|Elizabeth, the "winter Queen." |
National Gallery, London
The only problem with Coastal Virginia, it seems to me, is that there is no historical ring to the name. None. Hampton Roads, at least, has deep resonance with the area’s maritime traditions, even if no one outside of these parts knows where it is.So I put in my two cents – or should it be a dime because of the at-least-10 cities/counties in our neck of the woods?
First of all, we have genuine title to one of the great names in Anglo-American history.Soon after settling on these shores, the English invaders began divvying up the landscape and dolling out the names of their royals, Henry, Charles and James. And they bestowed upon the entire region and the largest river running through it the name of the daughter of James I: Elizabeth.
Elizabeth City and Elizabeth City County were not just the names of present-day Hampton but the entire south side of the roadstead. Even the Coastal Virginia part.Elizabeth, a teenager at the time, grew into a gorgeous and fascinating woman. The Queen of Hearts, some called her, because of her beauty and charm. But she was also the Winter Queen because of a reign that lasted no longer than that frigid season.
At the age of 16 she was married off to a German factotum named Frederic. And she saw, apparently, a pathway to a throne, goading him into stepping into a vacancy in Prague in the heart of old Bohemia. “You would not have married a king’s daughter,” she was quoted as saying to Frederic, “if you had not had the courage to become yourself a king.”But it was a politically toxic region, and a once-dethroned king returned with an army and kicked out Frederic and Elizabeth and their growing passel of children. He died of an infection while leading his soldiers and she, embittered and alone, lived out most of her life in exile.
As she lost favor, most of the area bearing her name was carved up. Upper and Lower Norfolk, Princess Anne. Warwick, Nansemond, etc. Elizabeth City County lasted on the Hampton side until fairly recently.All that’s left of the name now is the river that runs through much of the Southside and our neighboring city to the south. But still, Elizabeth, Virginia has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
The other bow, or curtsy, to history we could make is toward Native American names. The Powhatan Empire was loaded with them, from Kecoughtan, Hampton’s original name, to Warrosquyoake, the name for the original shire before the more gentile Isle of Wight rode to the rescue.There are some lovely names like Kiptopeke, Currituck, Chicahominy and Poquoson, and of course Algonquin, the overall name for many of the local tribes.
But the most geographically sensible name is the one adopted by one of our largest cities a half century ago, Chesapeake.The name comes from the Chesopean people who lived along the southern shore of the now-Chesapeake Bay. They were defeated and driven off by Powhatan shortly before the Jamestown settlers arrived, although their remnants or successors may have been the ones who briefly clashed with the Jamestown settlers.
But consider: More than any part of the Chesapeake Bay region, including Maryland, this widest, most awesome part of the bay has the most historic claim to its name. I’m sure, present-day Chesapeake wouldn’t mind.So, should it be the name of the darkly alluring, but tragic, queen? Or that of the fiercely independent, but also tragic, people? Both are beautiful names and historically spot on.