The Death of Queen Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I collage

On the 24th of March 1603, Queen Elizabeth I died at Richmond Palace at the age of sixty nine. She had ruled England for forty four years and was the longest reigning Tudor monarch, and third longest ruling Queen monarch in English history.
Elizabeth I was the daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. Born on September 7th 1533, she was bastardized three years later following her parents’ annulment and her mother’s execution.

Anne Boleyn with child

It isn’t known whether Elizabeth had any recollection of her mother.

Probably she didn’t given that she was very young at the time. But she spent a lot of time with people who did, most of whom belonged to her maternal family. During her coronation she included the personal emblems of her ancestors, including her mother’s during her coronation (the royal falcon); this small gesture along with the ring bearing Anne’s picture shows Elizabeth’s desire to know about the woman who gave birth to her.

Out of all the English monarchs, Elizabeth was unique in the sense that she never married. She refused to be tied to any nation or any house. This can be due to the emotional trauma she experienced at a such young age when she was demoted from Princess to mere “Lady”, and subsequently saw wife after wife being replaced by her father on mere whim. But there is also the pragmatic aspect that some historians deny and that is that Elizabeth had seen the troubles that a foreign marriage had brought to her half-sister, Mary I. England was not used to having female Kings, and the concept of one would mean she would have to marry someone equal to her, and for that to happen she would have to look elsewhere, beyond her English borders. This would also mean she would have to negotiate some sort of agreement where her husband would have to agree to keep himself and his councilors separate from English affairs; and the possibility of death during childbirth. England had a bad history with boy-kings. The last time, it resulted in the wars of the roses and that was something that was still fresh on the minds of many people.

Elizabeth I armada

“Her determination to preserve what was hers also turned her into a great war leader against Spain. She was not a general in the field nor an admiral … Instead, and more importantly, she was a mistress of language, thinking, in her speech at Tilbury, ‘full of scorn that Parma or Spain or any prince of Europe should dare invade the borders of my realm.’” -David Starkey

Therefore, by refusing any marriage offer –while coyly entertaining every ambassador, making all sorts of promises that she would consider- she abstained herself from such troubles and was able to be her own mistress.

Elizabeth-I-Allegorical-Po

“This morning Her Majesty departed from this life, mildly like a lamb, easily like a ripe apple from a tree … Dr. Parry told me he was present, and sent his prayers before her soul; and I doubt not but she is amongst the royal saints in heaven in eternal joys.” –John Manningham

News of the Queen’s death spread like wildfire, also reaching her councilors’ preferred successor, James VI of Scotland. Weeks before on March 9th, Robert Cecil, son of her late and most trusted adviser William Cecil (Lord Burghley), wrote to George Nicholson, the English ambassador in Edinburgh, informing him that the Queen was ailing and that “her mouth and tongue” were “dry and her chest hot” and that she couldn’t sleep anymore. This is somewhat false. Elizabeth was deathly ill but she was far from helpless as Cecil’s report suggests. She was about her business, walking back and forth in her chambers, pondering on the future that awaited her country once she was gone.
Less than a week later, her condition worsened and she was no longer able to move as freely. Then on the 19th of March she gave a last audience to Sir Robert Carey (Mary Boleyn’s youngest grandson). She held Carey’s hand and confessed to him that she was not well. Sir Robert tried to cheer her up but to no avail. Elizabeth, as the rest, knew that her days were numbered and she wouldn’t live for another week.

On Tuesday, the twenty second she was brought to her bed where she stayed until her death. Her councilors visited her, insisting that she dictate her will so she could leave a successor but she refused. Like before, Elizabeth was always hesitant when it came to the issue of an heir. So many had competed for that position and so many were now gone.
Katherine Grey had married without permission and died nearly half mad in 1568, and ten years later her younger sister Mary Grey -who wasn’t allowed to see her husband because Elizabeth feared she could also produce children and rival claimants- and lastly, Mary, Queen of Scots who lost her head in 1587.
The favorite on everyone’s mind was James VI and one simple word from their queen’s mouth would give his claim even more validity but the Queen, probably not caring or in agony, remained adamant in her position. A story later circulated that Elizabeth I had indeed named James by way of her fingers when the council asked her to move her finger a certain way to mean that James was her successor and she did, but this cannot be corroborated and it is likely false.

