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.

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“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 Funeral of Queen Mary I -‘She was a King’s daughter, sister, wife and a King also’

Mary I Tudor funeral

On the 14th of December 1558, nearly a month after she had passed away, Queen Mary I of England, Ireland and France was buried on Westminster Abbey. The Queen died on the 17th of November at St James Palace. Her body was laid to rest there in her Privy Chamber under the cloth of state before it was moved to Westminster. The procession began on December 10th. Acting as chief mourner was her beloved cousin Margaret Douglas the Countess of Lennox.

Displaying the banners of the English royal arms, the Queen’s coffin was laid to rest on the Chapel Royal for three days before its final journey to Westminster. With the Countess were the Queen’s household servants dressed in black, the heralds and the gentlemen mourners who walked under the banners of the white greyhound and falcon and of the royal arms.

On the 13th, the procession resumed, men and women walked towards the Abbey, once more dressed in black. The five heralds meanwhile bore the royal coat of arms, the royal helmet, the royal shield, the royal sword and the coat of armor. The queen’s coffin was a draped in purple velvet, with a lifelike effigy depicting the Queen crowned, holding the scepter and orb.

“At each corner of the funeral chariot a herald on horseback bore a banner of the four English royal saints. After the chariot followed the chief mourner, Margaret Douglas, countess of Lennox, and Mary’s ladies in waiting all in black robes, attending her in death as they had in life.” (Whitelock)

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The procession halted at the great door of the Abbey where it was met by four Bishops and an Abbot who censed the coffin and the effigy before it was taken inside. The queen’s coffin lay there overnight with over a hundred gentlemen and her guard who kept building.

The next morning, a funeral Mass was held and here is where Elizabeth showed everyone who was boss, and that despite showing respect to her sister’s memory, she was still going to include a mention of herself, even if others didn’t consider it relevant.

After all, the yet-to-be crowned, Queen Elizabeth intended her sister to have a funeral worthy of her status and lineage. No expense was spared. The Marques of Winchester was put in charge of funeral arrangements. But changes had to be made. The Bishop of Winchester, John White, was in charge of preaching the funeral sermon. He had prepared a beautiful homage for England’s first Queen titled ‘The Epitaph upon the death of our late virtuous Quene Marie deceased’. Although it was a badly written poem, it extolled the queen’s reign. This isn’t what got Elizabeth to make him change the poem however. It was the fact that there was no mention of her at all:

“How many noble men restored
and other states also
Well showed her princely liberal heart
which gave both friend and foe.
As princely was her birth, so princely was her life:
Constant, courtise, modest and mild;
a chaste and chosen wife.
Oh mirror of all womanhood!
Oh Queen of virtues pure!
Oh Constant Marie! Filled with grace,
No age can thee obscure.”

So he was forced to add the following:

“Marie now dead, Elizabeth lives,
our just and lawful Queen
In whom her sister’s virtues rare,
abundantly are seen.
Obey our Queen as we are bound,
pray God her to preserve
And send her grace life long and fruit,
and subjects truth to serve.”

White delivered the sermon saying very little about Mary’s religious policies which for better or for worse have come to define her reign.

Mary I coronation

“She was a King’s daughter, she was a King’s sister, she was a King’s wife. She was a Queen, and by the same title a King also … What she suffered in each of these degrees and since she came to the crown I will not chronicle; only this I say, howsoever it pleased God to will her patience to be exercised in the world, she had in all estates the fear of God in her heart … she had the love, commendation and admiration of all the world. In this church she married herself to the realm, and in token of faith and fidelity, did put a ring with a diamond on her finger, which I understand she never took off after, during her life … she was never unmindful or uncareful of her promise to the realm. She used singular mercy towards offenders. She used much pity and compassion towards the poor and oppressed. She used clemency amongst her nobles … She restored more noble houses decayed than ever did prince of this realm, or I did pray God ever shall have the like occasion to do hereafter … I verily believe, the poorest creature in all this city feared not God more than she did.”

The last sentence was based on two verses of Ecclesiastes which said the following: “I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive … for a living dog is better than a dead lion”. This and wishing Elizabeth “a prosperous reign” while adding “if it be God’s will” landed him once more into trouble. It was a veiled reference to Elizabeth, alluding to his point of view that Mary had been a great queen and her death left a hole in many Catholic’s hearts, while Bess was not. He was placed under house arrest the next day “for such offenses as he committed in his sermon at the funeral of the late queen”.

As when the heralds had cried when they entered the Abbey to hear the mass, “the Queen is dead! Long Live the Queen!”

Elizabeth and Mary

Before Mary’s death, several courtiers had moved to Elizabeth’s house, courting the new Queen. Now that the last reminder of Mary’s reign was finally laid to rest, the Virgin Queen’s could begin.

Sadly for Mary it was done at her own expense. Mary’s reign as previously stated has been defined by her religious policies and how these were defined by Protestant chroniclers. Over two hundred ‘heretics’ were burned during Mary I’s reign. Linda Porter makes the case point in her biography on her that some of these were done at a local level for which the queen had no control. Even if this is completely accurate, the fact that it happened can’t be overlooked. But neither can the other atrocities committed during her ancestors and successors’ reigns. The truth is always somewhere in the middle, and the reason why we always idolize history and cling to old phrases such as “the good old days” is because we are scared and tired of the times we live in. And so we are taken over by nostalgia, and live in this make-believe world where despite our knowledge of the period, we tend to believe that amidst all the chaos there were a few who were different. Those who were “ahead of their times”. But nobody was. The past, as an author once wrote, is an alien world and these people lived according to the standards of the time. There were some who were more practical and tolerant than others but they still held some kind of prejudice. Mary was no different and neither was her sister.

0Tudor tombs elizabeth mary
“Partners both in throne and grave. Here rest we, two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in the hopes of the resurrection.”

Her wishes to be buried next to her mother, as well as having her mother’s coffin be moved to Westminster, were not respected. After her sister’s death in 1603, James I ordered a great monument for his predecessor. Elizabeth’s coffin was placed on top of Mary’s and only her effigy was visible. Once again, Mary was overshadowed. Perhaps what reads in the plaque gives those who believe some hope, that the two sisters will someday be reunited.

Sources:

  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
  • Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen by Anna Whitelock
  • Bloody Mary by Carolly Erickson
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle

It’s a girl! Gloriana is born

Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth
On the 7th of September 1533, Queen Anne Boleyn gave birth to a daughter she named Elizabeth, at Greenwich, the Palace of Placentia.
Anne had gone to her confinement a month earlier, confident that she was going to give birth to a son. An astrologer had made this prediction and no one had any reasons to doubt it. However, Anne would suffer many pains before her labor began.
Months prior to Elizabeth’s birth, Anne had been jealous and complained to Henry about courting other ladies, to which Henry replied that she would have to ‘endure as other worthy persons’ had done before her. In this, he meant his first wife Katherine of Aragon, and possibly his grandmother Elizabeth Woodville who had never raised her voice against her second husband, the first Yorkist King Edward IV’s indiscretions.
There had been many speculations as to what devices Anne used to bring herself comfort, if she believed as those before her had believed, in trinkets and talismans. Given her Evangelical faith, some have said that seems very unlikely, but given this was only 1533 and the Reformation was fairly new and it would be very difficult for its earliest members to disassociate themselves from the practices they’d grown into, it is more likely that she did. Her bedroom was hung with tapestries depicting St. Ursula and her army of virgins and other religious figures that had adorned the chambers of many other queens before her. Starkey and Licence are of the mind she did use medallion to invoke the power of saints to aid her in her difficult labor. She had an army of midwives and ladies ready to attend her, the former would dip their hands in animal fat and other natural oils to smooth the passage of the baby from its mother womb to her legs. The labor turned out to be less difficult and a daughter, contrary to what was predicted -and hoped for-, was born on the seventh of September at 3 o’ clock.
The girl was named after both her grandmothers, Lady Elizabeth Boleyn nee Howard and Elizabeth of York, Henry’s mother and the first Tudor Queen.
Although Chapuys reported that the couple were disappointed of their child’s sex, when Henry entered her chambers he showed no such emotion, and said to his wife: “You and I are both young and by God’s grace, sons will follow.” An ‘s’ had to be added to the pamphlets advertising her birth (originally they had contained the word ‘Prince’). Te Deums were sung in churches and preparations were being made for her Christening at the Church of the Observant Friars (where her sister had also been Christened).

Elizabeth Tudor would face the same fate as her older sister. She would be bastardized, her mother beheaded and for many years, nobody would think of her as a threat, or anything more than a nuisance. However this ‘bastard’ girl would become one of the smartest and most cunning women in the realm; and she would have as a role model another great woman: Katherine Parr.

“In observing Katherine Parr as regent and queen consort, Elizabeth learned a good deal about how women could think for themselves and govern. She greatly admired her stepmother’s literary output and clearly discussed religious ideas with her when they met, which was not nearly often enough for Elizabeth’s liking.“ (Porter)

Besides that, Elizabeth would face many other obstacles which would toughen her resolve to survive and to step up to the plate that she was born to, as Queen of England. To this day, Elizabeth continues to divide historians. Was she as good as they say? Or was it all lies, part of her propaganda machine? The answer isn’t clear. Elizabeth was as cunning, conniving and as ruthless as any other monarch in her time, but she was also a pragmatist who continued with some of her sister’s monetary policies, while opting for a middle ground. Instead of being wholly Protestant, she chose a grayer path. Not many were happy with her policies whoever, and like those before her, she had to face many rebellions. Yet, her reign became one of the most successful of the Tudor period, and the age she lived in even carries her name “Elizabethan” and the myth of the “Golden Age” continues to this day.

Sources:

  • Elizabeth the Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey
  • Boleyn Women by Elizabeth Norton
  • In Bed with the Tudors by Amy Licence
  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter