Sunday, September 7, 2014

On This Day in Elizabethan History: Elizabeth I is Born

The birth announcement of the Princess Elizabeth, 1533. Photo from Let Them Grumble on Tumblr.

On this day in Elizabethan history in 1533, Princess Elizabeth Tudor was born at Greenwich Palace to King Henry VIII and his second wife, Queen Anne Boleyn. 

In our feature-length article on the birth of Elizabeth I, written last year, you can read about:

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

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

-Henry VIII's reaction to Elizabeth's gender, and the hasty readjustment of the pronouns used on the pre-written birth announcement!

-Elizabeth's christening

...and more!

Happy 481st Birthday, Queen Elizabeth I!

Elizabeth Tudor found her way into my life long ago as a child, and she continues to inspire me on a daily basis, for which I am eternally grateful.

I will continue to teach others about her and the importance of her legacy 
for the rest of my life.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

On This Day in Elizabethan History: The Death of Elizabeth's "Eyes"

"His Last Letter"
"A personage so dear unto us."
-Queen Elizabeth describing the Earl of Leicester in a letter to the Earl of Shrewsbury in 1588, the year that he died.
On this day in Elizabethan history in 1588, Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester died. Queen Elizabeth I was inconsolable at the loss of her lifelong friend, the man whom she affectionatley called her "eyes". Whether their relationship was ever physically consummated or not is irrelevant; Leicester was the love of her life.

To learn about the Earl's last months with Queen Elizabeth, his final illness, and "His Last Letter", treasured by Queen Elizabeth until her own death in 1603, please view our feature-length article.

Friday, June 6, 2014

'God gave me here to sit, and placed me over you' -Contemporary evidence of Elizabeth I's belief in her Divine Right to rule

A detail of the Coronation Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I. Image public domain through Creative Commons licensing, NPG, London.

While state papers, edicts, petitions, and other official and legal documents tell us a great deal about historical events and policies, it is the diaries, personal letters, and speeches left behind that inform our understanding of a historical individual. Queen Elizabeth I of England, like the other Tudor monarchs before her, did not employ a speech writer (Perry 1990) and managed her own personal correspondence. But, unlike the other Tudors, she was a prolific writer of letters, and she left behind a body of work that, upon close examination, demystifies many of the puzzling aspects of the woman who became known as the semi-divine Gloriana, the Virgin Queen. 

The copious documents authored by the last Tudor can be gleaned for valuable information that can be applied to a wide variety of studies. In this examination, The Tide Letter, The Tilbury Speech, and The Golden Speech will be considered. There are several central themes present throughout the entirety of Elizabeth’s body of work, spanning from her childhood until her death. These recurring themes include her gratitude and love for the English people, her acknowledgment of being preserved through danger by God himself, and her divine right to rule.

The belief held by 16th century monarchs was that, due to their unique nature, they existed somewhere between the realms of the mortal and the divine. As such, they were not subject to the laws of the land or of one another, but were expected to answer only to God. This theory was known as the Divine Right of Kings, and it was invoked by monarchs to explain to their subjects why they were to be obeyed without question. Elizabeth Tudor’s belief that she had been pre-destined to rule England by God was exceptionally strong; why else would she, the last in line to inherit the throne, have survived being legally bastardized by her own father, only to be legitimized before his death, then subsequently slandered, imprisoned, interrogated and nearly executed during the reigns of her brother and her sister? After effectively ruling for many years, Elizabeth’s conviction that she had been preserved by God to rule was amplified after her triumphant defeat of the invading Spanish Armada in 1588 (Perry 1990).
The first of Henry VIII’s children to inherit the throne was Elizabeth’s half-brother, Edward VI. Still in his minority, Edward, a Protestant, reigned with the help of his equally Protestant council. However, Edward lived to be only 16, dying of what was probably tuberculosis. Henry VIII had clearly stated that, were his son to die without issue, his daughter Mary would succeed, and, in the event that she failed to produce an heir, would be followed by Elizabeth. However, Edward VI could not stomach the idea of his fervently Catholic older half-sister inheriting the throne, so he took action to strike his father’s wishes from the record. Edward’s ‘Devise for the Succession’, drafted as early as 1553, declared that his sisters Mary and Elizabeth were bastards, due to the fact that Henry VIII had divorced both of their mothers before their deaths. Therefore, they were unfit to inherit the throne of England. Edward selected Lady Jane Grey, a Protestant cousin of the Tudors, ‘and her heir(s) male’ as his successor. 

A posthumous portrait of Lady Jane Grey from the 1590s, after a now-lost original painted between 1550-55. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

While Edward’s exclusion of his sister Mary makes sense, his writing Elizabeth out of the line to inherit is much more puzzling. William Cecil, Secretary of State under Edward VI and later Elizabeth I, would one day tell Antiquarian William Camden, author of The Annals of Queen Elizabeth, why Edward had excluded Elizabeth along with Mary. According to Camden’s account of what Cecil told him, when Edward shared the original draft of his ‘Devise’ with Elizabeth, revealing his plan to disinherit their sister Mary, Elizabeth expressed her disgust that Edward sought to upset the natural order of succession. She told Edward that the existence of their father’s will gave her ‘no claim or title to reign as long as her sister lived (Perry 1990). If this story that Camden recorded is true, it suggests that, though Elizabeth was certainly perceptive enough to know what would happen when the Catholic Mary inherited the throne of Protestant England, divine right and the original line of succession was more important than the threat of a Marian Counter-Reformation. However, Elizabeth could not have even begun to imagine that Mary would one day have her imprisoned, interrogated, and even contemplated having her disposed of through execution (Perry 1990).

Edward VI's 'Devise for the Succession'. Image public domain.
Mary’s right to rule was supported not only by Elizabeth but by the English people, who helped Mary restore the natural order by usurping Lady Jane Grey and her husband, Guildford Dudley; both of whom were eventually executed. While Elizabeth had been bastardized and legitimized twice between 1533-1553, her real trials and tribulations were about to begin.
Once crowned, Mary I became intensely suspicion of her Protestant half-sister, and her persecution of her was almost immediate. In an effort to rehabilitate their strained relationship, and in order to preserve her own standing at court, Elizabeth wrote letters in an effort to gain Mary’s trust and remain in good favor, even when they were apart. However, in 1554, things for Elizabeth took a disastrous turn. Sir Thomas Wyatt’s rebellion sought to depose Mary I, who had become increasingly unpopular since her announcement that she would marry the foreign Catholic Prince, Philip II of Spain. Once Mary was removed, Wyatt and his supporters aimed to place Elizabeth on the throne. As the unwilling figurehead of Wyatt’s plot, Elizabeth was considered guilty by association, though Wyatt denied that she had ever been directly involved in the planning or execution of the attempted coup. Mary had long been looking for a way to rid herself of her defiantly Protestant sister; Elizabeth was the focus of all the hopes and dreams of those who opposed her Catholic reign. Much later, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots would become the focus of the plots of the English Catholic minority during the reign of Elizabeth I. But, unlike Mary, Queen of Scots, Elizabeth was most likely innocent of the charges laid against her. Mary gave orders that she was to be arrested and brought to the Tower of London, but Elizabeth was determined to stall the journey as long as possible. She insisted on a meeting with her sister, believing that if she were able to speak to Mary, she would be able to convince her of her innocence (Perry 1990). Elizabeth requested materials in order to write to Mary before she was removed to the Tower. 
Princess Elizabeth pleading to Queen Mary. From a Woodcut in the British Library, via
In her letter, hastily and passionately penned, Elizabeth implored Mary to remember her promise to her that she would not be ‘condemned without answer and due proof’. She pointed out that the Tower was a place for a ‘false traitor’, not a loyal subject.  Elizabeth professed to Mary that God knew her truth, writing, ‘’And to this present hour I protest afore God (who shall Know my truth, whatsoever malice shall devise), that I never practiced, counselled, nor consented to anything that might be prejudicial to your person any way, or dangerous to the state by any means.’ (Tudor, 1554)
The letter she penned is now known as The Tide Letter, because in the time that it took Elizabeth to write it, the tide of the Thames River had changed so that she could not be brought to the Tower until the following day. Fearful that the messengers entrusted to bring the letter to Mary would add an incriminating post-script, Elizabeth added diagonal lines across the back of the letter to prevent additions (Tudor, 1554).

Princess Elizabeth in the Tower of London. From a woodcut in the British Library, via
Once released after imprisonment and interrogation, Elizabeth’s position remained precarious and she was kept under house arrest and constant surveillance. Elizabeth bided her time, keeping a low profile and living beyond reproach. She was only truly safe once her sister was dead, joyful news that she received in seclusion at her childhood residence of Hatfield House on November 17, 1558. Upon learning that she was now Queen, Elizabeth invoked the Lord, reciting Psalm 118 in Latin, saying, ‘This is the doing of the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes’.
Elizabeth clearly stated that imprisonment in the Tower during the reign of her sister was the most traumatic experience of her life.  She told Parliament ‘I stood in danger of my life, my sister was so incensed against me’ (Perry 1990). The fact that, unlike her mother and her other relations before her, she was actually released from the Tower unharmed was, in her opinion, no less than a miracle. Her experiences at the mercy of her sister further ingrained her with a belief that God was preserving her for a purpose.  Elizabeth would thank God publicly on many occasions throughout her life for, as she said, ‘pulling me from the prison to the palace’. According to ancient tradition, Elizabeth stayed at the Tower on the eve of her coronation, and though it was a happy occasion, the location no doubt reminded her of how close she had come to death. During her coronation procession, she compared her escape from the Tower to that of the Biblical Daniel’s escape from the lion’s den, saying God had rescued her from the ‘mouths of the greedy and raging lions’.  The lions were, of course, her sister and her sister’s council, who had sought to destroy her. This allusion was particularly effective, given the fact that there were actual lions kept on display in the Tower of London’s zoo (Perry 1990).

A view of the apartments where Princess Elizabeth was kept while she was imprisoned in the Tower of London. As I learned upon my visit there several years ago, the apartments are only open to the public per request, due to the fact that they are now part of the head Beefeater's lodgings.
Throughout her life, Elizabeth Tudor remembered everything and everyone, and forgot no betrayal, no matter how small. After she became Queen, she was pressured to name her own successor, something she never actually did, even on her deathbed. She referenced Edward VI’s ‘Devise’ to her bishops, saying of the lawyers and clerics who supported the document, ‘…after my brother’s death they openly preached and set forth that my sister and I were bastards.’ Elizabeth never forgot that she had been, as she believed, delivered by God through many perils and near-death experiences. On one occasion during her reign, she publicly remarked, ‘I know no creature that breatheth whose life standeth hourly in more peril for it than mine own; who entered not into my state without sight of manifold dangers of life and crown, as one that had the mightiest and the greatest to wrestle with.’ (Perry 1990)
In the latter half of her reign, on the eve of the invasion of the Spanish Armada in 1588, Queen Elizabeth I took her friend the Earl of Leicester’s advice and made up her mind to visit her troops at Tilbury Fort. Elizabeth insisted on having no armed guards to surround her; she saw no need to fear the men who were committed to die in her service if necessary. Besides, she had survived far greater perils. Elizabeth spent two days conversing and dining with the soldiers. It was at the end of the visit that she delivered her iconic Tilbury Speech. The speech was written by Elizabeth, and recorded, printed, and distributed throughout the realm. In the speech, she cited the two forces that had never forsaken her: God, and the English people, proclaiming, ‘I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and goodwill of my subjects’ (Tudor, 1588). Elizabeth promised to, if necessary, lay down her life for her God, her people, and her kingdom in the ensuing conflict. Elizabeth was willing to give her life for her people if this was the purpose that God had preserved her for. Luckily for England, God had preserved her to crush the Spanish invaders.

A painting of Queen Elizabeth I at Tilbury, via

The men stationed at Tilbury never had to fight, as the Spanish were engaged and defeated entirely at sea. None of the English ships were damaged or lost, but most of the Armada was destroyed by a combination of cannon-fire and bad weather. This astounding, crushing defeat was so extraordinary that it was deemed by Elizabeth and by her people to be a victory owed to divine intervention. The winds that helped to scatter some of the Spanish ships became known as the “Protestant winds”, signifying that God, who the Elizabethans believed determined the weather, was on Elizabeth and England’s side. Elizabeth had the “Protestant winds” included on some of the commemorative medals given out to veterans of the war with Spain. 

One of the Armada Medals given by Queen Elizabeth I to the veterans of the war with Spain. The aforementioned "Protestant winds" are shown on the backside of the medal (right). Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Elizabeth I’s greatest speech is arguably The Golden Speech, delivered in 1601 to her final Parliament. Like The Tilbury Speech, the content was recorded and printed to be distributed throughout the kingdom. Once again, a sentimental Elizabeth expressed her belief that God had made her a queen over so thankful a people, and that she was  ‘the mean under God to conserve [them] in safety, and preserve [them] from danger,’ and ‘ to be the instrument to deliver [them] from dishonor, from shame, and from infamy; to keep [them] from out of servitude, and from slavery under [their] Enemies; and cruel tyranny, and wild oppression intended against [them]’.

