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In the last article of this series we ended with the death of Thomas Seymour in 1549, but before we move forward I’d like to step back a bit to get a bigger picture of what was to come in Elizabeth’s future.
Listen to Part One Here:
Read Part One Here: Elizabeth Tudor, Queen of England – Part One
When King Henry VIII died on the 28th of January 1547, Elizabeth and her brother Edward were both at Ashridge when they received the news. The children clung to one another and wept a great deal. Edward Tudor, the son of Henry VIII and the late Jane Seymour was now the King of England – he was only nine years old. From that point on the lives of the Tudor siblings would never be the same.
After all three heirs to throne received the news of their father’s death they were taken back to court. Mary and Elizabeth would not remain there long since the new king (Edward) was unmarried. It was considered improper to have unmarried ladies at court without a female household to serve. At least not until Edward was married and had his queen had a household. Then it would be okay. Imagine how boring things were without women at court. So instead of Mary and Elizabeth staying at court they joined the household of the dowager queen – a temporary arrangement as both girls were expected to eventually move to their own estates.
The death of King Henry only increased the tension between Mary and Elizabeth, and it only heightened after the two were separated. With that being said, at the beginning of the Seymour/Parr marriage the sisters had both agreed that it was too soon for the dowager queen to remarry.
Elizabeth appears to have “gotten over” the ordeal when she accepted Parr’s offer to live with her at Chelsea. Mary’s reaction to Elizabeth accepting Parr’s offer was with horor. She could only assume that her sister felt she had nowhere else to go. In turn, Mary offered Elizabeth a place in her own household, so the sisters could stand united against their stepmother. Elizabeth was too attached to her stepmother to leave her side to be with Mary. Parr was really the first mom that she had ever known and wished to stay. Mary, not happy with her much younger sister’s choice, left in disgust. This was what some would call Elizabeth’s first obvious defiance of her sister.
It was while Elizabeth was at Chelsea that she met another man who would make a great impact in her life, William Cecil. Elizabeth hit it off immediately with Cecil who had come to Chelsea to pay his respects. As with many Cecil understood how important it was to be near those with a claim to the throne. After speaking with Elizabeth, Cecil agreed to take on the management of her estates and revenues. This task was one that Cecil was so good at that Elizabeth entrusted him with other matters. Cecil became the man who Elizabeth went to for advice and guidance on many matters, but especially matters of state.
In the meantime, the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth began to cool. The distance between the sisters appears to have put a strain on their relationship. Mary had been great at writing and replying to her sister’s letters while Elizabeth appears to have been too caught up with the activities at Chelsea to make the time correspond with her sister. This does not mean that Elizabeth did not care for her sister – when she heard that Mary had been unwell Elizabeth was genuinely concerned for her sister’s welfare. She wrote Mary to express her concern for her health, but that’s where it stopped. When one of Mary’s ladies requested that Elizabeth send one of HER ladies, Jane Russell to be specific, to help care for her ailing sister. Elizabeth stated that she could not send Jane Russell because her husband would not allow it. This was probably taken as a slight by Mary.
After the debacle with Thomas Seymour at Hanworth in early 1548, the dowager queen felt it best to send Elizabeth away to protect her reputation from rumors spreading about the tryst with Seymour. Elizabeth was devastated that she had disappointed her stepmother but understood it was for the best. A little distance from the situation would give Elizabeth the privacy she needed for the rumors to die down. It was while at Cheshunt that Elizabeth realized what a dangerous game she was playing with Seymour and was grateful to her stepmother for removing her from the situation.
While they appear to have made up, Parr and Elizabeth would never see one another again. Kateryn Parr died a few days after giving birth to a daughter by Seymour. They named her Mary, after Mary Tudor. The relationship between Kateryn and Mary had improved after Kateryn announced she was pregnant, and maybe this was Kateryn’s way of extending an olive branch to her stepdaughter.
In 1550, after the death of both her stepmother and Thomas Seymour, Elizabeth wrapped up her formal education. She was now believed to be fluent in French, Flemish, Italian and Spanish – as well as Welsh, Cornish, Scottish and Irish by the end of her life. Elizabeth was one of the best and most educated women in the realm – rightfully so, she was heir to the throne.
Anne of Cleves had seen her status diminished after the death of King Henry but that did not stop Elizabeth from visiting her former stepmother. Anne had established her household at Hever, which must have been comforting for Elizabeth to be there, near memories of her mother. It was there that Anne would catch up with Elizabeth to find out what was going on at court in the realm.
Elizabeth had now settled into her household at Hatfield and it must have been reassuring to know that she had something of her own. Her brother Edward, the King, favored Elizabeth over their Catholic sister Mary. It was during her brother’s reign that Elizabeth saw what happened when your religious beliefs did not match the monarch’s. This was something that would affect Elizabeth’s life as well. But, during the reign of her brother, she was safe.
During the remainder of King Edward’s reign the sister’s saw very little of one another. Letters were exchanged but that was really the extent of it.
In 1553, Edward VI became gravely ill and was not expected to survive. The symptoms described are consistent with tuberculosis. Young King Edward, along with his council, were gravely concerned that Mary would undo all the reforms put into place and return England to Catholicism. This was something they were adamantly against – in turn, the king devised a new Act of Succession. One that stated his cousin, the Protestant Lady Jane Grey would inherit the throne after his death.
Upon Edward’s death in July 1553 Mary sent letters to the council claiming her right to the throne. What Edward had done had essentially been illegal. The devise for succession had not been approved by Parliament and could not stop Mary from claiming her rightful place. Where was Elizabeth during all of this? She was at Hatfield lying low. Ever the politician, she knew not to show favor one way or another. Less than two weeks later Lady Jane Grey was in the Tower and Mary was officially pronounced Queen of England. This is the moment when Elizabeth’s life would never be the same.
At the end of July 1553, prior to Mary’s triumphant ride into London, Elizabeth met with her sister, the Queen, at Wanstead. The sisters behaved as if there had never been a rift between them; Mary even gave Elizabeth a beautiful necklace made of white coral beads that were trimmed with gold and also a ruby and diamond brooch.
Elizabeth was now in a position that may have made her feel uncomfortable. After having quarreled and disagreed with her sister for years Mary now kept Elizabeth close. Afterall, Elizabeth was next in line to the throne – together they would show a unified front….at least by outward appearances.
The happiness did not last long between the sisters. Mary knew that her sister was a Protestant just as their cousin (and fallen queen) Jane Grey was. Mary was a Catholic and would not tolerate her sister’s religious beliefs. The problem? Well, Elizabeth was raised as a Protestant…it was all she knew. Like asking all of England to switch back to Catholicism, Mary was going to have a difficult time controlling her sister.
At the beginning of 1554, Thomas Wyatt the Younger raised an army of men to march toward London. These men were all against the Queen marrying Prince Philip and especially returning England to Catholicism. Wyatt’s Rebellion caused trouble in Mary and Elizabeth’s relationship as well – Mary and her advisors her believed that Elizabeth was responsible for the uprising.
Whether or not Elizabeth was involved in Wyatt’s Rebellion is unknown. Under interrogation in the Tower (after his capture and arrest), Wyatt insisted that Elizabeth had nothing to do with the uprising. Queen Mary and her advisors were not so certain.
Mary’s advisors, specifically Simon Renaud, and the Spanish, believed the best option was to marry Elizabeth to a Catholic outside of England and to get her out of the country.
Stephen Gardiner and his Catholic sympathizers thought it best to marry her off to Edward Courteney, Earl of Devon. Keeping her in England in the event of Mary’s death without issue was more important. Their fear was that the Spanish would end up ruling England in the event of Mary’s death.
Author Paul Johnson believed in his his book “Elizabeth I – A Study in Power & Intellect” that Elizabeth was certainly aware of Wyatt’s Rebellion and how it would affect her, however, I believe she would not have gotten herself involved with it – if successful it would set a standard. Just like later in life with the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. What would stop another from doing the same to her?
Any exchanges that Elizabeth had with Wyatt were verbal only. Her acquiescence was imperative to her survival.
During the investigation of Elizabeth’s involvement in the rebellion, Gardiner was unable to find any witnesses to testify they heard Elizabeth use words that could be construed as treason.
Did Elizabeth believe her sister was beyond her child bearing years? In 1554, the Queen was 38 years old – two years older than her former stepmother, Kat Parr when she died in 1548. Thirty-eight was easily considered middle age and highly unlikely to have children. It is possible that Elizabeth understood that it was only a matter of time before she ascended the throne. She would just need patience.
Regardless of Elizabeth’s guilt or innocence she became the prime suspect.
Mary summoned Elizabeth to court, at which Elizabeth feigned illness. She feared her rightfully paranoid sister would throw her in the Tower. Supposed sickness would only save Elizabeth for so long. Eventually, Mary sent Lord William Howard to Ashridge to escort Elizabeth to Whitehall, by any means possible. Howard also brought with him doctors to ensure that Elizabeth was well enough to travel the thirty-seven miles to the palace. The trip was done in stages and they arrived at their destination in about a week.
Upon her arrival some onlookers commented that Elizabeth look ill, while others thought she appeared defiant. Dressed in white Elizabeth wished to convey innocence to her suspicious sister and onlookers.
On the 25th of February, Sir John Bourne reported to Gardiner that after much questioning and torture that he was unsuccessful in getting Wyatt to confess that Elizabeth was involved in the rebellion.
At his trial on the 15th of March 1554, Thomas Wyatt stated that he HAD written to Elizabeth but that he had only received a verbal reply that was non-committal. Even on the scaffold, awaiting his execution, he insisted that he was the only one involved that was privy to the plot.
While all this was happening Elizabeth was safely held at Whitehall. You could probably say she was under house arrest, but on the day following Wyatt’s trial, Gardiner was able to force through the Council an order to have Elizabeth placed in the Tower. The only problem was the men could not agree on the charges that she be brought against her. Their biggest fear was that Elizabeth would one day be Queen and they would be held responsible for their actions.
On the 17th of March the Marquess of Winchester and Earl of Sussex were sent to escort Elizabeth from Whitehall to the Tower. When they informed Elizabeth of her fate she insisted on speaking with her sister, the Queen. Eventually it was agreed that she could write Mary. We will never know if this was planned or not but Elizabeth took so long to write the letter that the tide began to pull out. They would have to wait until the following day to transport her.
Elizabeth’s letter was delivered and it read:
March I6, I554.
If any ever did try this old saying, ‘that a king’s word was more than another man’s oath,’ I most humbly beseech your Majesty to verify it to me, and to remember your last promise and my last demand, that I be not not condemned without answer and due proof, which it seems that I now am; for without cause proved, I am by your council from you commanded to go to the Tower, a place more wanted for a false traitor than a true subject, which though I know I desire it not, yet in the face of all this realm it appears proved. I pray to God I may die the shamefullest death that any ever died, if I may mean any such thing; and to this present hour I protest before God (Who shall judge my truth, whatsoever malice shall devise), that I never practised, counselled, nor consented to anything that might be prejudicial to your person anyway, or dangerous to the state by any means. And therefore I humbly beseech your Majesty to let me answer afore yourself, and not suffer me to trust to your Councillors, yea, and that afore I go to the Tower, if it be possible; if not, before I be further condemned. Howbeit, I trust assuredly your Highness will give me leave to do it afore I go, that thus shamefully I may not be cried out on, as I now shall be; yea, and that without cause. Let conscience move your Highness to pardon this my boldness, which innocency procures me to do, together with hope of your natural kindness, which I trust will not see me cast away without desert, which what it is I would desire no more of God but that you truly knew, but which thing I think and believe you shall never by report know, unless by yourself you hear. I have heard of many in my time cast away for want of coming to the presence of their Prince; and in late days I heard my Lord of Somerset say that if his brother had been suffered to speak with him he had never suffered; but persuasions were made to him so great that he was brought in belief that he could not live safely if the Admiral lived, and that made him give consent to his death. Though these persons are not to be compared to your Majesty, yet I pray to God the like evil persuasions persuade not one sister against the other, and all for that they have heard false report, and the truth not known. Therefore, once again, kneeling with humbleness of heart, because I am not suffered to bow the knees of my body, I humbly crave to speak with your Highness, which I would not be so bold as to desire if I knew not myself most clear, as I know myself most true. And as for the traitor Wyatt, he might peradventure write me a letter, but on my faith I never received any from him. And as for the copy of the letter sent to the French King, I pray God confound me eternally if ever I sent him word, message, token, or letter, by any means, and to this truth I will stand in till my death.
Your Highness’s most faithful subject, that hath been from the beginning, and will be to my end,
I humbly crave but only one word of answer from yourself.
The Tower of London at the time of Elizabeth’s arrest was nearly full, but even with that being said she was placed in a more spacious room on the second floor of the Bell Tower. The room she was placed in was the same one that Bishop John Fisher was housed in prior to his execution and was also the one above Sir Thomas More’s. Her prison had four chambers and the attention of a dozen servants.
There is a lot of history in the Tower of London.
Elizabeth’s time in the Tower would have been a terrifying time for her. Her mother had spent time there and been executed as well as her stepmother Katherine Howard twelve years earlier. Only a month earlier her cousin Lady Jane Grey was executed there. Elizabeth surely would have believed that her time was coming. It wouldn’t be long before she too was executed, because let’s face it – that’s what happened to people placed in the Tower. Very few walked out alive.
By the end of April the Council had decided that there was not sufficient evidence to charge Elizabeth with treason, so in turn they chose instead to have her removed to the country.
On the 19th of May, Sir Henry Bedingfield was charged with transporting Elizabeth to Woodstock. Woodstock was a dilapidated royal hunting lodge in Oxfordshire. Bedingfield orders were to treat Elizabeth as ‘may be agreeable to her honour and estate as well as degree’. Elizabeth was not allowed any conversations with strange persons without Bedingfield being present. Plus she was not allowed to write or receive letters or tokens, from anyone.
At Woodstock Elizabeth was allowed to keep six of her own servants. Three men and three women. The women were with her constantly while the men could come and go. This made it easy for messages to be delivered.
Bedingfield was housing a woman who could easily outsmart his rules and there wasn’t much he could do about. Like earlier, Bedingfield also understood that Elizabeth would one day be Queen and so he knew to tread lightly.
That’s where we’ll stop for this week – with Christmas next Sunday, the next article in this series will be in two weeks.
Borman, Tracy; Elizabeth’s Women (2009)
Johnson, Paul; Elizabeth I – A Study in Power & Intellect (1974)
Starkey, David; Elizabeth – The Struggle for the Throne (2001)
Weir, Alison; The Life of Elizabeth I (1998)