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Queen Elizabeth I

Date of birth : 1533-09-07
Date of death : 1603-03-24
Birthplace : Greenwich Palace, England
Nationality : British
Category : Historian personalities
Last modified : 2010-09-06

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 sent away from court, as she was a reminder to Henry of Anne. 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.

When it appeared that Mary had become pregnant, Elizabeth was no longer seen as a significant threat, and the aging 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.

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 passed. The ceremony of the coronation was much as it had been for Elizabeth’s 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. Edward’s 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 wrong-doing 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 Alençon 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 VIII’s will, the next heirs after Henry VIII’s own children were those remaining daughters of Frances Brandon, daughter of Henry VIII’s 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 Elizabeth’s 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 Queen’s 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 I’s throne, and one without the questions of legitimacy that surrounded Catherine Grey’s 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 Henry VII’s younger daughter Mary. In the first few decades of Elizabeth’s reign, the primary claimant to Elizabeth’s 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 father’s 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 Elizabeth’s 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 sister’s death and how the people abandoned Mary in favor of Elizabeth in Mary’s 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 we’ve gone through above. In 1603, the kingdoms of Scotland and England were finally united under one crown.


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