“I may not be a lion, but I am a lion’s cub, and I have a lion’s heart.”
–Elizabeth I of England
[In honoring QUEEN ELIZABETH REGINA GLORIANA’s birthday I decided to concentrate on her time before she took the throne. Frankly this blog would be enormous if I chronicled her entire life — the post is pretty long as is — and I opted to retell the earlier, slightly less well-known, period. I hope I’ve given you enough to whet your whistle and have no doubt that you’ll be able to find tons of additional material on her life either on-line and at your local library or book store.]
Elizabeth Tudor was born on this day in Greenwich Palace, England in 1533. Today is the 479th anniversary of her birth.
She was the daughter of King Henry the VIII of England and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Henry had divorced his first wife, Katherine of Aragon — with whom he already had one daughter, Mary — and invented a new religion — the Church of England — in order to marry Boleyn. He had great hopes that she would provide him with a male heir. When their only living offspring was a girl, Henry grew disenchanted with Boleyn. His eye soon wandered to pretty (and more docile) Jane Seymour. But, fearing what would become of herself and Elizabeth, Boleyn refused to divorce the King. On May 19, 1536, Anne Boleyn was executed on charges of treason, incest and adultery. The marriage was nullified and Elizabeth, like Mary, was declared illegitimate.
Henry, ever the charmer, married four more times before he died. Wife number three, Jane Seymour managed to give Henry his male heir, Prince Edward, but she died nine days later. Elizabeth was seven when her father married Anne of Cleves for political reasons. Henry found her German manners ill-suited for the English Court, and her face ill-suited for his taste. Wife number 5 was Catherine Howard, a cousin of Anne Boleyn, and like Boleyn she was arrested for treason and adultery and was beheaded. Unlike Elizabeth’s mother, Catherine was guilty as charged.
Elizabeth was a precocious ten-year old when Henry married his last wife, Catherine Parr. Catherine brought all of Henry’s children back to court. She was Elizabeth’s ‘second mother’ and she saw to it that the girl was well-educated in the Greek and Latin. By the time she was queen Elizabeth could speak five languages fluently.
Perhaps Catherine‘s most significant achievement was Henry‘s passing of an act that confirmed both Princess Mary‘s and Elizabeth‘s line in succession for the throne, despite the fact that they had both been made illegitimate by divorce or remarriage. [Tudorplace.com]
At Henry’s death in 1547 the throne went to Edward, with Mary and then Elizabeth next in line. Elizabeth lived with Catherine at Whitehall in Chelsea. Catherine and Admiral Thomas Seymour (Jane Seymour’s brother) married just four months after Henry’s death. Thomas, Catherine and 14-year-old Elizabeth moved to Sudeley Castle.
Thomas was reported to have paid morning visits to Elizabeth, in her bedchamber…There was romping, laughing and giggling… no one knows how far these romps went… [Elizabethan Era Index]
Although Catherine and the servants were present during such tom foolery and “Elizabeth denied any scandal or bad behaviour” she left Sudeley. No ill will seemed to fall between her and Catherine and they wrote to each other affectionately after her departure. But Thomas wasn’t through with the princess yet. After Catherine’s death in childbirth he applied to become Elizabeth’s suitor. He was rejected. He continued to plot for power, even attempting to kidnap the King, and was arrested for treason. And, because of their former friendship, the Princess was implicated . Despite serious interrogation the 15-year-old maintained her innocence.
In 1553 Edward died of tuberculosis. Edward named his cousin, Lady Jane Grey as his heir. Unlike his sisters, Jane had the advantage of being legitimate and the support of the manipulative Lord Protector John Dudley. Unfortunately for her it wasn’t enough. Elizabeth was smart enough to steer clear of Dudley’s power play. She feigned sickness, kept to her bed, and away from the palace, as the drama played out. Mary took her rightful throne and Elizabeth kept her head. After a brief stay in Queen Mary’s court Elizabeth retreated to Hatfield.
When news of Queen Mary’s intended marriage to King Philip II of Spain surfaced in 1553 protestants in England worried that he’d bring the Spanish Inquisition with him. Nobles who had supported Dudley and Jane Grey now hatched the Wyatt Rebellion. Wyatt implicated Elizabeth in the rebellion by sending her a letter about it before hand. The conspirators wished to make her queen once Mary was dethroned. Elizabeth never got the letter — it was intercepted by Mary’s government agents. The rebellion failed, Wyatt was sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered. Elizabeth was summed to London for questioning. She asked to see her sister, but was denied. She was allowed to write to Mary and sent her a long letter protesting her innocence and loyalty (and wisely drawling lines through the unused parts of the paper so no forged additions could be made.) She was sent to the Tower of London, and made to enter through the Traitor’s Gate where she said:
“Here landeth as true a subject, being prisoner, as ever landed at these stairs. Before Thee, O God, do I speak it, having no other friend but Thee alone. Oh Lord, I never thought to have come in here as a prisoner, and I pray you all bear me witness that I come in as no traitor but as true a woman to the Queen’s Majesty as any as is now living.” [Elizabeth I from Elizabethan Era Index]
She lived in fear the entire time she was locked up, and was in real danger of being killed when a warrant for her execution came to Bell Tower. But the warrant lacked Mary’s signature and Sir John Brydges, the Lieutenant of the Tower refused to carry out the order unless it was complete.
After two long months Elizabeth was released on May 19, 1554. Phillip, it seems, was wise enough to know that the English would harbor some ill will over the execution of their beloved Princess, and that that ill will would be turned toward him.
He advised Mary to release Elizabeth from the Tower. And Mary, who was besotted with Phillip, obeyed…. Elizabeth was released… but was … placed under the equivalent of house arrest at the palace at Woodstock. [Elizabeth I from Elizabethan Era Index]
She was under constant surveillance at Woodstock. Her writing materials were restricted, her books censored, and activities limited. After almost a year in the virtual prison at Woodstock Elizabeth was freed. She traveled, under heavy guard, to Hampton Court where she was allowed to meet with Phillip. He was instrumental in a reconciliation between the sisters (frosty though it may be). He would rather have Elizabeth next in line to the English throne than Mary Queen of Scotts — who supported his enemy France.
Elizabeth went home to Hatfield. On November 17th 1558 Mary died and Elizabeth became Queen of England. She was crowned on Sunday January 15th 1559. She died on March 24th 1603 having ruled for 45 years.