Elizabeth, Queen of England (Part Four)

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Elizabeth Tudor, Queen of England

In the early morning hours of the 17th of November 1558 Queen Mary I died. Elizabeth Tudor was now Queen of England.

Elizabeth had been sitting outside in the chilly November weather reading a book under an old oak tree when she was approached by men. Upon being informed of her sister’s death it was reported that Elizabeth knelt to the ground and in exquisite Latin said, ‘This is the Lord’s doing: it is marvelous in our eyes.’ However, David Starkey, states that it’s a nice story but is not based on contemporary reports but by a man seventy years after the event. With that being said we have no idea what was actually said, or if she said anything at all. To be honest, I’ve always thought the statement was insensitive to her sister’s life, regardless of how their relationship ended – Mary was her sister.

In London, after it became public knowledge that Queen Mary was dead all the churches performed Te Deum Laudamus – they were celebration the accession of Elizabeth.

Transition of Power

Not since the accession of Henry VI in 1422 was the transition of power so seamless. This may be because it was as Elizabeth had planned. Upon hearing about her sister’s inevitable death Elizabeth sent Sir Nicholas Throckmorton to London to be her witness; Elizabeth feared being prematurely informed of Mary’s death. When Throckmorton officially heard that Mary was dead, and had her black enameled engagement ring in hand, he quickly rode back to Hatfield to inform Elizabeth. His trip was roughly twenty miles and probably took between two and four hours by horse.

After Mary’s death It was proclaimed that there would be three days of mourning for the late queen. During this time there was no set amount of time for mourning, however, three days seems rather short to mourn a former monarch and a sister.

When the mourning period concluded Elizabeth spoke to the men who had fled to Hatfield when the death of Queen Mary was imminent. These men knew that soon Elizabeth would be the new Queen and wished to show their support. They understood that being there at the beginning could benefit them greatly.

Elizabeth’s Men

So many men fled to Hatfield that lodgings in the area were scarcely available for them. In the meantime, Elizabeth met privately with individual councillors, including William Cecil. To Cecil, Elizabeth was quoted as saying:

I give you this charge, that you shall be on my Privy Council and content yourself to take pains for me and my realm. This judgment I have of you: that you will not be corrupted with any manner of gift, and that you will be faithful to the state, and that without respect of my private will, you will give me that counsel that you think best, and if you shall know anything necessary to be declared to me of secrecy, you shall show it to myself only. And assure yourself I will not fail to keep taciturnity therein, and therefore herewith I charge you.

Elizabeth was building her allies, her inner circle of friends. She was aware that in order to be a successful monarch she needed people close to her that she could trust.

Hatfield House

The following day Elizabeth met informally again with the councillors and this time they discussed her royal household. It was that day that it was decided that Robert Dudley would be appointed her Master of Horse. Filling of this post was most important if she was to travel to London to prepare for her coronation.

After creating her privy council the next most important thing was to put her Chamber in order. I’m going to quote David Starkey here: ‘The Chamber was the name given to the household above stairs. It dealt with the public ceremony of the court, as opposed to the personal body service of the privy lodgings.

Positions at court were normally valued by closeness to the monarch, but with a female ruler most of the servants of the body were women, this meant that posts in the Chamber were most valuable to the men. The competition for these positions would have been insane.

Cecil’s Notes

In this matter William Cecil’s notes were brief. He wrote that Lord William Howard would replace Lord Hastings as departmental head of the Chamber. Howard had been Deputy of Calais under Edward VI and a Councillor with Queen Mary but had been a staunch supporter and friend to Elizabeth during Wyatt’s rebellion. He was also her kin, he was her great-uncle. Then there was Elizabeth’s former jailer, Henry Bedingfield who was removed as vice-chamberlain and replaced with Sir Edward Rogers-a man who had been a co-conspirator with Wyatt.

We already know that Robert Dudley was named Master of Horse but were you aware that the new vice-chamberlain Rogers had been imprisoned in the Tower at the same time as both Dudley and Elizabeth? Dudley’s position was quite possibly the closest male position to the Queen’s person, that is at least outside the confines of the palace when the queen traveled or went on hunts. Dudley definitely understood the benefit of his position.

Elizabeth’s Council

Less than a third of Queen Mary’s large council remained after Elizabeth concluded her choices. Elizabeth made it clear that the changes and job cuts she had made were not due to any fault of their own, or out of vengeance, but from the need to streamline
a more effective government.

Members of the new council were drawn from nobility, gentry and business, in a skillful mix of the aristocracy and the meritocracy. Notably, most of the clergy were dismissed, signalling that while religion would be a concern of the state, it would not dominate it.
Read more at http://www.rmg.co.uk/discover/explore/queen-elizabeth-privy-council#RcvPYajI8d7Vrgbt.99

In her first official meeting with her new Council on the 29th of November, Elizabeth made her expectations clear:

I give you this charge, that you shall be of my Privy Council, and content yourself to take pains for me and my realm. This judgement I have of you, that you will not be corrupted with any manner of gift, and that you will be favourable to the state, and that, without respect of my private will, you will give me that counsel that you think best. And if you shall know anything necessary to be declared to me of secrecy, you shall show it to myself only, and assure yourself I will not fail to keep taciturnity therein.

