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

Elizabeth I’s Glorious Speech at Tilbury

Elizabeth I armada

On the 9th of August 1588 Queen Elizabeth I delivered the speech that has catapulted her to fame. It has been recreated many times in pop culture: movies, TV, and the literary genre. But until you read the real thing, you realize the full impact of her words and how smart she was at presenting herself as England’s rightful monarch:

Elizabeth Blanchett

“My loving people, we have been persuaded by some, that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit ourselves to armed multitudes for fear of treachery, but I assure you, I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful, and loving people. Let tyrants fear, I have always so behaved myself, that under God I have placed my chief strength, and safeguard in the loyal hearts and goodwill of my subjects. And therefore I am come amongst you as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport; but being resolved in the midst, and heat of the battle to live, or die amongst you all, to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and for my people, my Honour, and my blood even in the dust. I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a King, and of a King of England too. And think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any Prince of Europe should dare to invade the borders of my Realm, to which rather than any dishonor should grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your General, Judge, and Rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field”

There was no battle on English soil that day as it had been feared. The Spanish ships continued to sail North, getting hit by more bad weather. While Elizabeth I’s speech is impressive it is also reminiscent of her sister’s, England first regnant Queen, Mary I, and in more ways than one, Elizabeth’s predecessor. Mary I’s speech at the onset of the Wyatt rebellion is so similar where she swears she will give her life for her country and as Tudor biographer Lisle points out: “She had already negotiated an inspection of her troops highly successfully” and the year before “when Mary was poised to take her crown from the Jane Grey, she had ridden ‘out from Framlingham Castle to muster and inspect the most splendid and loyal army’. A contemporary described Mary’s troops drawn up in battle line … She was mounted on a white horse and the men feel on their knees as she approached.”

Elizabeth R 124 copy
This by no means downplays Elizabeth’s success; as her sister, Elizabeth knew the importance of imagery and that day she was described as “armed Pallas” and compared to the warring goddess Athena. This doesn’t mean she was clothed in full armor as depicted in below from the movie “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”. It was simply an allusion to her manner of speech and behavior during this time. Elizabeth wore traditional clothing with her ladies also dressed traditionally “in diamonds and cloth of gold”. And there was another figure we have to thank for Elizabeth’s success besides Mary I, her last stepmother Katherine Parr who in Porter’s words Bess “learned a good deal about how women could think for themselves and govern”. With these women as her examples, Elizabeth rode fearlessly to inspect her troops and gave one of the best speeches of her life. Though she was a woman, she said, she had the heart of a King and by saying these words she kept conventional wisdom that women’s place was by her father or husband’s side or at the home, while also maintaining the Anglican mantra that as monarch she was the head of the church and therefore God had called to her to do a special job, one she could not ignore. Like in her coronation when she presented herself as Deborah, the female warrior of the bible, Elizabeth was presenting herself both as a woman, aware of her place, but also as a monarch and head of the church who would put God and country first.
Just a sidenote: In the new calendar, the speech is on the 19th. The English did not begin to use the new calendar until much later so some historians often have problems setting the dates, however I decided to mention this as it is very important when studying this period.
Sources:
  • Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey
  • The Life and Times of Elizabeth I by Alison Weir
  • On This Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway