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.


“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.”


  • 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.

Lady Elizabeth’s daunting experience:

Elizabeth and Bess real one
18 March 1554: Elizabeth Tudor was arrested for her alleged involvement in the Wyatt Rebellion. Though nothing was ever proven, and Bess never gave her support to them as bluntly as others had done, she still came under her sister’s radar. She was twenty one years old. The young princess wrote a frantic letter to her sister, Queen Mary, appealing to her good conscience and reminding her of the bond they shared together as sisters and begging her not to believe any rumors regarding her involvement.

Elizabeth‘I humbly crave but one word of answer from yourself. Your Highness, most faithful subject that hath been from the beginning and will be to my end, Elizabeth.’
Elizabeth was desperate and afraid that the same fate that had befallen on her mother, would now fall on her. After all, while she was lodged in the Bell Tower and had more comfortable surroundings than other prisoners, the royal apartments she was in, were none other than the same Anne Boleyn had been in.
  • Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey
  • Tudor. Passion. Murder. Manipulation by Leanda de Lisle
  • Mary Tudor by Anna Whitelock
  • Elizabeth I by Jasper Ridley


The Countdown is officially over! The day has come when we remember Elizabeth I’s coronation:

Queen Elizabeth I by Unknown artist. National Portrait Gallery.
Queen Elizabeth I by Unknown artist. National Portrait Gallery.

On Sunday, January 15 1559 Elizabeth Tudor was crowned Queen of England at Westminster Abbey.

The day began after Elizabeth made her way from the Tower of London, dressed in crimson parliament robes walking on blue cloth which had been laid for her all the way to the Abbey. The Spanish Ambassador, Feria, refused to be present but the Venetian Ambassador,Schifanoya was there and he reported everything he saw. According to him and other contemporary accounts, as Elizabeth made her way to the Abbey, there were stages erected for her that depicted once again her noble lineage through her father and his parents, and included Henry VIII’s collections of tapestries -especially one depicting the Acts of the  Apostles based on the designs by Raphael. This symbolized the late Tudor monarch’s devotion and Bess further emphasized hers after she emerged from a curtained sector where she changed into her new clothes, and then was led by the Bishop of Carlisle to the stage where she was proclaimed Queen.

The customary question was asked. If the people would like Elizabeth to be their Queen or not, and the people cried “Yea, yea!”. Then the trumpets sounded, the organs were played and the bells rang and Elizabeth and the Bishop descended to the altar where she knelt before it to hear the sermon and then took the oath.

After this was said and done, she withdrew to the traverse to change for the final part in the ceremony, the anointing. She emerged wearing a kirtle of gold and silver. Prostrating herself before the altar, leaning on cloth of gold cushions, she was anointed on the shoulders, breast, hands, arms and forehead.

Elizabeth I played by Anne-Marie Duff in the BBC mini-series "Virgin Queen" (2005) With her hair hung loose and clothed in gold from head to toe, she was crowned looking every inch of a Queen and the icon she would later be revered.
Elizabeth I played by Anne-Marie Duff in the BBC mini-series “Virgin Queen” (2005)
With her hair hung loose and clothed in gold from head to toe, she was crowned looking every inch of a Queen and the icon she would later be revered.

Three crowns were placed on her head, after which she was completely arrayed in gold and to everyone who was there, she seemed indeed, seemed not human but like a golden figure, an icon, almost god-like as her father always tried to appear.

Elizabeth ever the pragmatist, had intended to create a hybrid of the Protestant Church her brother had enforced on the population and the Marian Catholic reformed Church her sister had also tried to enforce. As Starkey explains:
“It was now time of the coronation mass, which followed, with Elizabeth’s personally enforced innovations. The Epistle was read twice, first in Latin and then in English. Then the bishop brought the Gospel. This too was read twice, in the old liturgical language and again in the Tudor vernacular, which has, to us, become almost as remote, beautiful and hieratic as the Latin. Elizabeth now repeated her gesture of the day before and kissed the Bible -and, it is safe to guess, the English one.”

Furthermore Jasper Ridley adds in his respective biography of Elizabeth:

“After he [Bishop of Carlisle] had crowned her, a Mass was held in Latin; but the celebrant, her chaplain, spoke the words of consecration in English and did not elevate the Host.”

The Coronation pardon was then given and the Queen traveled from Westminster Abbey to the Palace Great Hall to enjoy her coronation banquet. As she passed the great crowds, she greeted them with that same smile from her accession and it won them over again.

"She still wore the heavy weight of the crown and carried the orb and scepter. She was smiling broadly and greeted joyfully by the thousands who pressed up to congratulate her." (Starkey)
“She still wore the heavy weight of the crown and carried the orb and scepter. She was smiling broadly and greeted joyfully by the thousands who pressed up to congratulate her.” (Starkey)

Elizabeth was now the new undoubted Queen, her coronation had been a complete success.


  • Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey
  • On This Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Elizabeth I by Jasper Ridley
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lise


Elizabeth's procession. A day away from her coronation, she began her progress and was met with glorious pageants.
Elizabeth’s procession. A day away from her coronation, she began her progress and was met with glorious pageants.

On the eve of her coronation, Elizabeth Tudor left the Tower of London at three o’clock in the afternoon to start her procession. She was carried in a litter, and rode through London, telling her men to stop at every pageant she encountered to appreciate the artistry behind them.

The streets she passed and five pageants are as follow:

  • Gracechurch  Street –The first pageant that greeted Elizabeth referred to Elizabeth’s genealogy. Her Tudor forefathers, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York and was compared to the latter who was praised for bringing unity and peace when she married Henry VII.
  • Cornhill -A stage was erected where it depicted  Elizabeth’s government governed by the four virtues: True Religion, Love of Subjects, Wisdom and Justice.
  • Soper’s Lane -The Beatitudes were orated for her ‘”lessed are the poor, Blessed are the meek. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake”. An allegory to Elizabeth’s plight at the hands of her sister.
  • Little Conduit, Cheapside -This pageant also attacked her sister, calling her reign “a decayed commonwealth” and portraying Elizabeth’s future one as a “flourishing” one. Further jest and jabs were made when Mary’s motto ‘Truth the daughter of time’ was deconstructed as Time’s daughter emerged carrying an English Bible which was labelled “Word of Truth” and pointed towards Elizabeth, symbolizing her as the true daughter of time and truth.
  • Fleet Street -This pageant delivered the most powerful tribute to Elizabeth, depicting her as the powerful prophetess Deborah.

After her eldest sister, Elizabeth was the second Queen Regnant in the history of  England, and the third in the British Isles. The iconography in each of these pageants is amazing. Dan Jones who wrote the Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors, talks about how the Tudors invented a mass propaganda machine to turn the war into their favor, and symbolize that their rise to power was pre-ordained. Elizabeth’s ascendance therefore, used the same type of spectacle her grandfather and founder of their dynasty, used.

Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Elizabeth I's paternal grandparents.
Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Elizabeth I’s paternal grandparents.

“At the corner of Fenchurch Street and Gracechurch Street a large stage was erected across the street, “vaulted basements and built on “on the lowest stage was made one seat royal, wherein were placed two personages representing King Henry the Seventh and Elizabeth his wife, daughter of King Edward the Fourth … not divided but that the one of them which was King Henry processing out of the House of Lancaster was enclosed in a red rose, and the other which was Queen Elizabeth being heir to te House of York enclosed with a white rose … Out of the which two roses sprang two branches gathered into one, which were directed upward to the second stage … wherein was placed one, representing the valiant and noble prince King Henry VIII.” (Starkey)

After she thanked the performers she turned to the people gathered around her who, as always, were eager to catch a glimpse of their new monarch. Elizabeth Tudor had always been a pragmatic, witty, and highly intelligent young woman. With her smile she had won over hundreds, now it won her the popular acclaim of the entire city.