The Tide Letter, The Tilbury Speech, and The Golden Speech are just three of many examples in Elizabeth Tudor’s own words that demonstrate her belief that God had preserved her because he intended for her to rule. The fact that Elizabeth chose to time and again recall in public how close she had come to death at the hands of her sister, and to reiterate that God had delivered her through great adversity to be Queen of England, shows us how important these beliefs were to her. This, along with her unquestionable love of her people, formed the very foundation of her celebrated reign, which has become known as The Golden Age.


Perry, Maria. The Word of a Prince: A Life of Elizabeth I. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 1990.

Tudor, Princess Elizabeth to Queen Mary I, 16 March 1554. In The Word of a Prince: A Life of      Elizabeth I, Maria Perry. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 1990.

Tudor, Queen Elizabeth I. “The Tilbury Speech,” in The Word of a Prince: A Life of Elizabeth I, Maria Perry, 208-209. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 1990.

Tudor, Queen Elizabeth I. “The Golden Speech,” in The Word of a Prince: A Life of Elizabeth I, Maria Perry, 232-233. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 1990.

Monday, May 19, 2014

May 19, 1536: The Execution of Anne Boleyn

A statue of Anne Boleyn at the scaffold by artist George S. Stuart, from his Gallery of Historical Figures. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

On this day in Tudor history, May 19th, in 1536, Anne Boleyn was executed. She had been Queen of England for just three years. Below, we have included an excerpt from our feature-length article about her life, "Anne Boleyn, Mother of the Virgin Queen". The article itself details Anne's upbringing, relationships with her family members, her romance with Henry VIII, her active role in religious reform in England, her accomplishments as queen consort, her relationship with her daughter Elizabeth, and her downfall, trial, imprisonment and death.

The excerpt below specifically concerns her final night in the Tower of London and her execution:

While many have interpreted King Henry’s commissioning of a swordsman from France to behead the Queen , instead of a traditional axeman, as a final act of charity, this is pure fantasy, as “…Henry must have requested that he set out for his journey long before the jury had even given their verdict…”(Denny, 302). Weir corroborates this, detailing the time it would take to get word to the swordsman, and then the additional time it would take for him to travel and arrive in England.
Archbishop Cranmer made one final visit to his Queen in the Tower. Denny claims that the “the suggestion that he had come to hear her last confession and grant her absolution is an error made by Catholic writers, for evangelicals…do not believe in this ritual. As a believer, Anne would have made her own peace with God through the indwelling Holy Spirit." (Denny, 302)  
Religion at this time is convoluted, and different historians have argued one way or another that Anne died a Catholic, or a Lutheran. In death, as in life, Anne was a reformer of the Catholic Church in England, not a Lutheran, and though she held some Lutheran beliefs, she appears to have died in the Catholic faith. 

