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Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I was Queen of England from 1558 to 1603, and is often regarded as one of England's greatest monarchs.

Overview

Elizabeth came to power in 1558, inheriting problems with religion, poverty and foreign policy. Historians in the 1970s thought that, when Elizabeth came to the throne, the country was about to collapse. Elizabeth restored the stability and the status of the monarchy:

She solved the religious tensions by following a 'middle way' which allowed Catholics and Puritans to keep their private beliefs as long as they went to the Church of England in public. However, she hunted, tortured and executed Catholic priests who came into England to undermine her power. She survived plots and rebellions, and executed Mary Queen of Scots in 1587. She encouraged the 'Gloriana' myth, and commissioned portraits which presented her as pure and powerful. Her reign was a time of art, music and literature. She defeated the Armada, and by the end of her reign England was a world power which had set up its first colony.

Elizabeth I is regarded by many as one of England's greatest monarchs, whose reign laid the foundations of England's greatness. But is this true?

She was as 'bloody' as Mary and executed many more people for religion than her father. She established a network of spies and informers to ensure her safety.

Far from encouraging Parliament, she bullied and controlled it, ran the government as she wished and even arrested an MP when he complained. The Armada was a triumph but it was also a very lucky escape.

You could compare Elizabeth's reign to that of Henry VIII. Why is she regarded as England's greatest monarch, when he is regarded as a monster? Also compare her reign to that of Charles I. Why was she able to establish a secure and powerful monarchy, when he caused a civil war and lost his head?

Problems, problems
Elizabeth came to the throne after three short-reigned rulers her brother Edward VI (15471553), Lady Jane Grey (1019 July 1553) and her sister Mary (15531558).

A Mid-Tudor Crisis?
Some historians have suggested that the years between 1547 and 1558 were a time of 'crisis', when government and society were in danger of collapsing altogether. Modern historians do not agree about this. However, the government had suffered a period of disasters, and Elizabeth faced big problems when she came to the throne. This crisis, it is suggested, involved five problems:

Problem

Solution

Did it work?

At first she tried to follow a 'middle way' between Protestants and Catholics. This failed. The There was a Pope excommunicated her in 1570. The 'middle way' failed. danger that When Mary Queen of Scots came Elizabeth became more antiCatholic as her reign went on. Religion England would fall to England in 1568 there were a into a 'War of number of Catholic plots. The 162 Catholics were executed Religion'. plotters wanted to depose or between 1577 and 1603. assassinate Protestant Elizabeth and replace her with Catholic Mary. Poverty was Her Poor Law was not really especially high in successful. People were still She passed the Poor Law (1601). Poverty the countryside, starving and poor relief was caused by harvest very hit or miss.

Problem

Solution

Did it work?

failures and rising prices. Elizabeth inherited a recent defeat in a Foreign war against France She defeated the Armada. policy and the loss of Calais in 1558.

The Armada was a spectacular victory, but Spain kept on trying to invade.

Her refusal to marry meant that England would not have to have a foreign king. Even if No-one knew who she had married an English would be the next nobleman, such as Lord ruler or if Dudley, whom she loved, it Succession Elizabeth would She refused to marry anyone, but it might have made other nobles problems 'give up' some her meant no children. jealous, and caused rebellions. power and marry She resolved to stay single, in order to produce but her nearest relative was an heir. the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots so the succession continued to be a problem. The monarchs She did start to lose her grip before her were She developed a strong image, on power towards the end, but Weak Edward, who was used good advisers and kept her reign is mostly seen as a rulers a child, and Mary, Parliament in check. period of strength and whose reign was stability. full of problems.

The power of the queen

The power of Queen Elizabeth

Elizabeth kept hold of her power because she chose good advisors, especially Lord Burghley and then his son, Sir Robert Cecil.

She cultivated a cult of personality for the Virgin Queen she had portraits painted of herself which showed her as a powerful ruler.

Parliament was NOT important in Elizabeths reign (MPs were too frightened to displease her). When the MP Peter Wentworth complained about this in 1576, he was sent to the Tower.

In times of difficulty Elizabeth could be inspiring eg her speech in 1588 to the troops at Tilbury: I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Spain should dare to invade the borders of my realm.

But she had to deal with several plots. The Northern Rebellion in 1569 (the leaders wanted to depose Elizabeth), the Ridolfi Plot in 1571 (a plot by an Italian banker and the Duke of Norfolk to assassinate Elizabeth), and the Babington Plot in 1589 (a plot to assassinate Elizabeth).

At the end of her reign, there is some evidence that Elizabeth was losing her grip. Some of the nobles became dissatisfied, such as the Earl of Essex who attempted a rebellion in 1601.

Parliament became troublesome, for example, it did not grant her enough taxes for her wars.

Looking at the reign of Elizabeth, what do you think was she a success or a failure?

Consequences

She was popular. In 1588 the troops at Tilbury shouted "Gloriana!", which means 'glorious woman', and in 1590, the poet Edmund Spenser made 'Gloriana' the heroine of his poem The Faerie Queene. Her reign was a time of art, music and literature with the talents of Nicholas Hilliard, John Dowland and William Shakespeare flourishing at this time. It is often known as "the Golden Age of English history". Her long reign created stability. When she died, James VI of Scotland, the son of her cousin Mary Queen of Scots, inherited the throne peacefully. By the end of her reign, the Church of England was safe, and there was no chance of a War of Religion. By the end of her reign, England was a world power. Pope Sixtus V could not understand it: "She is only a woman, only mistress of half an island, and yet she makes herself feared by Spain, by France, by all". During her reign, the first colony of the British Empire was set up - Virginia in North America.

Interpretations
Gloriana and the growth of Parliament
The Protestants of the time portrayed Elizabeth as a saviour, sent by God. This was reinforced by the propaganda portraits Elizabeth commissioned, which included many symbols of power and purity. Some later historians questioned this interpretation of Elizabeth they interpreted her as dithering and pig-headed, or as a tyrant and bully. However, generally Elizabeth's good reputation continued into the 20th century. J E Neale (1934) portrayed her as a skilful politician, brilliantly managing Parliament and the nobles at court. Some modern historians, however, have begun to suggest that the 'Gloriana' image of Elizabeth was a manufactured myth, which even people at the time had tired of by the end of her reign. In 1988, Christopher Haigh criticised Elizabeth's court, suggesting that she let her nobles behave childishly, and that this led to dangerous intrigues and plots. This is the impression you will get if you watch modern films or TV series about Elizabeth. The comedy TV series Blackadder portrayed Elizabeth as immature, dotty and murderous.

The woman inside the queen


Recent books have tried to reveal Elizabeth as a person. The historian Carole Levine (1994) has claimed how Elizabeth's rule was dominated by the fact that she was a woman in a man's world. And David Starkey (2001) has presented an Elizabeth moulded by her difficult childhood and personal faith. What is your interpretation of Elizabeth? Was she England's greatest monarch, or as much a murderer as her father? Was she a fake and a fraud who had a successful propaganda machine or was she a brilliant politician? Or was she just lucky?

Born: 7 September 1533


Greenwich Palace

Became Queen: 17 November 1558 Coronation: 15 January 1559


Westminster Abbey

Died: 24 March 1603


Richmond Palace Elizabeth I as Princess attributed to William Scrots More Images

Buried: 28 April 1603


Westminster Abbey

Elizabeth's life was troubled from the moment she was born. Henry VIII had changed the course of his country's history in order to marry Anne Boleyn, hoping that she would bear him the strong and healthy son that Catherine of Aragon never did. But, on September 7, 1533 in Greenwich Palace, Anne bore Elizabeth instead. Anne did eventually conceive a son, but he was stillborn. By that point, Henry had begun to grow tired of Anne and began to orchestrate her downfall. Most, if not all, historians agree that Henry's charges of incest and adultery against Anne were false, but they were all he needed to sign her execution warrant. She was beheaded on the Tower Green on May 19, 1536, before Elizabeth was even three years old. Elizabeth was probably at the royal manor at Hunsdon when her mother was arrested and executed after being at court for Christmas (and likely the last time she saw her mother). Henry had remarried and was eagerly awaiting the son he hoped Jane Seymour was carrying. As it turned out, she was indeed to bear Henry a son, Edward (future Edward VI). Jane died shortly after her son was born. Elizabeth's last stepmother was Katherine Parr, the sixth queen to Henry VIII. Katherine had hoped to marry Thomas Seymour (brother to the late Queen Jane), but she caught Henry's eye. She brought both Elizabeth and her half-sister Mary back to court. When Henry died, she became the Dowager Queen and took her household from Court. Because of the young age of Edward VI, Edward Seymour (another brother of Jane's and therefore the young King's uncle) became Lord Protector of England. Elizabeth went to live with the Queen Dowager Katherine, but left her household after an incident with the Lord Admiral, Thomas Seymour, who was now Katherine's husband. Just what occurred between Elizabeth and Thomas will never be known for

sure, but rumors at the time suggested that Katherine had caught them kissing or perhaps even in bed together. Katherine was pregnant at the time of the incident. She later gave birth to a daughter named Mary. Katherine died not too long afterwards and was buried at Sudeley Castle. This left Thomas Seymour as an eligible bachelor once again. Because Elizabeth was a daughter of the late King Henry VIII, she was in line to the throne (despite several attempts to remove her from the chain, she was in Henry's will as an heir) and was therefore a most sought-after bride. During the reign of Edward VI, Thomas Seymour asked for Elizabeth's hand in marriage, which she refused. From this incident, both Thomas and Elizabeth were suspected of plotting against the king. Elizabeth was questioned, but was never charged. Seymour however, after an attempt to kidnap the boy king, was arrested and eventually executed for treason. Elizabeth was reported to have said, upon hearing of the Lord Admiral's death (although it is probably apocryphal): "Today died a man of much wit, and very little judgment." Edward may have contracted what was then called consumption (possibly tuberculosis) or had a severe respiratory infection. When it looked inevitable that the teenager would die without an heir of his own body, the plots for his crown began. Reports of the young King's declining health spurred on those who did not want the crown to fall to the Catholic Mary. It was during this time that Guilford Dudley married Lady Jane Grey, who was a descendant of Henry VIII's sister Mary, and was therefore also an heir to the throne. When Edward VI died in 1553, Jane was proclaimed Queen by her father Henry Grey and her father-in-law John Dudley, who rallied armies to support her. However, many more supported the rightful heir: Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. Nine days after Jane was proclaimed Queen, Mary rode into London with her sister Elizabeth. Jane Grey and her husband Guilford were imprisoned in the Tower. Shortly after becoming Queen, Mary was wed to Prince Philip of Spain, which made the Catholic Queen quite unpopular. The persecuted Protestants saw Elizabeth as their savior, since she was seen as an icon of "the new faith". After all, it was to marry her mother Anne Boleyn that Henry instituted the break with Rome. Because of this, several rebellions and uprisings were made in Elizabeth's name, although she herself probably had little or no knowledge of them. However, Mary sensed the danger from her younger sister, and imprisoned her in the Tower. The story, possibly apocryphal, of Elizabeth's entry into the Tower is an interesting one. She was deathly (pun intended) afraid of the Tower, probably thinking of her mother's fate in that place, and when she was told she would be entering through Traitor's Gate, she refused to move. She had been secreted to the Tower in the dark so as not to raise the sympathy of supporters. That night was cold and rainy, and the Princess Elizabeth sat, soaking wet, on the stairs from the river to the gate. After her governess finally persuaded Elizabeth to enter, she did so and became yet another famous prisoner of the Tower of London.

