Good Queen Bess…gloriana… The Virgin Queen… there have been many nicknames for one of our most illustrious monarchs who reigned over what has been called “The Golden Age of England”, but for almost 400 years she was officially known simply as Queen Elizabeth. Only in 1952, when a second Elizabeth came to the throne, was there a need for the Tudor monarch to be specified as Elizabeth I.
There are, in fact, many similarities between the two Elizabeths. Both became Queen at the age of 25. Both enjoyed long reigns, Elizabeth I’s lasting 44 years and Elizabeth II is currently into the 64th year of hers, and yet, at the time of their birth, neither Princess Elizabeth was expected to become Queen. Elizabeth I’s motto was Semper Eadem, which means “Always the same”, and one of Elizabeth II’S enduring qualities is that she remains steadfastly and reassuringly the same. Both Queens can easily be identified by their style of dress, even if seen in silhouette. Both devoted their lives to duty and service to their country, receiving the love and loyalty of their people, and both shared a strong faith in God. And when Elizabeth II opens Parliament each year, from the Imperial State Crown on her head hang pearshaped pearls reputed to have been worn by Elizabeth I.
Elizabeth Tudor was born at Greenwich Palace on 7th September 1533, the daughter of King Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn. She was named after both her grandmothers, Elizabeth of York and Elizabeth Howard. Henry had divorced his first wife through her failure to produce a male heir, and now his second wife had given him a daughter. It was not long before he had his sights set on wife number three, Jane Seymour, and Anne Boleyn’s days were numbered.
Elizabeth was not yet three years old when her mother was executed on trumped-up charges of adultery. On the day after Anne Boleyn’s death, Henry VIII married Jane Seymour. Elizabeth and her older half-sister Mary were both declared illegitimate. As a young girl, she could not understand why she was suddenly called Lady Elizabeth when she had always been Princess Elizabeth. Although her father was distant and cool, Elizabeth remained devoted to him.
Much of her early childhood was divided between Hunsdon House and Hatfield House in Hertfordshire and she was cared for by Lady Margaret Bryan and later a governess called Catherine Champernowne, who began her education. The child was not treated like a member of the Royal Family and was allowed only simple food. Lady Bryan had to write to the King for new clothes for the girl, saying that she had no gowns, petticoats, nightclothes or linen of any kind, and was suffering greatly with her teeth.
When Elizabeth was four years old, Jane Seymour bore Henry VIII the son that he had so craved. Happy that the Tudor line was secure, his attitude appeared to soften towards his daughters, as Mary and Elizabeth were present at the christening in robes of state with long trains and took part in the service, with Elizabeth carrying a golden vessel of chrism for the baby to be anointed.
Elizabeth proved to be an intelligent girl from an early age and was a very quick learner. One courtier remarked that even if the child received no further education, she would still know more than some 40-year-olds. She learned to speak nine languages, including French, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Cornish and Welsh. She read the works of Cicero and the tragedies of Sophocles, and was good at music and learned to play the virginals.
When Henry VIII married his sixth and final wife, Catherine Parr, Elizabeth was accepted back at court and lived at Whitehall Palace. She finally began to have a closer relationship with her father and it was probably the first time in her early life that she felt truly settled. Queen Catherine did much to make Elizabeth feel welcome.
At the time of Henry VIII’S death in 1547 the direct line of succession was his three surviving children: Edward, Mary and Elizabeth, and so her halfbrother became King Edward VI. It was not, however, to be an easy period for Elizabeth. She continued to live with her stepmother, Queen Catherine, who quickly remarried. Her new husband, Lord Admiral Thomas Seymour, took an unhealthy interest in the teenage Elizabeth. There were later false rumours that Elizabeth had a child by Seymour.
Queen Catherine soon sent Elizabeth to live in Cheshunt, under the care of Sir Anthony Denny, a confidant of Henry VIII, and his wife became Elizabeth’s governess. Whether this move was at Elizabeth’s request, we do not know. We do know, however, that when Thomas Seymour was eventually executed for treason, Elizabeth said: “This day died a man of much wit, but very little judgement.” One of the charges against Seymour at his trial was that he had surreptitiously tried to marry Elizabeth after Catherine Parr’s death.
Elizabeth’s path to the throne seemed blocked when Edward VI named Lady Jane Grey as his successor. Had Jane been fully accepted as monarch after Edward’s death, and gone on to have children of her own to succeed her, then Elizabeth would never have been
Queen. But Jane reigned for just nine days before popular opinion turned in favour of Mary Tudor.
