Always the same
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, she 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 plot her downfall. Most, if not
all, historians agree that Henry's charges of incest against Anne were false,
but they were all he needed to sign her execution warrant. She was beheaded
on the Tower Green in May, 1536, before Elizabeth was even three years old.
Elizabeth was sent away from Court, as she was a reminder to Henry of Anne.
Henry has 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 Edward was born.
Elizabeth's last stepmother was Katherine Parr, the sixth queen to Henry VIII.
She 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 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 these two 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. Katherine died not too long afterwards. This
left Thomas Seymour as an eligible bachelor once again. Later, he was arrested
for an attempted kidnapping of King Edward and for plotting to marry himself
to Elizabeth, who was an heir to the throne.
Young Edward had never been a strong child and eventfully contracted what was
then called consumption. It is most likely that he had tuberculosis, from contemporary
accounts. When it looked inevitable the the teenager would die without an heir
of his own body, the struggle for the crown began. And so began an even more
dangerous time in the life of the Princess Elizabeth...
The Dangerous Years
Because the Princess Elizabeth was a daughter of the later King Henry, 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 her young brother 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: "Today died a man of much
wit, and very little judgment."
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 died in 1553, Jane
was proclaimed Queen by her father and father-in-law, who rallied armies to
support her. However, many more supported the rightful heir: Mary, daughter
of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon.
Nine days after Jane was proclaimed Queen, Mary rode into London with 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 even more 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 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 Hatfield House,
under semi- house arrest.
Mary Tudor was nearly 40 years old when the new 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 in November 1558.
News of Mary's death on November 17, 1558 reached Elizabeth at Hatfield House.
Elizabeth had survived and was finally Queen of England.
Queen At Last
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 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 it was a combination
of both. Regardless of the reason, 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 the Duke of Alençon of France, but negotiations 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 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 some 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
Elizabeth died on March 24, 1603 and was succeeded by James I (James VI of Scotland),
the son of Mary, Queen of Scots.