Elizabeth played by Cate  Blanchett in "Elizabeth" (1997)
Elizabeth played by Cate Blanchett in “Elizabeth” (1997)

“At Cheapside she smiled happily when someone called out to her ‘Remember King Henry VIII’ … and at Conduit (also in) Cheapside, she saw one of the performers holding up a copy of the English Bible which people had been imprisoned for reading in the days of old King Henry VIII. She asked what that boo was, and when they told her that it was the English Bible, she said that she would oftentimes read over that book’. She asked to have that book … When she received it, she took it in both hands and pressed it to her breast.” (Ridley)

After she reached the city limits at Temple Bar, another child came. Like the child who handled her the bible and she rewarded him with a kind gesture of devotion to the new religion, Elizabeth did the same, as the poem depicted her as Deborah -the mighty and indomitable biblical woman who fervently defended her people and fought the heathens. Elizabeth was the people’s chosen Queen, the blood of Lancaster and York united. Two roses from which sprung the glorious Tudor House, now produced from their descendant Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn (who was depicted gloriously as Henry’s rightful Queen), their next monarch, Elizabeth I.

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn played by Damien  Lewis and Claire Foy. They were an integral part of their daughter's coronation procession. They were presented in a glorious light.
Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn played by Damien Lewis and Claire Foy. They were an integral part of their daughter’s coronation procession. They were presented in a glorious light.

“Henry sat at his second wife, Anne Boleyn and on the stage above them sat a final figure representing Elizabeth I herself “crowned and apparelled as the other princess were.” The whole pageant was garnished with red roses and white and in the forefront of the same pageant in a fair wreath was written: ‘The Uniting of the two houses of Lancaster and York.'” A great play was made on Elizabeth’s name: like Elizabeth of York who brought unity to the realm through her marriage, it was explained he new Elizabeth would “maintain the same among her subjects.”” (Jones)

The people gathered would have had public access to these plays and seen these beautiful images. There is no question that the union between the Houses of Lancaster and York was a brilliant device crafted by her grandfather that gave England the illusion of peace and it worked so well that it protected him and his heirs throughout their kingdom. Threats remained -they always would, no matter what the dynasty- but this imagery was so evocative that it became the official language of history and monarchy. Now we know that the red rose was not the official Lancaster symbol, and that both sides used white roses; however we must see these symbols in the context of when they were used and how they were used.

Elizabeth’s coronation progress is one of the most symbolic royal progresses. Everyone was mesmerized, and Elizabeth returned their joy by these small acts of kindness, and made contact with every man and woman she encountered. At the last pageant there was a poor woman who had nothing great to give her except a sprig of rosemary and she was probably fearful that Elizabeth would not accept it, but she did and she was seen holding it firmly in her hands until she reached Westminster. Her next great moment, the one she had been waiting and wishing for secretly during her sister’s reign would come the following day, on Sunday January 15 when she would return to Westminster to be crowned.


  • Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey
  • Elizabeth I by Jasper  Ridley
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Wars of the Roses and Rise of the Tudor  Dynasty by Dan Jones

12 JANUARY 1559: Elizabeth prepares for her upcoming coronation

Elizabeth played by Lalla Ward in "Crossed Swords".
Elizabeth played by Lalla Ward in “Crossed Swords”.

We are doing a countdown to Elizabeth I’s coronation so we start with January 12. On the twelfth of January Elizabeth lodged on the Tower of London, preparing for her upcoming coronation. She and her train passed through the most important streets of London and Westminster until reaching their final destination. She followed the protocol described in Liber Regalis -A royal manual for such occasions.

“In short, the processions was -and was designed to be- a test of the sovereign’s popularity. Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth’s mother, barely passed. Henry VIII had spared no expense and everywhere there were his and Anne’s initials or cipher, ‘HA’, laced by a lover’s knot. But the women especially hated the flashy mistress made good and as she passed mocked her by crying out, ‘Ha, ha!’, in parody of her royal cipher. That, at least, is what Chapuys, Anne’s inveterate enemy, claimed. But Elizabeth, Anne Boleyn’s daughter, passed her test with flying colors.” (Starkey)

Previously, two months ago when she received word of her sister Mary I’s death, tradition had it that she was sitting on an oak tree as her namesake and great-grandmother Elizabeth Woodville had been when she met the dashing King, Edward IV. Upon receiving the regal ring, Elizabeth told the messenger citing from the Psalm 118:

Elizabeth Psalm

“This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes”

After years of struggling, and being at the heart of intrigue, Elizabeth’s time had come. The reign of Gloriana was about to begin.


  • Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey
  • Elizabeth I by Jasper Ridley
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway