Eliz­a­beth I

(1558-1603)

This England - - A Royal His­tory of Eng­land - PAUL JAMES

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.

Eliz­a­beth’s par­ents, Henry VIII and Anne Bo­leyn, and (right) her cousin Mary Queen of Scots. Be­low: Hat­field House in Hert­ford­shire, where Eliz­a­beth was liv­ing when she heard she was Queen.

(con­tin­ued) A re­cre­ation of the pri­vate gar­den made at Ke­nil­worth Cas­tle by Robert Dud­ley, Earl of Le­ices­ter, for Queen Eliz­a­beth I. GRA­HAM GOUGH

This build­ing of painted plas­ter­work in Can­ter­bury is known as Queen Eliz­a­beth’s Guest Cham­ber. It was here, in 1573, that she en­ter­tained the Duke of Alençon. BRIAN HEB­DITCH

Robert Dev­ereux, Earl of Es­sex (1565-1601), whose am­bi­tions led to his down­fall.

Sir Wal­ter Raleigh (1552-1618), ex­plorer, sol­dier and poet.

The Span­ish Ar­mada.

The Ar­mada Por­trait of Eliz­a­beth I, by an un­known artist, de­picts the majesty and power of the Tu­dor monarch.

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