Cranmer undoubtedly brought great comfort to Anne, but he also was forced to do the Kings business. Killing Anne was not enough to make way for Jane; the king needed to disinherit Elizabeth with one swift move. Tragically, Anne was led to believe that if she signed the document that Cranmer had brought her, declaring Elizabeth illegitimate, that she would be allowed to leave the country peacefully with her daughter, and live out her days in a Protestant country. Anne, desperate and alone, felt great hope at the prospect of making a life for herself abroad, and raising her daughter to become a great and learned lady. She signed. After Cranmer’s visit, Anne was heard saying she would like to take Elizabeth to Antwerp (Denny, 306). Master Kingston recorded that “this day at dinner, the Queen said she should go to a nunnery, and is in hope of life”. Weir points out that if Anne entered a religious house, her marriage would be declared null and void by default. “It might be concluded, therefore, that she had agreed to the annulment without undue process.” (Weir, 245).  In the end, “there would be no question of Anne being banished to a nunnery, which would have had to be abroad anyway, since those in England were scheduled for dissolution.” (Weir, 245)
Anne Boleyn in the Tower of London. By Edouard Cibot, 1835. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Despite the annulment of Anne and Henry’s marriage before her execution, Elizabeth Tudor’s legitimacy should have never been in question. The Act of 1534 rendered both the papal dispensation of 1528 and the marriage invalid; therefore, the legitimacy of the Princess Elizabeth, who had been born before that date, from a marriage entered into in good faith, should have never been affected. Yet her own father, the King, Cromwell, and Cranmer, were not concerned with the legality of the issue (Weir, 245).
After the executions of Henry Noriss, William Brereton, Francis Weston, Mark Smeaton and George, Lord Rochford, Anne was preparing to die. She had been informed that she was to be dispatched from this world to the next at 9 in the morning, on May 18th. She dressed herself, said her prayers, and was ready to meet her fate, when she was then told that her execution had been postponed until noon. Any lesser woman would have been overcome with anxiety at the delay, but we know from those who were with her that she kept calm, and even made a few jokes to lighten the mood. When Anne finally mounted the scaffold, there was no booing, or taunting from the crowd. Instead, there was silence, signifying the shock and awe those in attendance. Even those English subjects who loathed Anne were shocked at this unprecedented event; never before had an English Queen been executed. There was unrest in the city outside of the Tower green, and Master Kingston even voiced fear to Cromwell of a rebellion (Denny, 313). Anne made a short speech, careful never to criticize the king, for “ This was no time to protest her innocence, she knew it was far too late for recriminations which could only endanger her daughter Elizabeth. In her last moments Anne’s sole concern was to depart this life with grace and forgiveness for those who had wronged her…” (Denny, 315). According to tradition, Anne handed her Book of Hours to one of her only remaining friends, Margaret Wyatt, before placing her neck on the block.  The Wyatt family has backed this story since the 18th century. In the cover, Anne had written, “Remember me when you do pray, that hope doth lead from day to day”. Margaret Wyatt, Lady Lee was the wife of Sir Anthony Lee and the sister of Sir Thomas Wyatt. She probably was friendly with Anne, but we do not know for sure whether she was in Anne’s service. Her portrait by Holbein was painted around 1540, when she was about 34, too old, Weir thinks, to have been referred to as a young lady or a maid in the Queen’s service. There were four ladies who attended Anne before her death and accompanied her to the scaffold, but their identities are contested.
A portrait by Holbein of Margaret Wyatt, Lady Lee, circa 1540. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
 There is also a tradition that Anne kept a small trinket of great significance on her person until her final moments. The trinket was a small gold pendant in the shape of a pistol; the barrel held a miniature whistle and a toothpick. Anne reportedly it to a Captain Gwyn, who helped her along to the scaffold, telling him that it had been “the first token the King had given her,” adding “that a serpent formed part of the device, and a serpent the giver had proved to her.” Captain Gwyn did, in fact, exist, and held extensive property in Swansea during the reign of Henry VIII. Though the trinket, made around 1520 and currently in the Victoria and Albert Museum, is contemporary, there is no way to prove the story (Weir, 279-80).

The trinket said to be Henry VIII's first love token to Anne Boleyn, which she gave to Captain Gwyn before mounting the scaffold. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Picture acquired through Flickr courtesy of That Boleyn Girl.

After Anne commended her spirit to God, the axe fell on her head and she was gone. There were no cheers at the conclusion of this bloodbath, but there were cannons that announced to King Henry, far away and in the company of Jane Seymour, that he was free to wed, yet again. He would do so quickly; he had to, in order to beget an heir, since he had made all of his living children bastards. Anne was gone, but never forgotten. Immediately after her death, poems and ballads were written and circulated to honor the fallen Queen. There were also treasonous pamphlets criticizing the King’s behavior being printed, in England and abroad. People talked openly of the conspiracy that brought down the Queen, yet no one had been willing to risk their own lives to defend the Queen and the 5 accused men in their hour of need. Abroad, Nicholas Bourbon (whom Anne had helped rescue), Margaret of Hungary and Entienne Dolet remarked on the tragedy, among many other notable figures of the day.
Gone, but not forgotten: on the anniversary of Anne Boleyn's death, an anonymous party places long stem roses on her memorial in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London. Picture acquired through Flickr, courtesy of That Boleyn Girl.
Perhaps Queen Anne's greatest legacy is the daughter she left behind, Elizabeth, who became one of the most celebrated and recognizable English monarchs of all time. Despite Elizabeth being less than three years of age when her mother was killed, there are many ways that she connected to her mother beyond the grave. 
Anne Boleyn Says a Final Farewell to Her Daughter, Princess Elizabeth. By Gustaf Wappers, 1838. Picture acquired via Tumblr from auroravong.

Using a surprising amount of contemporary evidence and a little bit of conjecture based on fact,  I am excited to share with my readers how Queen Elizabeth I really felt about her mother, Queen Anne Boleyn in my article, “Death Could Not Separate Them: How Elizabeth I Connected to Her Deceased Mother”. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

What was Easter like in Elizabethan times?

An Elizabethan Maundy, a miniature of Queen Elizabeth I observing the tradition of a Maundy Thursday with the common people. The miniature is most likely by Elizabethan female court painter Leevina Teerlinc. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Happy Easter weekend to those who celebrate it!

You can find out how Easter was celebrated in Elizabethan England in our BeingBess article here.