 1461 by Yorkish forces, re-took the throne in 1470, although he was imprisoned and possibly murdered in 1471.
Ferdinand I Of Austria Had A Birth Defect That Seriously Affected His Life
Ferdinand I of Austria’s parents were Holy Roman Emperor Francis II and Marie-Therese, double first cousins, whose genetic closeness took a serious toll on Ferdinand I. Ferdinand was born with epilepsy, a speech impediment, neurological damage, and hydrocephalus, which affected his motor skills.
Although he wasn’t completely incapacitated, he suffered up to 20 seizures a day and was weak of body, leaving the running of the country to a Reagent’s Council. Despite his countless birth defects, he still managed to reign as emperor for 13 years until his abdication in 1848.
Queen Elizabeth I Had A Relentless Toothache
Queen Elizabeth immortalized herself for her success in expanding England, as well as defending the country against the Spanish. However, she did so with a throbbing pain in her mouth. The “Virgin Queen” had serious issues with her teeth. Many of them were missing and those that remained were yellow and rotting.
This resulted in consistent toothaches, although she would not allow any of her rotten teeth to be taken out. According to author Alison Weir, “This decision condemned her to years of intermittent pain from toothache, gum disease and resultant neuralgia in the face and neck.”
Ivan IV Of Russia Earned The Title Of Ivan The Terrible
The first czar of Russia, Ivan IV, is known for transforming Russia from a medieval state into an empire, although at a significant cost to its people and the countries long-term success.
He is remembered for his madness and cruelty, taking pleasure in torturing and executing the nobility as well as slaughtering the entire city of Novgorod. Furthermore, he murdered his eldest son and heir in 1581 in a fit of rage as well as beating his pregnant daughter-in-law for her clothing, most likely resulting in a miscarriage.
Charles II Paid The Price For His Family’s Lineage
Charles II of Spain was plagued with several afflictions that were likely related to the fact that his mother and father were uncle and niece. Nicknamed “The Bewitcher,” he had what is known as the Habsburg Jaw or lip, which is the result of an over-sized tongue, and a severe underbite with a protruding lower jaw and thick lower lip.
Today, it is referred to as mandibular prognathism. His tongue made it difficult for him to chew and led to excessive drooling. He was also developmentally stunted, not speaking until four or being able to walk until the age of eight. He was also impotent, with the Habsburg hold on Spain ending with him.
King George V Suffered From Pleurisy
George V was the King of the United Kingdom, British Dominions, and the Emperor of India from 1906 until his death in 1936. Among his many health issues which developed during the First World War, he also suffered from pleurisy, in which a membrane in the chest cavity becomes inflamed.
As the king was at death’s door, he was euthanized by his physician. At the request of his wife, George was given a serum that rendered him unconscious. It was then that he was given a fatal dose of morphine.
King Richard III Had More Ailments Than Thought
Made famous by William Shakespeare, King Richard III ruled England from 1483 to 1485 and was the last English king to die in battle. However, he suffered from extreme scoliosis, and from his remains discovered beneath a parking garage, it was noted that his left shoulder would have been much lower than the right.
In addition, his remains were found to have multiple roundworm eggs around his pelvis where his intestines should have been. So, not only was his spine contorted, but he was infested with worms as well.
Emperor Claudius Was Weaker Than He Looked
Emperor Claudius, the Roman emperor best-remembered from conquering Britain managed to accomplish a lot during his reign, however, he did so with numerous physical ailments. Supposedly, he had a speech impediment, his head shook, his knees frequently gave out, and his nose often ran when he was excited.
He also had the propensity to pass gas and was concerned about the health risks of not releasing it. According to Roman historian Suetonius, he “planned an edict to legitimize the breaking of wind at table, either silently or noisily.”