Although public relations didn’t become an official profession until the 20th century, public relations practices have always been alive and well through the course of human history.
Queen Elizabeth I, who ruled England from 1558 until her death in 1603, is perhaps one of the most famous monarchs of all time — and one who brilliantly used brandingbefore “building your brand” was even a term.
Although she was born a princess, her early life was quite difficult. Her father, the notorious six-times-married King Henry VIII, had her mother Anne Boleyn (whom many in the court called “The Great Whore” because of her role in splitting Henry from his first wife and the Catholic Church) beheaded when Elizabeth was just three years old. Her father died when she was 13, and her younger brother Edward died a boy king a few years later.
She was imprisoned in the Tower of London as a young woman by her Catholic sister Queen Mary I (a.k.a. “Bloody Mary”) who was highly suspicious of her Protestant beliefs. By the time Elizabeth came to power, both she and the country she inherited were exhausted by religious turmoil, death, and general discontent.
Understanding Key Publics and Setting Yourself Apart
From the start of her reign, Elizabeth worked diligently to create an image of a powerful, yet compassionate queen. She famously said she “would not open windows into men’s souls” when it came to dictating religion. Ironically, she would go on to execute just as many people as her sister.
By creating the perception that she offered her subjects more choice than her predecessors, she engaged in an early example of tailoring her message to her audience. She was able to grasp their sentiment, and thus mitigate threats while honing her strengths and building up England’s status on the world’s stage from the inside out.
The Elizabethan Era is famous for giving birth to history’s most famous playwrights (Shakespeare), explorers (Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh) and others who flourished as a result of Elizabeth’s patronage. Whether they outwardly expressed love for the queen constantly or not, the successes of the people she helped reflect positively on her, thus making them direct or indirect advocates of her “Gloriana” persona. Similarly, it’s vital as a professional to help others out when possible, because it can be most beneficial when others tell a good story about you.
Consistency in Persona
Elizabeth perpetuated the image of the “Virgin Queen.” She consistently refused to get married, yet she didn’t outright shoot down the affections of foreign and domestic suitors, choosing instead to dissemble and manipulate situations to serve her own interests.
She commissioned portraits that painted her as a glorious, magnificent figure that, in an era without the Internet, invoked fear and awe in people across the known world. She stuck to this image even in her later years, when she would wear shockingly white makeup and wigs. In the end, history remembered her reign as the “Golden Age.”
Now, this isn’t to say that modern PR professionals should dissemble or wear lead-based face paint, but Elizabeth’s life does teach an important lesson about staying consistent in your personal and professional brand. Elizabeth stayed true to herself, and in the end defied all expectations people of her time had for a single woman ruling a nation. Because Elizabeth listened to her people, established her values, and cultivated an image that transcended her personal weaknesses as a human being, she found a place in the hearts and minds of not only her own subjects, but many generations to come.
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