The Bisley Boy
It is a tradition amongst villages in England to celebrate the advent of the month of May with a festival involving processions, music, dancing, and, the piece de resistance, a May Queen - usually a young girl from the village adorned with a crown of flowers. The village of Bisley, however, does things differently. They choose a boy instead and have him dressed in the clothes of a Tudor era female. The question as to why is one which plagued Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, who, when he heard of the strange custom, sought to get to the bottom of it in his lesser known work Famous Impostors.
Stoker uncovered a local legend that told how, around 1543, Queen Elizabeth I, then a princess, was sent to Bisley to take in the country air, when suddenly she fell ill and died. Learning that Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, was on his way to visit his daughter, her governess began to fear for her own life: Henry had recently had his wife, Catherine Howard, beheaded and, famously ill-tempered and unpredictable, no one wanted to upset him further. As such, the governess hurried to find a replacement but no girl of similar appearance to Elizabeth could be found. There was however, a red-headed boy who would do just the trick. The governess had him put on the princesses’ dress and presented to the King. Henry saw his daughter infrequently and never discovered the impostor. In fact, the trick worked so well the King was never informed and the boy grew up to become Queen Elizabeth I. In 1870 the vicar of Bisley claimed he had uncovered the coffin of a girl dressed in Tudor clothes but had reinterred the remains in an unmarked grave so it did not become a shrine.
To add credence to the theory, Stoker cites a series of 16th century letters which detail ‘secrets of great moment’ between the Queen and her closest companions; her refusal to marry and apparent inability to bear children; her baldness; a change in the style of her writing from before and after the apparent swap; her refusal to see any but one doctor; and her instruction that there be no post mortem on her body when she died. Of course, all these things can be explained away much more simply, but, whatever the truth, everyone loves a conspiracy.
[Sources: Telegraph | Elizabeth Files | Famous Impostors (Full Text)]