Saturday, October 10, 2015

On This Day in Elizabethan History: Queen Elizabeth Succumbs to Smallpox

The Gatehouse at Hampton Court Palace. Shared for public use on Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

On this day in 1562, Queen Elizabeth I fell ill at Hampton Court Palace with smallpox, just a mere four years after succeeding to the throne of England. You can read about Elizabeth I's battle with smallpox, which nearly killed her, the ramifications of her near-death experience for her realm, and her fortunate recovery, in our original BeingBess article.

Monday, September 7, 2015

On This Day in Elizabethan History: The Birth of the Future Queen Elizabeth I

The birth announcement of the Princess Elizabeth, 1533. Photo from Let Them Grumble on Tumblr.
On this day in 1533, Princess Elizabeth Tudor was born at Greenwich Palace to her mother, Queen Anne Boleyn, and her father, King Henry VIII. The King had been assured that a prince's birth had been fortold by the stars, so the birth announcements had been prepared welcoming a prince. When Elizabeth arrived, much to Henry's surprise, two "ss" were hastily tacked onto the word 'prince' before they could be sent out. 

To learn about:

- The time and circumstances under which Queen Elizabeth was likely conceived

- Anne Boleyn's preparation for the birth of her child

- Henry VIII's reaction to Elizabeth's gender

- Elizabeth's christening

and more, please read our feature-length BeingBess article on the birth of the future Queen Elizabeth I.


Happy 482nd Birthday, Queen Elizabeth I!

Elizabeth Tudor found her way into my life long ago as a child, something which I believe was no accident. 
She continues to inspire me on a daily basis, for which I am eternally grateful.

It is my mission in life to teach others about the remarkable Queen Elizabeth I, and to get others excited about history. 

Thank you for sharing in this journey with me. 


Friday, September 4, 2015

On This Day in Elizabethan History: The Death of Elizabeth's Love, The Earl of Leicester

"His last letter", in the National Archives in England. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

On this day in 1588, Queen Elizabeth I's longtime love and confidante, the man she called a "personage so dear unto us" in a letter to the Earl of Shrewsbury, Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, died. Leicester had been ill for quite some time, and probably had been suffering from stomach cancer. Elizabeth was, by all accounts, devastated by his death, and kept the final letter he sent to her by her bed until her own death, where it was discovered in 1603. On it she had written, "His Last Letter". To learn more about how Elizabeth dealt with the passing of her favorite, please read our feature-length BeingBess article on the topic of Leicester's death. Also, for further reading on the complex relationship of Elizabeth and Leicester, we recommend the definitive dual biography 'Elizabeth & Leicester: Power, Passion, Politics', by historian Sarah Gristwood.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

"Tales of the Royal Wardrobe": A Review

Dr. Lucy Worsley dressed in a replica of the Armada Portrait Dress for the documentary "Tales of the Royal Wardrobe". Picture Historic Royal Palaces/PBS.

     Yesterday I finally got to see the Historic Royal Palaces documentary "Tales of the Royal Wardrobe". It aired much earlier in the U.K., and I wasn't sure if it would ever make its way to the United States (some of these wonderful British documentaries I read about do, and some don't), but thankfully this one did! I tuned in, of course for three reasons: first and foremost, because I read that a portion of the program focused on the wardrobe of Queen Elizabeth I, a master of image control as a political asset. Second, because Historic Royal Palaces was behind the project, a non-profit I trust and admire, and third, because Dr. Lucy Worsley was hosting, a historian and curator whose career I respect and not-so-secretly covet! 

     The portion on Queen Elizabeth I did not disappoint. Dr. Worsley highlighted Elizabeth I's aptitude for crafting and utilizing her clothing to create her powerful image as Gloriana, the Virgin Queen, adored, beloved, and worshiped by her subjects. Indeed, as Worsley said, her image very much contributed to the longevity of her 44-year reign.While Queen Elizabeth I was no doubt the best of the Tudors at marketing a personal political brand, it was an art form practiced by the dynasty as a whole. As Worsley pointed out, their successors, the Stuarts, failed by comparison in that respect. Where the Tudors had kept their court artists on a tight reign, the satirical pamphlets mass-produced by the printing press in the 17th century opened the royal court (and their lavish, outlandish fashion choices) up to unprecedented criticism. While this mockery did not cause the English Civil War itself, of course, it contributed to the dissent that ended in rebellion.

     Here are some interesting facts from the Queen Elizabeth I portion of the program:

-Queen Elizabeth I had many staff responsible for her elaborate wardrobe. She had one man who looked after just her muffs!