Elizabeth I allegory
“Elizabeth was not, primarily, an exceptional woman; she was an exceptional ruler.” -Biographer Lisa Hilton

The death of Elizabeth I marked the end of an era. A bloody, tumultuous era packed with religious and social change. She was not a staunch Protestant but she did push for Protestant reformer on the Church, primarily on the Book of Common prayer, and neither was she a Catholic –though one Pope expressed admiration for her, claiming that if she wasn’t a Protestant, he would support her instead of Philip II of Spain. Elizabeth was a moderate and she took a moderate approach. That is the type of monarch she was. Her laws were just as fierce, if not fiercer in some aspects, than her father’s, grandfather’s and siblings.

Eworth_Elizabeth_I_and_the_Three_Goddesses_1569

The way in which she used her image says a lot about her. In one painting she is standing next to the goddess but if one looks closely it is the goddesses who are standing next to her, leading her to her destiny. Elizabeth was in popular eyes not just an anointed sovereign, but the head of all spiritual and earthly matters.

Elizabeth I Queen tomb

 

Elizabeth I was highly honored by her successor who built a beautiful monument, at the cost of overlooking her predecessor who was placed beneath her. The two sisters lie together with Elizabeth’s effigy being the only one visible and a plaque that reads: “Consorts in realm and tomb, here we sleep, Elizabeth and Mary, sisters, in hope of resurrection.”

Sources:

  • Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey
  • Elizabeth: Renaissance Prince by Lisa Hilton
  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle
  • The Life of Elizabeth I by Alison Weir
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The Birth of Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots in black gown

On the 8th of December 1542, nearly a month after the defeat of the Scottish troops at Solway Moss, Princess Mary Stewart was born on Linlithgow Palace. She was the only surviving child of Mary of Guise and James V of Scotland. Unlike his father who had died in the battlefield, nearly three decades before him, James V died as a result of an illness

“There is no record that James ever saw his daughter, though he might have had time to do so before he was laid low by severe illness.” (Porter)

James V died six days after Mary’s birth, making Mary the first Christ Queen Regnant of the British Isles. She was crowned the following year, being less than a year old. There is a tradition that when James V heard of his daughter’s birth that he said “It came with a lass and it will end with a lass.” But this as Porter points out, given how ill he was, it is highly dubious that he was able to utter such coherent words. But for historical novelists, this makes up for good drama no doubt.

Mary, Queen of Scots as she became known became part of the ‘Rough Wooing’ –this was an aggressive Anglo-Scottish policy that was Henry VIII’s brainchild. He sought to have the Scottish nobles he captured during the battle return to Scotland with the mission to convince the Queen Dowager and the other nobles to his proposal of a betrothal between her and his son (then) Prince Edward.

John Dudley

At one point, when her father’s body wasn’t yet cold, Henry VIII attempted to invade Scotland and there was one man who firmly opposed this and this was none other than John Dudley who’s reputation hasn’t been so good thanks in part to his former allies turning against him when the going got tough following the Jane Grey fiasco and pop culture.

Before Christmas of that year, John Dudley voiced his concerns, saying that “seeing that God hath thus disposed his will of the said King of Scots, I thought it should not be to Your Majesty’s honor, that we your soldiers should make war or invade upon a dead body or upon a widow or upon a young suckling…”

When the King died, a man who continued Henry VIII’s aggressive policy under his royal nephew and new King was Edward Seymour, newly named Lord Protector and Duke of Somerset.

Edward Seymour, by an unknown artist.