When Mary became Queen, Elizabeth rode beside her in the triumphal procession into London. But the relationship between the siblings deteriorated when Mary wanted to marry Philip of Spain. Many were opposed to the union and in 1554 there was a rebellion led by Sir Thomas Wyatt to try and prevent the wedding taking place. Mary was convinced that Elizabeth supported Wyatt’s Rebellion and had her imprisoned in the Tower of London. As Elizabeth was taken to Traitor’s Gate by boat on Palm Sunday 1554, she said, “Here lands as true a subject, being prisoner, as ever landed at these stairs.”
With no concrete evidence to link Elizabeth with the rebellion, she was moved from the Tower after two months and put under house arrest at Woodstock in Oxfordshire for the next 10 months, guarded by Sir Henry Bedingfield. Even out of the Tower of London, Elizabeth feared for her life, convinced that she would be executed, but continued to plead her innocence. On a window pane at Woodstock Elizabeth scratched with her diamond ring: “Much suspected by me, Nothing proved can be.”
Mary eventually married Philip of Spain, but continued to suspect that Elizabeth had plotted against her and so insisted that her sister remain a virtual prisoner at Woodstock. Elizabeth’s letters were intercepted and she was even told which books she could and could not read. But the strong-willed Elizabeth played a game of cat and mouse, determined not to be cowed by her sister. She pretended to change her religion to Catholic to keep Mary happy, whilst remaining staunchly Protestant!
When Mary finally had Elizabeth released in April 1555 and allowed her to return to court, she was unhappy that her sister appeared to show no signs of remorse. But Elizabeth felt that she was the injured party and had nothing to apologise for.
Elizabeth moved from court back to Hatfield House for the remainder of Mary’s reign, although the icy relationship between the two sisters gradually began to thaw as the months went by. Mary visited her at Hatfield and they celebrated midsummer together at Richmond. The reconciliation was fortunate, as Mary officially named Elizabeth as her heir just as their father had wished.
When Mary died on 17th November 1558, Elizabeth succeeded her halfsister and became Queen at the age of 25. “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes,” she said, quoting from the Psalms, when she discovered that she was Queen.
She was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 15th January in the following year. There was no Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, as Archbishop Reginald Pole had died during an influenza epidemic in England in November 1558, within hours of Elizabeth’s accession. The Archbishop of York was a Catholic and refused to accept Elizabeth as supreme Head of the Church and so she was actually crowned by the Bishop of Carlisle. The coronation was organised by Henry, Earl of Arundel, who became her Lord Steward. The Earl of Arundel today is the title of the elder son of the Duke of Norfolk, who lives at Arundel Castle, in West Sussex. The Duke, as Earl Marshal, is responsible for state occasions, including coronations, and so the family tradition continues.
Hers was the last coronation to be conducted in Latin, and the Bible passages were read in both Latin and English. Traditionally the coronation ends with Mass, but because the Bishop used some Roman Catholic rites that Elizabeth disapproved of, she withdrew in protest for parts of the service to a pew that had been curtained off. Just as the Church had dominated the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I, so the young Queen Elizabeth faced many challenges.
She had inherited a deeply divided Church from her Catholic sister. Elizabeth was herself a Protestant, but was tolerant of the Catholic viewpoint, famously saying: “There is only one Christ Jesus, one faith, all else is trifles” and that she had “no desire to make windows into
men’s souls”. Only four men were burned for heresy during her reign, considerably fewer than the hundreds that lost their lives during the reign of Mary I.
Nevertheless, she was determined that England would be a Protestant country as her father had wished. On 15th May 1559 bishops were required to take an Oath of Supremacy to their new Queen, but only one agreed. Elizabeth had the rest sent to the Tower to reconsider their position. Some 200 clergymen were also “retired”. Mary Tudor’s Act of 1554 which had restored the Catholic faith was repealed and Elizabeth appointed new bishops. She also passed an Act of Uniformity, which allowed King Edward VI’S second Book of Common Prayer to be used once again and most of his Articles of Religion were restored.
By reinstating her father’s form of Protestantism, Elizabeth incurred the wrath of Pope Paul IV who did not accept her as Queen because Henry VIII had declared her to be illegitimate. Elizabeth overcame this by establishing the Anglican Church, with the sovereign as “Supreme Governor”. In 1563 the Thirty-nine Articles firmly laid out beliefs, doctrines and practices of the Church of England. Article 37 stated pointedly that the Pope had no jurisdiction in the realm of England.
Some opposed Elizabeth’s style of worship, which we would now consider to be Anglo-catholic. They condemned any form of church ritual, ornamentation or clergy vestments, wanting worship to be restored to its original simplicity. They became known as Puritans. Some Puritans were followers of the French theologian and reformer John Calvin, eventually adopting his theological views to become Calvinists. Queen Elizabeth had no time for Puritans or Calvinists and did all she could to suppress them, wanting just one national church.
In 1595 the then Archbishop of Canterbury, John Whitgift, drew up the Lambeth Articles — nine doctrinal statements to try and define Calvinism, which accepted a belief in predestination. The Articles stated that whether we can look forward to everlasting life or are condemned to eternal damnation is predestined and men can do nothing to change their path. Saving grace was not open to all, and Article Nine stated, “It is not in everyone’s will and power to be saved.”
The Lambeth Articles did not receive Royal Assent and Elizabeth was furious when she discovered that they had been discussed at a synod without her knowledge or consent. The Archbishop of Canterbury was ordered to withdraw and suppress the articles.
One question that dogged Elizabeth throughout her reign was that of her marriage. Almost as soon as she became Queen, Members of Parliament urged her to marry, but she refused, saying, “I have already joined myself in marriage to a husband, namely the Kingdom of England.” She felt that she had to put her duty as Queen first, even if it meant sacrificing her personal happiness.
Although Elizabeth was known as “The Virgin Queen”, it does not mean that she was short of suitors. She had a succession of favourites at court throughout her reign, such as Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, of whom she once said, “You are like my little dog; when people see you, they know I am nearby.” Dudley’s wife Amy Robsart was conveniently found dead at the foot of a stone staircase when he wished to court the Queen. Whether accident, suicide or murder, has never been proved. Dudley was said to be at Windsor with the Queen at the time and so could not be held personally responsible, but the mystery continues to be debated by historians to this day. The closeness between the Queen and Dudley is shown in her request that he be made Lord Protector of England should she ever become seriously ill or incapacitated.
Christopher Hatton was another who attracted her attention when she watched him dancing at a court masque. She soon appointed him Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard, her personal bodyguards. He wrote passionate love letters to the Queen but, although she dallied with him, she rejected his advances as a possible husband. She did, however, give him a knighthood, a house and eventually made him Chancellor. When he coveted the London Palace of the Bishop of Ely, Elizabeth had no qualms about taking it away from the bishop and giving it to Christopher Hatton. The former garden is an area of London now known as Hatton Garden.
Elizabeth seemed to enjoy receiving male attention, but always kept them at arm’s length. Hatton was clearly one of the Queen’s favourites and she visited him in his final illness and fed him with broth just days before his death. In 1583 he had the magnificent Holdenby House built in Northamptonshire, in which to
entertain the Queen. He refused to spend a single night at Holdenby until Elizabeth had visited, although there is no record that she ever did. Said to be the largest house in Elizabethan England, the cost of building it bankrupted him and Hatton died penniless.
Elizabeth had many suitors from overseas, including three Kings, several European Dukes, and an Archduke. In 1559 her former brother-in-law Philip II of Spain sent Elizabeth a marriage proposal, but she could see that it was only for political alliance and said that she felt like a fly being drawn into a web, and quickly declined the offer. Yet she often played a diplomatic game when it suited her, looking as if she was on the verge of marriage, but never actually committing herself.
When she wanted to form an alliance with France, she was more than happy to begin a flirtatious courtship with Francis, Duke of Alençon, heir to the French throne. He was more than 20 years younger than her, stunted in height and disfigured as a result of smallpox. She publicly kissed him and gave him a ring and it looked as if he might be successful, but at the last minute she told him that she had to put duty first and would have to sacrifice her own personal happiness for the welfare of her people.
It is generally considered that her dalliance with the Duke was simply to tease the Earl of Leicester, after she discovered that, while still courting her, he had secretly married Lettice Knollys, one of Elizabeth’s Maids of the Privy Chamber. The Queen banished the Earl and his new wife from court, referring to Lettice as a “she wolf”.
The heroic Sir Walter Raleigh was another suitor. She teased him when he discovered tobacco, saying, “I suppose you would even say that you could tell the weight of that smoke of yours. There’s no boundary to your impudence!” Raleigh insisted that he could, so she bet him a gold pin that he couldn’t. Raleigh took on the challenge. He weighed out some tobacco, then smoked it in his pipe in front of her. He then weighed the ashes, telling her that the difference was the weight of the smoke! The Queen gave him her pin. “Many a man have I known who has turned his gold into smoke,” she laughed, “but you are surely the first who has turned his smoke into gold!”
When it eventually became clear that the Queen had no intention of marrying him, he secretly wed her Maid of Honour, Bess Throckmorton instead. Again, Elizabeth was so angered by the slight, especially as Raleigh had continually denied that he was married, that she sent both husband and wife to the Tower and banished them from court on their release.
Finally, in her late-fifties, Elizabeth became infatuated with Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, stepson of her beloved Earl of Leicester. Soon he was seen riding beside the Queen as Master of the Horse, and he quickly rose to become a Privy Councillor and then Foreign Secretary. The much younger Essex enjoyed the Queen’s favours; they often played cards through the night “until the birds sang in the morning” and he hoped that she would pay off his vast debts, but she refused.
Elizabeth and Essex had a tempestuous relationship and once quarrelled over who was to become the new Lord Deputy of Ireland. She struck out, hitting him hard across the ear when he turned his back on her. The Queen soon forgave him and in 1599 Essex was sent across to Ireland with an army, initially to fight against those who opposed the English crown but in the end he made a truce with rebel leaders, angering the Queen once again when it was rumoured that he hoped to become King of Ireland.
Essex then turned against the Queen and began to spread rumours that the throne of England was to be occupied by a Spaniard. He then claimed that he was going to seize the Queen and take control of the government himself. In February 1601 he set out up the Strand in London to Ludgate Hill with a hundred men brandishing swords, trying to gain support for himself, but was arrested and sent to the Tower of London. He was found guilty of treason and lost his head. Elizabeth was playing the virginals when news reached her that Essex had been executed. She paused briefly in silence, and then continued playing.
Although Elizabeth came to the throne through an Act of Supremacy, because she was unmarried and without children to succeed, her cousin Mary Queen of Scots was considered to be her Heir Presumptive. Elizabeth lived with the continual fear that there might be a Catholic plot to put Mary on the throne of England in her place.
Mary was a daughter of James IV of Scotland and a descendant of King Henry VII through his daughter Margaret. Mary became Queen of Scots when only a week old, on the death of her father. She married the Dauphin of France at the age of just 16, eventually becoming Queen of France when her husband became King. She returned to Scotland on the death of her husband in 1560 and then married Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley (another grandchild of Henry VII through his daughter Margaret). Darnley was later murdered in Edinburgh following an explosion in the house where he was staying, although he appeared to have been strangled and his body bore no marks from the explosion.
In 1566 Mary gave birth to a son, who within a year became King James VI of Scotland when she was forced to stand down as Queen. When Elizabeth was informed about the birth, she said regretfully, “Alack, the Queen of Scots is lighter of a bonny son, and I am but of barren stock.”
Mary married for a third time, taking the Earl of Bothwell as her next husband. Considered a ruffian, he and Mary were soon implicated in the murder of Lord Darnley. Mary was imprisoned at Loch Leven Castle in 1567, and Parliament urged Elizabeth to have her executed. The Queen’s response has been described as a masterpiece of diplomacy: “If I should say unto you that I meant not to grant your petition, by my faith I should say unto you more than perhaps I mean. And if I should say unto you I mean to grant your petition, I should tell you more than it is fit for you to know,
and thus I must deliver you an answer answerless.”
With the help of loyal supporters, Mary Queen of Scots was able to escape in 1568 and sought protection in England from her cousin Elizabeth. But the Queen continued to see her as a threat and Mary was imprisoned for the next 19 years.
During this time there were many unsuccessful plots to remove the “heretical” Queen Elizabeth and place Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne to restore the Catholic faith. When a conspiracy to have the Queen assassinated, known as Babington’s Plot, was unearthed in Mary’s household in 1586 Elizabeth reluctantly signed Mary’s death warrant. The plot involved the invasion of England by the fleet of Philip II of Spain, to kill the Queen and put Mary on the throne and restore the old Catholic religion to England, just as Elizabeth had long feared. A complex series of coded letters to and from Mary were intercepted by Sir Francis Walsingham and the Queen of Scots’ fate was sealed. Mary was tried and executed at Fotheringhay Castle in 1587. Signing her death warrant was a difficult decision for Elizabeth because she believed that anointed sovereigns, such as Mary, were answerable only to God.
Although the long-standing threat from Mary Queen of Scots and her supporters had finally ended, Elizabeth still faced hostility from other quarters. Throughout her reign she was eager to avoid war at all costs, but if England was ever under threat or an ally was in need, then her army and navy were sent into action.
France and Spain were the two great powers that were at odds with England at this time and both wanted supremacy of Europe, and when Huguenots were massacred in France, an English army was sent out to protect French Protestants. Elizabeth also assisted the Spanish Netherlands (present-day Belgium) when the country wanted to break away from Spain and become independent.
The threat from the Spanish Armada in 1588 was perhaps Elizabeth’s finest hour. She turned to God for help and composed a prayer: “O let Thine enemies know that Thou hast received England…into Thine own protection. Set a wall about it, O Lord, and evermore mightily defend it.”
An armada of 130 ships, with an estimated 8,000 sailors and 19,000 men at arms, arrived off the coast of England on 19th July. The English fleet, commanded by Lord Howard and Sir Francis Drake, quickly challenged the attack. England had only 70 ships available at the time, smaller and less well equipped than the Spanish. Yet they had the advantage of speed and, being smaller, the Spanish galleons fired over them rather than at them. Spanish ships then became trapped in the Channel and could not easily turn round. Seventy seven of them were sunk or set on fire by the English and the Spanish were defeated.
Philip II of Spain sent two further armadas, but both were defeated by the English weather and failed in their attempt to invade. It marked the point where Spanish domination diminished and England became the supreme power.
When the Spanish Armada was first sighted, beacons were lit across England, and Elizabeth rode out at Tilbury to encourage her troops, “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a King, and a King of England too… I myself will take up arms; I myself will be your general, judge and recorder of every one of your virtues in the field.”
The reign of Queen Elizabeth I is known as “The Golden Age” because under her rule England prospered. It was an age of adventure. Just as Elizabeth II’S reign has seen great advances in technology, Elizabeth I’s reign is noted for advances in discovery and colonization. Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe. Walter Raleigh founded a colony in America and called it Virginia in honour of the Queen. Trading settlements and colonies were set up around the world and the famous East India Company was founded.
Elizabeth was a great patron of the arts and her reign is noted for its music, art and literature. England’s foremost playwright of the period was, of course, William Shakespeare, and Elizabeth I was present at performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Love’s Labour’s Lost, and both parts of Henry IV. It is said that she commissioned him to write The Merry Wives of Windsor. The character of Falstaff was originally called Sir John Oldcastle, but as there were descendants of the Oldcastle family still at court, it is said that Elizabeth instructed Shakespeare to change the name.
The poet Edmund Spenser praised Elizabeth in his allegorical poem The Faerie Queene, which he dedicated to her, said to be one of the longest poems ever written in the English language. Elizabeth granted Spenser a pension of £50 a year for life. Many other Elizabethan writers are still known and loved to this day: Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon and Ben Jonson, and the music of composers such as William Byrd, Thomas Campion, John Dowland, Orlando Gibbons and Thomas Tallis lives on. “This Sweet and Merry Month of May” is a madrigal composed by Byrd in honour of the Queen and she often had as many as 70 musicians at court to entertain her.
Just as Queen Elizabeth II has been credited with initiating the Royal Walkabout, Queen Elizabeth I was skilled at making stately progresses across England so that she could be seen by her people. Many a Tudor stately home boasts that “Queen Elizabeth slept here”! She spent several months each year touring the country so that she could be seen by her people and many an aristocrat was almost bankrupted, spending their fortunes on extending their homes, improving the decorations, and buying vast quantities of food and drink in the hope that the Queen would decide to visit.
She travelled with a large retinue and would ride slowly through towns, often stopping to speak to the people. It was pure theatre, showing the magnificence and splendour of the monarchy. And in an age before television, film or photography we can only imagine what effect the Queen’s glittering arrival had on the ordinary people who crowded the streets to see her for the first time. At each venue she was given gifts, which always included a pair of gloves. She amassed hundreds of pairs, and several still exist and are on display at locations such as Hatfield House, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Dents Glove Museum, and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.
Always ornately dressed and smothered in jewels, she was clothed majestically as she felt befitted a Queen of England. At the time of her death she owned some 2,000 dresses. She frequently gave her cast-offs to the ladies of her court and a piece of one of
these dresses may still exist. In May 2016 it was reported that the Historic Royal Palaces has concluded that a section of elaborately embroidered silver cloth hanging in a glass case at St. Faith’s Church, Bacton, in Herefordshire, and formerly used as an altar cloth, is a piece of one of Queen Elizabeth I’s gowns. It came to the church through Blanche Parry of Bacton, the Queen’s Chief Gentlewoman of the Bedchamber who was in royal service for 57 years.