Queen Mary’s Funeral

With that her Council was formed and instructed. There was still the matter of Queen Mary’s Funeral to conclude – it was decided to use ‘King Henry VIII’s funeral book’ as precedent for Mary’s interment. They decided that her burial would be a traditional and lavish Catholic funeral. The Marquess of Winchester was responsible for the arrangements. Winchester had been the most senior of Queen Mary’s councilors – he was a Catholic at heart but definitely loyal to the new Queen as well. His appointment was an excellent one. Unfortunately the planning would not be as easy as he thought since some of the nominated mourners refused to take part. Winchester had to throw a little weight and tell them that Queen Elizabeth was prepared to order their involvement.

On the 21st of November the Count of Féria reported that Mary’s body had been removed to lie in state in the chamber outside the one she had slept in at St. James Palace prior to her death.

Elizabeth’s Coronation

Elizabeth finally left Hatfield on the 23rd in a procession that was a thousand strong. After a five-day stop at the Charterhouse Elizabeth finally arrived and made her entry into London. At the head of her procession rode her escort of lords and gentlemen who were followed by the royal party. Elizabeth was preceded by the Earl of Pembroke who was holding the symbol of sovereign power, the upright sword. The sergeants at arms rode on the either side of the Queen while Robert Dudley was immediately behind her.

Wearing the traditional color of royalty, Elizabeth was covered from head to toe in purple velvet and looked the part she had been born to inherit – she was queen.

As was customary the procession led Elizabeth to the Tower of London where she took possession of it – this was something that was tradition for the new monarch to do. Unfortunately for Elizabeth’s cousin, Lady Jane Grey, she had planned to stay there until her coronation, but she would never be crowned and became a prisoner of the Tower instead. One wonders if Elizabeth remembered her days spent there under her sister’s rule only four years earlier, or if she recalled the fate of her young cousin.

For six days Elizabeth conducted her business from the Tower. On the 5th of December she left the Tower by water on her way to Westminster, but she first stopped at her residence of Somerset House. She stayed there until Christmas Eve.

On the 10th of December a procession of lords, ladies, and officers of the late queen’s household entered the chamber where she had been lying in state. They then carried her to the Chapel Royal at St. James. There at the altar Mary’s body lay for three more days until the 13th when the funeral finally began.

A month after her death Queen Mary was finally laid to rest at Westminster Abbey and the heralds cried, ‘The Queen is dead; long live the Queen!

Elizabeth’s coronation day was chosen by astrologer Dr. John Dee as the 15th of January – it was believed that day would be advantageous for her coronation.

Three days prior to her coronation Elizabeth returned to the Tower of London to prepare herself for the eve of coronation procession.

On the 14th she left the Tower at about three in the afternoon and was carried in a litter that was covered in yellow cloth of gold which was lined with white satin – it was open on every side. If you’re trying to picture this in your head and you’ve watch Showtime’s The Tudors, think back to Anne Boleyn’s coronation procession and her litter. This would have look similar to that.

Drawing of the Coronation Procession of Elizabeth I of England, 1559, from a document in the College of Arms

Along her procession there were five pageants. This series of pageants were ‘deliberately dancing on the grave’ on Queen Mary and Elizabeth danced with the best.

The first pageant was about Elizabeth’s genealogy and showed that Elizabeth would bring peace to ‘strife-torn’ England.

The second pageant showed Elizabeth’s government upheld by four virtues: True Religion, Love of Subjects, Wisdom and Justice.

The third pageant was the Beatitudes: Blessed are the poor; Blessed are the meek; Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake…these were applied to Elizabeth’s sufferings under Queen Mary.

The fourth pageant represented ‘Time’that depicted ‘a decayed commonwealth’ under Queen Mary and ‘a flourishing commonwealth’ with Queen Elizabeth.

The fifth pageant depicted Elizabeth as Deborah, the prophetess who rescued Israel from Jabin the king of Canaan and then ruled over the Jews for 40 years. This of course looked back at Queen Mary’s disastrous parliaments later in her rule.

The day of her coronation the ceremonies began in Westminster Hall and then carried on to the Abbey. Elizabeth wore her crimson parliament robes and entered on a blue cloth, or rug, which had lined the entire route from the Hall to the Abbey. After onlookers witnessed their new Queen they quickly ran to take pieces of the blue cloth as souvenirs.

Elizabeth I: The Coronation Portrait, c1600, unknown artist; copy of a lost original

At the ceremony there were three crowns successively placed on her head which was followed by great fanfare after each. Elizabeth was dressed in gold from head to toe; And with the imperial crown on her head she was led to her throne. After more ceremony ensued Elizabeth withdrew to her closet and donned her purple robes, after which she headed back to Westminster Hall for her coronation dinner still carrying her orb and sceptre while wearing the heavy imperial crown. Elizabeth is reported as having had a huge smile while she gladly greeted the thousands of subjects who came to congratulate her.

Read Part Five


Elizabeth I – Collected Works (The University of Chicago, 2000)
Borman, Tracy. Elizabeth’s Woman (Bantam Books, 2009)
Johnson, Paul. Elizabeth I – A Study in Power & Intellect (Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd 1988)
MacCaffrey, Wallace T. The Shaping of the Elizabethan Regime – Elizabethan Politics, 1558-1572 (Princeton University Press, 1968)
Starkey, David. Elizabeth – The Struggle for the Throne (HarperCollins, 2000)
Weir, Alison. The Life of Elizabeth I (Ballantine Books, 1998)


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