Elizabeth was released from the Tower after a few months of imprisonment and was sent to Woodstock where she stayed for just under a year. When it appeared that Mary had become pregnant, Elizabeth was no longer seen as a significant threat and the Queen let her return to her residence at Hatfield, under semi- house arrest. Mary Tudor was nearly 40 years old when the news of her "pregnancy" came. After a few months, her belly began to swell, but no baby was ever forthcoming. Some modern historians think that she had a large ovarian cyst, and this is also what lead to her failing health and eventual death. News of Mary's death on November 17, 1558 reached Elizabeth at Hatfield, where she was said to be out in the park, sitting under an oak tree. Upon hearing that she was Queen, legend has it that Elizabeth quoted the 118th Psalm's twenty-third line, in Latin: "A Dominum factum est illud, et est mirabile in oculis notris" -- "It is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes." Elizabeth had survived and was finally Queen of England.

Born: 7 September 1533


Greenwich Palace

Became Queen: 17 November 1558 Coronation: 15 January 1559


Westminster Abbey

Died: 24 March 1603


Richmond Palace

Elizabeth I's Coronation Portrait by an unknown artist More Images

Buried: 28 April 1603


Westminster Abbey

On January 15, 1559, Elizabeth I was crowned Queen by Owen Oglethorpe, bishop of

Carlisle at Westminster Abbey, a little less than two months after the death of Mary I. The total cost of the celebrations, excluding the coronation banquet was 16,741, which according to one calculation would equal about 3.5 million today. Like her predecessors, Elizabeth knew the importance of a good show, especially for a new monarch who needed to re-affirm her right to her crown. Three days earlier, Elizabeth resided at the Tower of London and on the 14th made the procession to Westminster. Along the way were various displays and pageants for Elizabeth's entertainment. On the night of the 14th, she spent the night at the Palace of Westminster, which was just a short walking distance from the Westminster Abbey. The next day, the 15th, Elizabeth walked in procession to the Abbey for the coronation on the date chosen by Dr. John Dee, who besides being a mathematician and Greek scholar, was also an astrologer. For the procession, Elizabeth walked on a blue carpet that ran from the palace to the abbey, which was torn up by souvenir seekers after the Queen walked past. The ceremony of the coronation was much as it had been for Elizabeths predecessors, but with a few significant alterations to the religious aspects of the service. The coronation mass now included readings in English and Latin for the Epistle and Gospel and she retreated to a curtained area in St. Edwards Chapel during the elevation of the host. After the coronation, Elizabeth walked from the Abbey to Westminster Hall for the traditional coronation banquet, a custom that ended with the coronation of George IV in 1821. When Elizabeth took the throne, she was immediately descended upon by suitors. However, as we all know, she never married. One of the most obvious questions would be "why?". Some theorize that because of the way her father treated his wives, Elizabeth was disgusted by the idea of marriage. The more romantic feel it was because she couldn't marry the man that she really loved, Robert Dudley. When Elizabeth became Queen, Dudley was married, and then his wife Amy died under mysterious circumstances a few years later. Although Robert Dudley was cleared of any wrongdoing in the matter, Elizabeth could not marry him because of the scandal that would no doubt arise. Or perhaps she never married because of a combination of reasons. Regardless, Elizabeth never married, but managed to successfully play her suitors off of one another for about 25 years, gaining alliances and wealth from gifts on the possibility of marriage. The one serious contender for her hand was Francis, Duke of Alenon of France, but negotiations eventually failed. The later years of Elizabeth's reign are sometimes referred to as a Golden Age. During this time, England and Elizabeth faced several major trials. First, Elizabeth had to deal with the growing threat of Mary Queen of Scots, who had a strong and legitimate (especially in the eyes of Catholics) claim to the throne of England. When Mary fled her country in the 1560s, she was taken into house arrest in England, where she had expected the protection of her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth however knew Mary was a threat. Eventually, a plot serious enough arose in Mary's name, and Elizabeth sign her death warrant. Mary was executed in 1587, on February 8th, at Fortheringhay.

Also, the greatest military threat to Elizabeth's reign came a year later, when the Armada from Spain sailed toward the tiny island nation. England prevailed and was on its way towards becoming the supreme naval power that it was in the 1600 and 1700s. This was also near the time that Robert Dudley died. Elizabeth kept the last letter he sent her in her desk, with "His Last Letter" written on it. In the final years of her reign Elizabeth faced the challenges of increasing Puritain influence and the rebellion of Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex. Elizabeth died on March 24, 1603 at Richmond Palace and was succeeded by James I (James VI of Scotland), the son of Mary, Queen of Scots. The Tudor dynasty ended and passed to the Stuarts. According to Henry VIIIs will, the next heirs after Henry VIIIs own children were those remaining daughters of Frances Brandon, daughter of Henry VIIIs sister Mary Tudor and her husband Charles Brandon. Frances first daughter was Jane Grey, who was executed in the reign of Mary I after briefly holding the throne for 9 days after the death of Edward VI. Jane had two sisters, Catherine and Mary Grey and early in Elizabeths reign it appeared that Catherine would be, at least legally, the next in line to the throne. However, Catherine married Edward Seymour (son of the Edward Seymour, the Lord Protector from Edward VI's reign) in secret without the Queens permission and her marriage was declared invalid in 1561, making her children illegitimate. Catherine herself died in 1568, so was not a question in the succession in 1603, but she had two sons: Edward and Thomas, who were still alive at the time. After the children of Catherine Grey would have been the heirs of Mary Grey, but although she married, she is not known to have produced any heirs and she herself died in 1578, long before Elizabeth. After the heirs of Frances Brandon would come the heirs of Frances younger sister, Eleanor Brandon. Eleanor married Henry Clifford, the Earl of Cumberland and had a daughter, Margaret. Margaret died a few years before Elizabeth I, but she had a son, William, who was alive and therefore another potential legal heir of Elizabeth Is throne, and one without the questions of legitimacy that surrounded Ca therine Greys sons. The children of Margaret Tudor, wife of James IV of Scotland were not mentioned as part of the succession since they were born in a foreign country. But, since they were the heirs of an older daughter of Henry VII, going by the usual hereditary rules they would have a stronger claim to the English throne than the descendants of H enry VIIs younger daughter Mary. In the first few decades of Elizabeths reign, the primary claimant to Elizabeths crown through this line was Mary Queen of Scots. Since she was Catholic, she was a rallying point for those who wished to see someone from the old faith on the English throne. After the death of James IV, Margaret Tudor married Archibald Douglas, and they had a daughter named Margaret, who married Matthew Stuart, the Earl of Lennox. Margaret Douglas had two sons, Henry Lord Darnley and Charles, who later inherited his fathers

title. In 1565, the two lines of descent from Margaret Tudor were united when Mary Queen of Scots was married to Henry Lord Darnley. Two years later Mary bore a son James, the future James VI of Scotland. Margaret Douglas second son, Charles married Elizabeth Cavendish and had one child, a daughter, Arabella Stuart. By the time Elizabeth was in the final days of her life, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the crown would go to James VI of Scotland. Secret behind-the-scenes dealings with members of Elizabeths government paved the way for his succession. However, it is still not known for sure whether or not Elizabeth actually named James as her heir on her deathbed It is possible that Elizabeth never formally named James her heir in writing because she remembered the events surrounding her sisters death and how the people abandoned Mary in favor of Elizabeth in Marys final weeks. It is generally said that when asked who she wanted to succeed her, Elizabeth made a hand sign indicating James, since she was no longer able to speak. Regardless of whether or not she actually indicated James, it was the King of Scotland who succeeded Elizabeth, peacefully, although there were several others with claims to the English throne as weve gone through above. In 1603, the kingdoms of Scotland and England were fi nally united under one crown.

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Description

Location/Owner

Elizabeth I's signature The Family of Henry VIII c. 1545. Painted by an unknown artist. Oil on canvas, 141 x 355 cm Left to Right: 'Mother Jak', The Lady Mary, Prince Edward, Henry VIII, Jane Seymour, The Lady Elizabeth and Wil Somers

Various documents

The Royal Collection; On display at Hampton Court Palace

Elizabeth from the above painting

The Royal Collection; On display at Hampton Court Palace

Princess Elizabeth, aged about 13 (1546). Sometimes attributed to William Scrots

The Royal Collection; On Display at Windsor Castle

A close-up of Elizabeth's face from the above portrait.