Somerset had no intention for diplomacy. A hugely divisive figure as his (later) rival, John Dudley, he was willing to be lenient and do everything in his power to work for the common good (although his policies proved ineffective) but when it came to Scotland he was completely hostile. As far as he was concerned, diplomacy was failing. The Scots could understand he meant business by only one way and that was through fire and blood. Pillaging and heavy artillery. Although this did the trick, planting fear into the Scots’ hearts, it also strengthened Mary of Guise and her allies’ resolve. She decided to stall and secretly sent her daughter, her companions, among them the well-known four Maries, her half brother (Moray, who would return shortly after), to France where she would meet her future spouse, the future King of France, Francois.

Mary Queen of Scots
Mary Queen of Scots during her years of captivity during Elizabeth I’s reign.

Mary, Queen of Scots has a lot of detractors and defenders and seldom any people in between. On the one hand you have this naïve girl who was well-educated, who loved playing sports, and dressed in men’s clothes for that, and was also very beautiful, and had received not a lot of training to be a ruler but more how to be a Queen Consort while she was in France, but on the other hand, you also have a girl who caught on pretty fast and who wanted to reconcile both factions of her country, Protestant and Catholic, and tried her best but failed. And then tried again, using conspiracy to oust her cousin Queen Elizabeth when she didn’t agree to reinstate her. And this last act of hers not only failed but ended with her being sentenced to death. This was extremely painful as her executioner botched it and it took more than one blow to finish the deed.
The truth is likely somewhere in between. Mary was a quick learner, well-learned, fashionable Queen, but at the same time, she was also tired after years of trying and having little to show for it except plotters at every turn who hated her because of her sex and religion and for refusing to give up. When she finally gave up, she tried to rise up but once again she felt defeated and sought her cousin Queen Elizabeth I of England for help and as previously stated, when she realized this was a huge mistake, she plotted against her and this ended with terrible results. She was much a victim of circumstance as of her own actions and rearing.

Sources:

  • Tudors vs Stewarts by Linda Porter
  • Ten Tudor Statesmen by Arthur D. Innes
  • Passion. Murder. Manipulation by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • The Tudors by John Guy
  • Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by John Guy

Glorianna: The Death of Queen Elizabeth I & the End of an Era

Elizabeth I's most iconic portrait, the "Rainbow" portrait.
Elizabeth I’s most iconic portrait, the “Rainbow” portrait.

On the 24th of March 1603, Queen Elizabeth I died at Richmond Palace at the age of sixty nine. She had ruled England for forty five years, the longest reigning monarch in Tudor history and the third longest ruling female monarch in English history. Elizabeth I was the daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. She was born on September 7th, 1533, she was bastardized less than three years later in 1536, following the execution of her mother. It is not known whether Elizabeth remembered her mother, likely she did not. However, she spent a lot of time with people who did, namely her maternal family. Through them, she probably got to know the woman who gave birth to her. She had one ring with her picture on it, and while she didn’t renew the validity of her parents’ marriage as her sister had done with hers; she made them an important part of her coronation celebrations, showcasing them together along with their sigils, the Tudor rose and the glorious white falcon crowned. Elizabeth also made an important point of showcasing her paternal grandparents, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York and what their union represented: The end of the wars later known as the wars of the roses, and the bringing of peace. Elizabeth I’s reign was not an easy one and she was always plagued by conspiracy, betrayal and suspicion. As she got older the Queen saw enemies everywhere, and as her predecessors she became more ruthless. While her religious establishment was more conciliatory than any of her ancestors (especially her father, sister and brother) had been, she still burned heretics, namely Anabaptists, and persecuted many Catholics who resisted her rule.

Out of all the monarchs, Elizabeth was unique in the sense that she never married. She refused to be tied to anyone; not so much because she feared love but because as a woman in a country that was not used to female rule, she knew that being married would mean submitting to her husband’s rule, or worse. If she married into another House, that House would expect more favor than the others and that could disrupt the whole order of things. Elizabeth I had many favorites nonetheless, but it is unlikely she had any sexual relations with any of them. They were more of platonic love interests, who gave the Queen companionship and who (like Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester) also served as faithful advisors.