The importance that Elizabeth placed on clothes can be seen in the series of Statutes of Apparel that she introduced, in which she laid down laws as to what people could and could not wear, from the size of ruff around their neck to the colour of garments. Sumptuous materials such as velvet, satins, damask and embroidered silk could only be worn by certain sections of the nobility to denote rank, and only the monarch could wear purple or cloth of gold.
We have a good idea of Elizabeth’s appearance from the many paintings of her that survive. Campaigners are currently aiming to raise £10 million to prevent one portrait of her being sold abroad. Painted in 1590 to commemorate England’s victory over the Spanish Armada, it has long been owned by descendants of Sir Francis Drake, but is now up for sale. If funds are successfully raised, this historic portrait will hang at the Queen’s House in Greenwich where Elizabeth was born.
Early portraits of Elizabeth show her as a fresh-faced girl with auburn hair, but in 1562 she caught smallpox, from which she almost died. Her skin was badly scarred as a result and she afterwards used a makeup made from powdered eggshells, borax, alum, white lead and vinegar. In old age her teeth blackened and her hair thinned and she took to wearing auburn wigs. It is said that she refused to have mirrors in any of her rooms and when she appeared in public she padded out her mouth with cotton to hide gaps where her teeth were missing and her face had sunk.
In character, Elizabeth was a strong woman who spoke her mind. She frequently swore and cursed when angry, and she would hurl objects across a room at courtiers who displeased her, telling them that they would soon be shorter by a head!
She could be superior and haughty. When she had a difference of opinion with her adviser William Cecil, Lord Burghley, she chided him with, “I have been strong enough to lift you out of this dirt and I am still able to cast you down again!” But she remained loyal to courtiers who were faithful to her and Burghley was her Private Secretary and Secretary of State from her accession until his death 40 years later. Any tensions between them quickly disappeared. “My Lord, we make use of you, not for your bad legs, but for your good head,” she teased him when he was suffering from gout in old age.
Shortly before her death, Queen Elizabeth I made a final speech to Parliament which tells us much about her character.
“Though God hath raised me high, yet this I count the glory of my Crown, that I have reigned with your loves,” she told them. “This makes me that I do not so much rejoice that God hath made me to be a Queen, as to be a Queen over so thankful a people…. I know the title of a King is a glorious title, but assure yourself that the shining glory of princely authority hath not so dazzled the eyes of our understanding, but that we well know and remember that we also are to yield an account of our actions before the great judge. To be a king and wear a crown is a thing more glorious to them that see it than it is pleasant to them that bear it. For myself I was never so much enticed with the glorious name of a King or royal authority of a Queen as delighted that God hath made me his instrument to maintain his truth and glory and to defend his kingdom as I said from peril, dishonour, tyranny and oppression. There will never Queen sit in my seat with more zeal to my country, care to my subjects and that will sooner with willingness venture her life for your good and safety than myself. For it is my desire to live nor reign no longer than my life and reign shall be for your good. And though you have had, and may have, many princes more mighty and wise sitting in this seat, yet you never had nor shall have, any that will be more careful and loving.”
In January 1603 Elizabeth caught a bad cold, which she found hard to shake off. By February she appeared to be recovering, but then became ill again. It is said that she declined medical intervention and often refused to go to bed. When Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, who had taken over the duties of his father Lord Burghley, told her that she must go to bed, Elizabeth famously retorted, “Must? Is must a word to be used to Princes? Little man, little man, thy father, if he had been alive, durst not have used that word.” Towards the end she stood unaided for 15 hours, determined not to give in, until she was forced into bed through sheer exhaustion.
Elizabeth I, the last of our Tudor monarchs, died at the age of 69 at 3am on 24th March 1603 at Richmond Palace. It is thought that she died of pneumonia and possibly blood poisoning. Her last words are reputed to have been, “All my possessions for one moment in time.” Her funeral took place on 28th April 1603 and she was buried in Westminster Abbey. An 18th-century copy of the funeral effigy carried on her coffin can be seen there today, complete with its original Elizabethan corset.
Elizabeth had not named a successor and by 24th March she had lost the power of speech through tonsillitis. Surrounded by members of her Council, she silently indicated that her third cousin James VI of Scotland was to become the next King of England. When she died, her coronation ring was taken straight to Scotland to be handed over to the new King. She had worn it for 44 years and only in the final days of her life was it cut from her hand, having become too painful as it dug into her flesh. Deeply superstitious, Elizabeth knew when the ring was removed that her days were over.