The Royal Collection; On Display at Windsor Castle

Woodcut of the Princess Elizabeth and her sister Queen Mary Woodcut of Princess Elizabeth as a prisoner in the Tower of London The Coronation Portrait of Elizabeth I. Painted c. 1600, copy of a lost original

British Library

British Library

NPG London

Elizabeth's Coronation Procession

The British Library

Elizabeth painted by an unknown artist, c. 1560

NPG London

Miniature of Elizabeth painted in 1572, by Nicholas Hilliard. Watercolor on vellum.

NPG London

"The Darnley Portrait" of Elizabeth, painted by an unknown artist c. 1575

NPG London

"The Pelican Portrait" c. 15751580. Attributed to Nicholas Hilliard

Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

"The Phoenix Portrait", attributed to Nicholas Hilliard

NPG London

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Description The Family of Henry VIII Left to right: Philip and Mary with War, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Elizabeth I with Peace and Plenty

Location/Owner National Museum of Wales, on loan to Sudeley Castle

Elizabeth playing the lute. Painted by Nicholas Hilliard c. 1580

The Bridgeman Art Library, London

The frontispiece of a book. Elizabeth is shown in one of the sets of coronation robes.

Elizabeth at prayer. Frontispiece to Christian Prayers, 1569

Mansell Collection

An extraordinary ring with the portraits of Elizabeth and her mother, Anne Boleyn, made in 1575

At The Chequers

A sketch of Elizabeth c. 1575 By Federigo Zuccaro

British Museum

Stained glass window of Elizabeth

At St. Mary's Church, Sudeley Castle; Photograph by Lara E. Eakins On display at the British Museum; Photograph by Lara E. Eakins

"The Phoenix Jewel"

"The Sieve Portrait". Elizabeth with a sieve, a symbol of virginity

Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena

The Procession of the Knights of the Garter. Engraved by Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder in 1576

"The Ermine Portrait". Painted in 1585 by Nicholas Hilliard

In the collection of the Marquess of Salisbury; On Display at Hatfield House At Madame Tussaud's, London. Photograph by Lara E. Eakins

Wax figure of Elizabeth I based on the Ermine Portrait.

"Elizabeth I out Hunting". Woodcut from The Booke of Hunting

British Library

Elizabeth at a picnic. Woodcut from The Booke of Hunting

British Library

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Description

Location/Owner

One of at least three versions of The Armada Portrait.

At Woburn Abbey

A close-up of the crown from the Armada Portrait

At Woburn Abbey

A sketch of Elizabeth in the dress she wore to attend the Thanksgiving celebration after the victory over the Armada; Sketched by an unknown artist, c. 1588

The Royal Library at Windsor Castle

A Miniature of Elizabeth, celebrating the victory over the Armada

Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A plate in honor of Elizabeth

Museum of London

The Rainbow Portrait. Attributed to Isaac Oliver

In the collection of the Marquess of Salisbury On display at Hatfield House

Miniature of Elizabeth by Nicholas Hilliard. Case set with diamonds

Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A pattern miniature by Isaac Oliver from about 1592

Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Elizabeth I with a fan

The Royal Collection

Another image of Elizabeth with a fan, similar to the paintings above and below. Painted c.1585, by an unknown artist. Oil on panel.

NPG London

Elizabeth I. Painted by John Bettes the Younger

Hever Castle, Kent

"The Ditchley Portrait", painted by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger c. 1592. Oil on canvas.

NPG London

Elizabeth in procession to Blackfriars in 1600. In the style of Peake

In a private collection

Elizabeth near the end of her life

Burghley House Collection, Lincolnshire, UK

The funeral procession for Elizabeth, 1603

British Library

The effigy from Elizabeth's tomb in Westminster Abbey

Dean and Chapter of Westminster

The effigy from Elizabeth's tomb in Westminster Abbey

Dean and Chapter of Westminster

The tomb of Mary and Elizabeth at Westminster Abbey.

Dean and Chapter of Westminster

The tomb of Mary and Elizabeth at Westminster Abbey.The Latin translates: "Partners both in throne and grave, here rest we two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in the hope of one resurrection."

Dean and Chapter of Westminster

Mary Queen of Scots


Mary, Queen of Scots, was born in 1542 and was executed on 1587. It is generally believed that Mary's execution - ordered by Elizabeth I - was the final reason Philip II needed to launch the Spanish Armada. There are few other figures in Tudor England who had such an eventful life, though for Mary, Queen of Scots, it was to end in tragedy.

Mary, Queen of Scots, aged 17

Mary was Elizabeth I's cousin. Mary had been brought up as a strict Catholic which put her at odds with the Protestant Elizabeth. Mary's father, James V of Scotland, died when she was one. At such a young age, the Scottish lords found it difficult to respect her and by 1548, Mary was sent to France for her own safety. As a young girl, Mary lived in France where she had married the king of France Francis II. She was fifteen and he was fourteen. Her father-in-law, Henry II, king of France, said of her
"the little Queen of Scots is the most perfect child I have ever seen."

While in France, Mary lived in luxury travelling from one palace to another. She developed a love of animals - especially dogs - and spent a lot of time learning. She could speak French, Latin, Spanish and some Ancient Greek. Mary could also play the lute with some skill. Her religious teacher was a monk from the priory at Inchmahome in Scotland and she developed very strong views on religion. Her doting father-in-law, Henry II, had been killed in a jousting accident in 1559. Her mother had died in Scotland in 1560. Her husband, Francis had always been a sickly youth and his death aged sixteen in 1560 surprised no-one but it left Mary a widow at the age of seventeen. Within just six months she had lost three close members of her family. many say that she never really recovered from this sad period in her life. After the death of Francis, she wrote a poem about him. One verse is as follows:

"By day, by night, I think of him In wood or mead, or where I be My heart keeps watch for one who's gone And yet I feel he's aye to me"

She returned to Scotland as Queen of the Scots aged eighteen in 1561. In 1565, she married her cousin, Lord Darnley, when she was 22. He was very unpopular with the people of Scotland as he was a violent, bad-tempered drunkard. During their marriage, Mary's secretary was an Italian called David Rizzio. Darnley got it into his head that they were spending too much time together and in 1566, while Mary was entertaining some of her friends in her private rooms, Rizzio, who was a guest at Mary's supper party, was attacked by a gang including Darnley and stabbed over 50 times. Mary was horrified.

However, in June 1566, Mary gave birth to a baby boy called James. He was to become the king of England when Elizabeth died in 1603. Mary's marriage with Darnley remained full of stress and she became more and more attracted to the Earl of Bothwell. On February 9th 1567, Mary and Darnley was at a house called Kirk O'Field. Late in the evening she remembered that she had to see some friends and rode off. Scotland was a very dangerous country in the Sixteenth Century and it would have needed a very brave person to venture out at night without being fully guarded. That night, Kirk O'Field was blown up. Darnley's body was found in the garden of the house. The explosion had not killed him - he had been strangled. Just three months later, Mary married Bothwell. He was as disliked as Darnley by the Scots lords and they rose up against Mary. Bothwell escaped to Europe where he died an alcoholic and all but insane. Mary was arrested and held prisoner at Lochleven Castle. She was made to give up the throne for James, her son. Mary later escaped from her prison and she fled to England where she hoped her cousin, Elizabeth, would look after her. Mary's logic was twofold. First, Mary was a queen and so was Elizabeth. Mary expected a queen to help a queen. Secondly, Mary assumed that their family ties would prove strong. She could not have been more wrong. At the age of 25, the former queen of Scotland started a lengthy spell in a number of manor houses or castles that were her prison.

Mary in prison in England


Simply by being in England, Mary represented a threat to Elizabeth. Why? Elizabeth had brought what might have passed as religious stability to England. Certainly the religious discord under her half-sister Mary I, had greatly weakened. Elizabeth had a belief that if someone was a Catholic and practiced their beliefs privately and represented no threat to the queen, then she was willing to tolerate their religion. If the Catholics were respectful to the queen and obedient, then Elizabeth could see no reason why they should not be tolerated. The nation greatly benefited from religious stability. Mary, Queen of Scots, threatened this stability. As a Catholic, she might become a focus for all the Catholics who existed in England and a leader for them. In this sense, Mary was a very real threat to Elizabeth. Another major reason is as follows: there were some who believed that the marriage between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn had been illegal. Catholics certainly did not recognise Henry's divorce from the Catholic Catherine of Aragon and there were rumours that Henry had married Anne before his divorce had actually come through. Therefore, if the marriage was illegal, Elizabeth was illegitimate and had no right to the throne. If Elizabeth had no right to the throne, the nearest legal heir to the English throne was.........Mary, Queen of Scots. Though most people would have found this an absurd idea, it could have acted as an incentive for the Catholics in England to rebel

against Elizabeth and put Mary onto the throne. It may also have been a reason for Elizabeth's advisors to decide that England was better off with Mary dead - though they would need proof to convince a court of law about her guilt. Elizabeth now hit a problem. Her cousin quite clearly posed problems for her. If Mary was sent back to Scotland, from where she had escaped, she may well have been killed and Elizabeth would not accept that a queen (and family) should be treated in such a way. But by being in England, Mary might act as a spur for Catholics to rebel. Elizabeth's solution was to keep Mary, Queen of Scots, in prison. For the next 19 years, Mary was kept in safe custody in various castles and manor houses. In all this time, Mary never met Elizabeth. Mary, Queen of Scots, did not help herself. She made it clear to anybody who would listen, that she felt that she should be the queen of England. In 1570, she received the backing of the pope. This meant that there was no reason why a Catholic should not assassinate Elizabeth because it would not be a sin as the pope had said that Mary should be queen of England. Mary was clearly becoming a major problem for Elizabeth and her advisors. It took many years for the government to build up a case against Mary - even if such a case actually existed! This work was carried out by Sir Francis Walsingham. His spy network kept a close eye on Mary. In 1586, a man called Anthony Babington devised a plot to kill Elizabeth, rescue Mary and then see her as the next queen of England. Babington wrote in code to Mary to explain what he was doing. Mary wrote back, stating that she agreed with what he was doing. Walsingham's spies intercepted both letters. Babington was arrested and charged with treason. In September 1586, Babington was executed. Now the government had a case against Mary. She was put on trial in October 1586. Mary defended herself well but the judges found her guilty of treason. To the judges, who would not listen to her arguments, she said "You are indeed my enemies". The reply was "We are the enemy of the enemies of our queen." The trial lasted just 2 days. Mary was found guilty of plotting to kill Elizabeth. She was sentenced to death. In February 1587, Mary was given just 24 hours notice that she would be executed the next day. How strong was the evidence against Mary? by 1587, she was in poor health and was frail. Was she in any fit state to become involved in a plot against her cousin? how did Walsingham's men manage to find the letter by Mary that was hidden in a beer barrel? Did they know where to look? Did they write it?

locked up in a castle, how could Mary know what others were doing or have any way of influencing their movements? Regardless of this, Babington admitted his part in the plot and he admitted that Mary knew about the plot against Elizabeth all along. However, it is almost certain that his confession was as a result of torture. Elizabeth hesitated about signing Mary's death warrant. Eventually she did and Mary was executed at Fortheringhay Castle, 70 miles north of London, on February 8th, 1587. Mary was not allowed to have her chaplain present at her execution.

Mary's execution

Mary's execution was a curious affair. She dressed in scarlet, the colour of martyrdom. She had to be helped onto the scaffold as she was so frail. She spoke her last words in Latin and then putting her head onto the block said "Into your hands, O Lord" three times, again in Latin. It took two goes with the axe to remove her head. When the executioner lifted up her head, he found that he had a wig in his hand and the actual head was still on the scaffold. No-one had known that she had lost her hair. Then her body moved. Underneath her skirt, a small dog, a Skye terrier, was seen. Mary had brought her dog to her own execution.......... In 1612, her son and the now king of England, James, brought his mother's body to Westminster Abbey where she was buried in a magnificent tomb.