-Contrary to the many myths perpetuated on Pinterest, not a single dress of Queen Elizabeth I's survives.

Worsley "queened up" as Elizabeth I in Armada Portrait attire in "Tales of the Royal Wardrobe". Picture by A.Jensen. Documentary Historic Royal Palaces/PBS.

-It took Queen Elizabeth I probably about 2 hours to get dressed on a typical day (with the assistance of her ladies, of course). Dr. Worsley wore a reproduction of the Armada gown and its accurate underpinnings when she got "queened up" (as she put it). The original Armada gown had 800 hand-sewn freshwater pearls on the dress alone, not to mention all the additional ropes of pearls and other jewels and trinkets worn by the queen on top of that!

-Queen Elizabeth was very concerned with Sumptuary Laws, and in order to ensure that everyone dressed according to their station, she passed no less than 10 Statutes of Apparel.

I highly recommend "Tales of the Royal Wardrobe". I am posting a few small video clips over on the BeingBess Facebook page about the effigy bodies/stays of Queen Elizabeth I. You can also read all about them in our BeingBess article here

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

May 19th, 1536 - Anne Boleyn's Execution

Depiction of the execution of Queen Anne Boleyn, from Anne of the Thousand Days.
"She who has been the Queen of England on Earth will today become a Queen in heaven."-Thomas Cranmer on Queen Anne Boleyn and her execution, 5/19/1536

At 8 o'clock in the morning on May 18th, 1536, three years after she had become Queen of England, Anne Boleyn mounted the scaffold within the walls of the Tower of London for her execution. She was to be beheaded at the King's pleasure, having been found guilty of adultery and treason. It doesn't take even a careful examination of the evidence to determine that the charges against Anne were fanciful at best. For example, she was not even in the same location as half of her alleged lovers on the nights their alleged trysts were supposed to have taken place. But, it didn't matter if there were holes in the "evidence", because everyone knew that King Henry VIII wanted his wife to die, so that he would be free to marry another, specifically Jane Seymour, and if anyone sitting in judgement on Anne's trial were to stand in the way of that, they would likely loose their head, as well. Still, just to make sure everything looked official, Anne and her alleged lovers, which included her own brother, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, were given trials that had the appearance of due process.

The majority of historians and legal experts today have arrived at the conclusion that Anne and the men accused as her accomplices were innocent of their alleged crimes. The downfall of Anne Boleyn and her faction was one of the swiftest and most shocking coups in history. While the idea was undoubtedly Henry VIII's, Thomas Cromwell helped him achieve his desired result as quickly as possible.

Anne was graceful and poised in the hour of her death; the Tudor chronicler Edward Hall records her execution speech as follows:

"Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, for according to the law, and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I am hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that, whereof I am accused and condemned to die, but I pray God save the King and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never; and to me he was ever a good, a gentle and sovereign lord. And if any person will meddle my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. Oh Lord, have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul!"

Anne was then blindfolded, as was customary, and upon kneeling she was reported to have said several times, "To Jesus Christ I commend my soul, Lord Jesu receive my soul."

Often people wonder why Anne did not speak ill of Henry in her execution speech - they ask me, if she was going to die anyway, why didn't she just say all the things she must have really been feeling? There are a few reasons. Firstly, and simply put, it was not customary to do so. While each execution speech from the Tudor period is unique to the individual, they all follow the same basic format. Decorum and tradition were very important, even at one's death. Secondly, and most importantly, was Anne's daughter Elizabeth. Anne knew that her daughter Elizabeth was being left behind with the unforgiving Henry VIII, and knowing Henry's character intimately as she did, she would not have wanted to say anything to upset him and jeopardize the saftey of her daughter. And lastly, saying anything against Henry or his regime might mean a more traumatic execution for Anne -Anne no doubt wanted as quick a decapitation by the swordsman with as little heckling from those in attendance as possible.

An artistic representation of the beheading of Queen Anne Boleyn. Image via Google image search/

While we remember Anne on this day for her untimely death, she should always be celebrated as a strong, capable, intelligent and alluring woman of the 16th century who was a political as well as an emotional being. She also gave birth to the most remarkable monarch England has ever known; Henry VIII may have done away with Anne Boleyn in his search for a son, but Queen Elizabeth I was her last laugh.

Natalie Dormer as Queen Anne Boleyn holding her daughter, Princess Elizabeth, on the Showtime series, The Tudors. Image via Elizabethanhistory.tumblr