News of the Queen’s death spread like wildfire, also reaching her preferred successor, James VI of Scotland. Weeks before, on March 9th, Robert Cecil, the son of her most trusted adviser, William Cecil (Lord Burghley) wrote to George Nicholson, the English Ambassador in Edinburgh, informing him that the Queen was ailing and that “her mouth and tongue” were “dry and her chest hot” and that she couldn’t sleep anymore. This is somewhat false. Elizabeth was deathly ill, but she was far from helpless as Cecil’s report suggests. She was in fact, walking back and forth in her chambers, perhaps pondering of what the future would bring once she was gone. Less than a week later, she became worse and was no longer able to move so freely. On the 19th of March she gave a last audience to Sir Robert Carey (Mary Boleyn’s youngest grandson). She held Carey’s hand and confessed to him that she was not well. Her cousin tried to cheer her but it was clear to everyone that their beloved Queen wouldn’t live for much longer.

On Tuesday, the twenty-second she was brought to her bed where she stayed until her death. Her councilors visited her and insisted that she dictate her will, but she refused. Like before, Elizabeth refused to name an heir. All those who had been potential heirs, had suffered tragic fates. Katherine Grey had been punished for marrying without royal permission, and with her only witness to her wedding, dead, she had been incarcerated and forced to give birth (twice) in prison. Then she died from depression. Her youngest sister, Mary Grey was forbidden from having intimate contact from her husband who was of lower rank, with no royal ties whatsoever. She was later forgiven and became one of Elizabeth’s most loyal subjects. Her other cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, suffered the worse penalty by being executed for plotting against her. Her son, James VI, was Elizabeth I’s councilors favored heir.

According to one story, on the day before her death, the Privy Council seeing that she was unable to speak, suggested that she raised her finger to the successor she’d like. Supposedly, she raised her head when they mentioned James, giving her approval to her late enemy’s son. Others who were present, said that she never moved.

It didn’t matter in the end. Everyone was set on James and probably Elizabeth knew it, and that could have been the reason she refused to move, knowing that as the sun was setting on the Tudor dynasty, nothing she did, would have changed her soon-to-be former subjects’ minds.

Elizabeth-I-Allegorical-Po

“This morning Her Majesty departed from this life, mildly like a lamb, easily like a ripe apple from a tree … Dr. Parry told me he was present, and sent his prayers before her soul; and I doubt not but she is amongst the royal saints in heaven in eternal joys.” –John Manningham

She died on the next day, between two and three o’clock in the morning.

Eight hours later, her cousin, Sir Robert Carey with whom she had an audience days before, was given the order to go North to Scotland to carry the ring his sister had taken from the Queen’s finger and deliver it to James as confirmation of his new future as King of England.

It was the end of the Tudor Dynasty and the beginning of the Stuart Dynasty.

Some historians today dispute the image of Elizabeth as Glorianna, and while their reasons are well-founded, no one can deny that Elizabeth I was unique in many ways, and that as her sister; she fixed the coinage that had been debased during their father’s and brother’s reigns. And while her “idiosyncratic attitude to marriage left her equally isolated … she was saved, once again, by divided counsel” writes Starkey. Therefore, after nearly forty five years of rule, Starkey adds, “she handed over to her Stuart successor something that was recognizable as the inheritance of Henry VIII”. And yet she continues to divide public opinion. Some want to portray her in a negative light, overturning previous propaganda, and this is equally bad because it is doing the same, only in another extreme. In reality, Elizabeth was as Leanda de Lisle, Tudor biographer, writes in her latest book, neither heroine nor villain. Both she and her sister, ruling England, a country which had a negative perception of female rule, were both “rulers of their time”. Both had to take on the role of mother. Mary had shown herself as a mother to her children in her speech during the Wyatt Rebellion. Elizabeth I had done the same, and gone a step further by presenting herself as the defendress of the faith, as a new Deborah, defending the precepts of the holy tenant, a reluctant warrior who would be mother and protector to her people. It was an image that put everyone at ease, and by doing little to change the social order, she earned the acceptance of most of her subjects. Truly, as Claire Ridgway says in her book “On this day in Tudor History”:

“Elizabeth I’s death was the end of an era in so many ways: the end of England’s “Golden Age”, the end of a long reign and the end of the Tudor dynasty.”

