Elizabeth Tudor has always been on the back-burner for me. While I love the fact that she was the daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn I’ve never been as interested in her reign as I have been in her father’s.
My views on Queen Elizabeth of England often make me an outcast in my own community. My believe is that the adult Elizabeth, the Queen of England, was not a very nice person. She shared a lot of the same qualities as her father. Now, before you start sending me hate messages please let me explain why I believe she wasn’t a very nice person. Like her father, Elizabeth imprisoned those who had a connection to the throne for marrying without her permission – that is understandable. What I do not understand is how, a woman who chose not to marry, would hold it against those closest to her? I plan to write an article about the topic so I can’t go too much into detail but there is a reason so many close to her married secretly – they knew that the Queen would never approve their marriage…to anyone. Let’s just take Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and Lettice Knollys as an example. Leicester understood that as the favorite of the Queen that she expected to have him all to herself. Elizabeth had made it clear that SHE could not marry him and he knew that she would never approve a marriage, let alone to her cousin. Fortunately for Leicester, the Queen eventually forgave him but Lettice was not so lucky. Elizabeth never forgave her for falling in love with her Robin, her “Eyes” as she called him. Another one that comes to mind is Elizabeth “Bess” Throckmorton and Sir Walter Raleigh – Raleigh had also become a favorite of the Queen. They married in secret and both were punished.
So…with all that being said, I was curious: Why do you love Queen Elizabeth I? I posed this question on Facebook to help me understand and to be honest with you the answers were exactly as I had suspected. Here are a few:
Mary Harigan said: “…the labels, the loss of her mother, the rejection by her sister, etc … she remained strong, faithful, determined, courageous, bold, still believing in herself while committing herself to serve others.”
Kim Mary said: “She was intelligent and strong-willed and needed no man to rule in a time when women were considered nothing more than property..like her mother before her I greatly admire her courage and spirit.”
Jessica Forman said: “Because during all the turmoil and hatred she saw and grew up in, she persevered and overcome such adversity!”
Leslie Domler said: “She was queen in her own right. She was strong and unapologetic.”
These examples are only a few of the hundreds that came through when the question was initially posted on Facebook. The one thing in common with most of them is that Elizabeth was a woman, who needed no man to rule. Don’t hate me for saying this, but I feel like it’s merely a women’s lib thing. Was she really that great? That is the question that I will be exploring in my subsequent podcasts and articles. I hope in my journey to discover Elizabeth that, in the end, I feel the same as you do about her.
Another question I posed on Facebook was which actress do you think played Elizabeth the best. The choices that were given were:
Cate Blanchett, Anne Maria Duff, Anita Dobson, Vanessa Redgrave, Judi Dench, Flora Robson, Joely Richardson, Bette Davis, Glenda Jackson, Helen Mirren. After those the rest of them had a few votes here and there – there were also written in votes for Rachel Skarsten on Reign, Lily Cole and Quentin Crisp. You were all VERY passionate about your vote and I love it!
Elizabeth, Queen of England – Part One
Crowds gathered on the morning of the 17th of November 1558 around London to hear the news; Queen Mary was dead. Elizabeth was now Queen of England. But before we get to that, let’s start twenty-five years earlier.
Elizabeth Tudor, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn wasn’t the prince the couple had expected, but she did have her father’s red hair and her mother’s features. King Henry was not angry with his wife, instead he comforted her by saying, “You and I are both young, and by God’s grace, boys will follow.” Henry announced their daughter would be named Elizabeth; It’s possible she was named after both of her grandmothers, Elizabeth of York and Elizabeth Howard, Lady Boleyn.
Alison Weir states in “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” that Anne Boleyn quickly bonded with her child and hated to let Elizabeth from her sight. This differs from those who believed Anne had very little bond with her daughter. Anne had also wished to breastfeed her child but the thought was quickly dismissed when the King discovered and informed her that was the job of a wet-nurse and not a Queen.
At three months old Princess Elizabeth was assigned her own household at Hatfield House. Lady Margaret Bryan was assigned Governess to the princess.
On the 23rd of March 1534, Parliament passed the Act of Succession. This act ensured the children of Henry and Anne would inherit the throne upon his death. It’s also around this time that the Queen went for a visit to Elizabeth and while there extended an olive branch of sorts to Mary. As we know Mary declined.
Born as a princess, Elizabeth Tudor’s fortunes changed overnight when her mother Anne Boleyn, fell from favor.
The day after her mother’s execution, King Henry ordered Elizabeth be moved from Greenwich back to Hatfield. That way he would not have to see her. I can imagine that Elizabeth reminded him of Anne, the woman he supposedly believed betrayed him with one hundred men.