After people grew tired of James’ extravaganza, they began to look back and think differently of their late queen. And so, the legend of Glorianna began, a legend that has endured since then.

Elizabeth I tomb

Elizabeth is buried at Westminster Abbey, on top of her half’s sister, in a magnificent tomb which has the next inscription:  “Consorts in realm and tomb, here we sleep, Elizabeth and Mary, sisters, in hope of resurrection.”

Sources:

  • Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey
  • On This Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Tudor Age by Jasper Ridley
  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle.
  • Anne Boleyn Collection by Claire Ridgway
  • Sisters who would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle.

The Creation of Anne Boleyn by Susan Bordo.

Creation of Anne Bleyn

This is a book I have been meaning to review for a while but never had gotten around doing it until now that I have some free time. I read this book when it first came out. I was looking for a new book to read and this one was the first one I found literally when I was walking into my bookstore and I am glad I did. I digested it in two days. Everyone complains about challenging reads and while there are challenging reads, it does not mean they are not enjoyable. This is written in a very easy to read style as most good books are, and I enjoyed reading about the many socio-cultural transformations that Anne Boleyn has suffered throughout the years, including when she lived. The first chapter starts out with the headline ‘Why you shouldn’t believe everything you’ve heard about Anne Boleyn’ and from there it explains a lot of the slander and myths about Anne that many fictional writers have used in their novels, including filmmakers, and dispelling and going even further explaining why they were made in the first place.

One thing that Susan Bordo did for Anne in this book is not only clear up the many myths surrounding her -as well as pointing out the slander by writers such as Sander during her daughter’s time- but also to point out that how we view her today says a lot about us. She also made an important point about how other wives are viewed. For example Katherine of Aragon who is derided because she was ugly and then praised for being too saintly. While the book offers a different interpretation of her saying she was not as saintly but in fact overtly pious and stubborn and casted her own downfall out of her own basic beliefs, it is vital to read every opinion regardless if we like it or not. And she does point something very important too, that Anne is often blamed and used as the scapegoat for Henry’s actions and that this view doesn’t do her any favors nor does it help us understand the period any better. Furthermore it doesn’t help us seeing Katherine as a saintly or old and ugly figure. She had her flaws as Bordo said, and as with every historical person we must see them and accept them as they were, with their flaws, strengths and other dimensions and in the context that they lived.
Unfortunately not many can swallow this view because history needs to have a villain and most of the times the villain tends to be a woman and for many years this villain was Anne Boleyn. She recounts the Catholic Slander and from other sources that Anne Boleyn received. Though these have been disregarded, there continues to be a view of Anne as the temptress, seductress and home-wrecker. This is slowly fading away but it is nonetheless problematic that this view continues to be held by half who base most of their opinions on historical fiction.

Susan Bordo says that the reason why Anne Boleyn continues to captivate us is because she continues to be reinvented and has been in need of rescue. While I do agree that Anne is in need in rescue and she is in an important symbol for the third wave of feminism thanks to her recent portrayal in “The Tudors”, we must also remember other women who can be seen in the same light and while not enjoying much fame -largely because colonial powers have erased them from the face of the map and on some occasions distorted them to the point that even today when they are rescued, they are not seen in a fair and objective light- they were remarkable and some of them did not possess as Anne through her mother Elizabeth Boleyn nee Howard and the other five wives, royal blood. Growing up, me and my friends would try to find out about these women because we yearned to find about these women who could give us strength, women from our native ancient past from pre-colonial times who even today hardly gain any recognition. The Creation of Anne Boleyn offers new perspective and also the opportunity of doing character study on other historical women.

It is a detailed and enjoyable biography, one that ever Anglophilie will enjoy.