Soon after his marriage to Jane Seymour Henry changed the Act of Succession. This time only his children by Queen Jane would be eligible to succeed the throne of England. Now Elizabeth, like her older sister Mary, was declared illegitimate.
Young Elizabeth had been quoted as saying, “Why, Governor, how hath it, yesterday Lady Princess, and today but Lady Elizabeth?” She was very intelligent, even at three to understand her life had changed, but no one knows for certain when she was told of her mother’s death.
Elizabeth would certainly have attachment issues from all those around her that left or died. The same would go for the departure of Lady Margaret Bryan as her Governess. With the birth of Prince Edward her duty was with the future heir, not with a bastard daughter of the king.
At eight years old, around the same time that Katheryn Howard, her stepmother, was executed, Elizabeth allegedly told her friend Robert Dudley that she would never marry. This statement supposedly came directly from Dudley himself, later on in life, whether it was propaganda or the truth we will never know.
A New Stepmother – Kateryn Parr
In 1543 King Henry VIII married Kateryn Parr. The marriage wasn’t a love match for Kateryn but she found a way to be an amazing stepmother to all three of the King’s children – Mary, Elizabeth and Edward.
Kateryn Parr was the only stepmother to truly fill a motherly void in her life. It was Parr who would take an active role in Elizabeth’s education. She found the best tutors to educate Elizabeth – men like Roger Ascham and William Grindahl. Both men were reformist and shared the views of the Queen.
Young Elizabeth’s tutors often complimented her intelligence. They would also comment on her remarkable memory.
Elizabeth was also taught what was the standard for royal woman, needlework, music and dancing. She practiced daily and was of course successful in all areas. She was a marvelous lute and virginal player, as well as singer and music writer, but Elizabeth’s true love was dancing.
Elizabeth was an excellent horsewoman and enjoyed the hunt as well.
Death of Her Father & Thomas Seymour
When King Henry VIII died in January 1547, she was taken in by the dowager Queen, Kateryn Parr. It is while at Chelsea that Elizabeth came into contact with Thomas Seymour, her brother’s uncle and a man who had only recently proposed to her by letter after the death of her father.
Here is her response to his proposal, written on the 27 of February 1547 when she was thirteen years old.
My lord admiral,
The letter you have written to me is the most obliging, and at the same time the most eloquent in the world. And as I do not feel myself competent to reply to so many courteous expressions, I shall content myself with unfolding to you, in few words, my real sentiments. I confess to you that your letter, all elegant as it is, has very much surprised me; for, besides that neither my age nor my inclination allows me to think of marriage, I never could have believed that any one would have spoken to me of nuptials, at a time when I ought to think of nothing but sorrow for the death of my father. And to him I owe so much, that I must have two years at least to mourn for his loss. And how can I make up my mind to become a wife before I shall have enjoyed for some years my virgin state, and arrived at years of discretion?
Permit me, then, my lord admiral, to tell you frankly, that, as there is no one in the world who more esteems your merit than myself, or who sees you with more pleasure as a disinterested person, so would I preserve to myself the privilege of recognising you as such, without entering into that strict bond of matrimony, which often causes one to forget the possession of true merit. Let your highness be well persuaded that, though I decline the happiness of becoming your wife, I shall never cease to interest myself in all that can crown your merit with glory and shall ever feel the greatest pleasure in being your servant, and good friend,
Everytime I read that letter I imagine the teenager being extremely flattered by the attractive Thomas Seymour, however, she strongly understood that as the daughter of a king, a choice like that was not hers to make.
Not long after her eloquent rejection of Seymour, Elizabeth discovered that Seymour had secretly married her stepmother.
Elizabeth also received a letter from her sister Mary regarding the clandestine marriage. We don’t have Mary’s letter but here is part of Elizabeth’s response to it:
“You are very right in saying, in your most acceptable letters, which you have done me the honour of writing to me, that, our interests being common, the just grief we feel in seeing the ashes, or rather the scarcely cold body of the king, our father, so shamefully dishonoured by the queen, our step-mother, ought to be common to us also. I cannot express to you my dear princess, how much affliction I suffered when I was first informed of this marriage, and no other comfort can I find than that of the necessity of submitting ourselves to the decrees of Heaven; since neither you nor I, dearest sister, are in such a condition as to offer any obstacle thereto, without running heavy risk of making our own lot much worse than it is; at least, so I think.”
Continued Interest by Seymour
I’ve always believed that Elizabeth enjoyed the attention she got from Thomas Seymour. Seymour was considered very handsome and charming for his time and it’s understandable if Elizabeth had a crush on him. He was once described as …fierce in courage, courtly in fashion, in personage stately, in voice magnificent.”
The first sign of Thomas’s further interest in Elizabeth was a dramatic one. The story, told by Kat Ashley was that Seymour entered Elizabeth’s bedchamber early one morning as she lay in bed. He wished her “good morrow” before he made it appear as though he would climb in bed with her. Young Elizabeth was stunned by his actions which caused her to blush. She shrank deeper into the bed, ‘so that he could not come at her’. That visit, would be the first of many that were reported by Kat Ashley during her interrogations.
Ashley also stated that Elizabeth, who was not a morning person, would wake early so as to be prepared for Seymour’s intrusion. This did not deter him, he would again appear in the doorway ‘barelegged and in his slippers’, before bidding her ‘good morrow’ and asking ‘how she did’.
It was noted that one time, as Elizabeth turned to move away, Thomas reached out and smacked her on the back and then her bottom. If this statement is indeed true (which if you know me I’ll be the one to stand up for Seymour), this would have been very uncomfortable for Elizabeth. She adored her stepmother and would do nothing to offend her.
It got to a point that Kat Ashley stated she informed Kateryn Parr of her husband’s actions. Parr didn’t appear too concerned at the moment but henceforth made sure to accompany her husband whenever he was near Elizabeth.
Kateryn Parr understood the importance of protecting Elizabeth’s reputation. She was, at that time, second in line to the throne. The most important thing for her was to be virtuous and to protect her virginity.
The Neglectful Governess
The teenager’s Governess, Kat Ashley, had been neglecting her duties of protecting her young charge. Leaving Elizabeth in her bedchamber alone. Which, if discovered, could have been disastrous for her reputation.
One can barely blame Kat for wanting to spend the evening with her husband. They had only recently married. The unfortunate thing is that Kat was being irresponsible. In her position it was her responsibility to protect Elizabeth’s reputation and she was failing. Miserably.
In June 1548, a year and a half after the death of her father, Elizabeth was discovered in an unsavory position with Thomas Seymour at Chelsea. Kateryn Parr caught the two in what has been described as an embrace. Many authors and historians have suspected that this involved kissing. Understanding that something like this getting out would cause disaster for her stepdaughter’s reputation, Kateryn sent Elizabeth away to stay with the Denny’s at Cheshunt.
Sent to Chesthunt
The move was smart for a woman who was concerned about her husband’s infidelity. Having the temptress out of the picture would surely bring Thomas’ focus back on her.
For the sake of appropriateness, Thomas accompanied Elizabeth part of the way to Cheshunt. There it had been arranged that she would stay. Elizabeth and Thomas would never meet again, but this was far from the end of the story for them.
Death of Kateryn Parr
Four months after Elizabeth was sent to Cheshunt, Kateryn Parr died. She was thirty-six years old. Thomas Seymour was once again available for marriage and set his sights on the teenager.
Elizabeth’s neglectful Governess, Kat Ashley had been pushing for her charge to marry the widower, however Elizabeth’s understood that as a person in her position she was not at liberty to marry without the Council’s permission. Thomas Seymour asked the Council if he could have their permission to marry “Madam Elizabeth”. Their answer was a resounding no. Had the council allowed the marriage of the scheming Seymour he would have been seen as a threat to the monarchy. The marriage could not happen.
At the beginning of 1549, Thomas’ luck ran out and he was arrested. He had been plotting a coup against his brother the Lord Protector and is rumored to have shot the young king’s dog while attempting to kidnap Edward VI. In addition to that, the fact that he was plotting to marry the King’s sister could have been the nail in his coffin.
There were 33 charges filed against him in all. Unfortunately for Thomas, he would not go free. Thomas Seymour, Baron Seymour of Sudeley was executed in March 1549. Upon hearing of his death, Elizabeth said, “This day died a man of much wit and very little judgement.”
We’ll end this article with what has been described by Dr. Linda Porter as words written by Thomas Seymour while in the Tower. She suspects that he had come to terms with the fact that he was going to die.
to love a king
Hath been my rod
Or else nothing:
In this frail life
being a blast
of care and strife
till in be past.
Yet God did call
me in my pride
lest I should fall
and from him slide
for whom loves he
and not correct
that they may be
of his elect
The death haste thee
thou shalt me gain
with him to reign
Who send the king
Like years as noye
His realm in joy
And after this
frail life such grace
As in his bliss
he may have place.”
Ives, Eric; The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn
Norton, Elizabeth; The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor
Weir, Alison; The Six Wives of Henry VIII
Weir, Alison; The Life of Elizabeth I