Queen Elizabeth I – The years of waiting (Part two)

(public domain)

Read part one here.

Roger Ascham replaced William Grindal as Elizabeth’s tutor when William died in 1548, and he remained as her full-time tutor for about two years. After this period, he continued to teach her, but it was not on a daily basis. After she became Queen, he wrote of her, “From the age of 16, she was unsurpassed in gravity for her age, and in a cheerful alacrity of mind that was wonderful to behold.”1 Her brother sometimes invited her and Mary to court, though Mary was regarded with suspicion by Edward. Elizabeth and Edward wrote to each other rather infrequently, but their relationship was considered to be good. From time to time, suitors for her hand in marriage were considered, but none ever came to fruition.

When Elizabeth’s brother King Edward VI fell ill in early 1553, speculation about the succession began, but Edward had already made up his mind, and he settled the succession on his first cousin once removed, the 16-year-old Lady Jane Grey, daughter of Frances Brandon, who in turn was the daughter of Mary Tudor, the sister of King Henry VIII. He, therefore, excluded both his half-sisters but also the entire line of Henry’s elder sister Margaret, who had married the King of Scots. Edward died on 6 July 1553, and during the following turbulent days, Elizabeth kept her head down. Once Lady Jane Grey was deposed, and Mary had succeeded as Queen Mary I, Elizabeth wrote at once to congratulate her half-sister and to ask about court mourning for their brother. On 31 July 1553, she met Mary in London, and they had an outwardly cordial meeting. Mary began to use the catholic religion as a test of loyalty, and Elizabeth did not go to mass. For now, Mary declared that she had no intention to coerce anyone’s conscience but that she wished people would “charitably embrace the same”2, but it was always her intention to restore the catholic faith. Elizabeth’s diplomatic side came out, and she realised that if she wanted to survive, she would have to do something. So, she asked for instruction in the catholic faith. Nobody appeared to be entirely convinced by Elizabeth’s actions, but for now, Mary had no reason to act against her sister.

At the end of the year, Elizabeth asked to leave the court, and surprisingly, Mary agreed to let her leave. In January 1554, Elizabeth wrote to Mary to congratulate her on her upcoming marriage to Philip of Spain, but she also complained of a heavy cold. Nevertheless, Mary summoned Elizabeth back to court, and she nearly had to be dragged there. During this time Wyatt’s Rebellion took place, intending to place Elizabeth on the throne instead of Mary. One of those involved was Lady Jane Grey’s father, and although Mary had initially intended to spare Jane’s life, she now had no other choice. Jane’s father and 90 other rebels were executed, as were Jane and her husband. For a while, everything around Elizabeth remained silent, but she was finally arrested on 17 March 1554. She begged permission to write to Mary, and this letter became known as the Tide letter as it caused the group to miss the tide that night to transfer Elizabeth to the Tower. Elizabeth wrote, “I am by your council from you commanded to go unto the Tower, a place more wonted for a false traitor than a true subject… And to this present hour, I protest afore God (who shall judge my truth whatsoever malice may devise) that I never practised, counselled, nor consented to anything which might be prejudicial to your person any way or dangerous to the state by any mean.”3 The following morning, Elizabeth arrived in the Tower. She initially did not want to leave the boat but when she was finally persuaded, she proclaimed, “Here landeth as a true a subject, being prisoner, as ever landed at these stairs.”4 She then sat on the stairs by the river in defiance until one of the servants broke down. She told him, “She knew her truth to be such that no man would have cause to weep for her.”5 She was questioned inside the Tower but she admitted to nothing.

By May, it was decided to send Elizabeth to the country under house arrest. On 19 May – the anniversary of her mother’s execution – Elizabeth left the Tower for Woodstock in Oxfordshire. While there, Elizabeth became bored and frustrated and took out her anger on Sir Henry Bedingfield, who was to watch her. She was sometimes allowed to write to Mary and she used these letters to convince her of her innocence. However, Mary either ignored her letters or replied via Sir Henry. On 7 April 1555, Elizabeth was brought to the court where Mary believed she was pregnant and was soon to have a child. A child was not born, and it appeared that Mary had suffered a false pregnancy. The question of what to do with Elizabeth remained, and on 4 August, Elizabeth was allowed to retire to Ashridge where she remained quiet. The following year, Mary had another false pregnancy. At the end of 1556, the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth seemed to improve somewhat, but at the end of the year, Elizabeth was sent back to Hatfield. In February 1558, Elizabeth spent some time with Mary at Somerset House.

Mary became ill in September though nobody thought it was serious at first. By the end of October, it was clear that it was quite serious. Elizabeth’s response was not recorded but considered the speed with which she set up her government; she was probably planning for it already. Mary remained silent on the subject of the succession throughout these months. A codicil added to her will left the throne “to the next heir by law.” On 7 November, she named Elizabeth as her heir, and she died on 17 November at the age of 42. Elizabeth was proclaimed Queen that same morning. While kneeling, Elizabeth quoted, “This is the doing of the Lord; and it is marvellous in our eyes.”6 She had survived to become Queen; now, she needed to stay Queen.

Read part three here.

  1. Elizabeth I by David Loades p.71
  2. Elizabeth I by David Loades p.84
  3. Elizabeth I by David Loades p.100-101
  4. Elizabeth I by Anne Somerset p.42
  5. Elizabeth I by Anne Somerset p.43
  6. Elizabeth I by Anne Somerset p.57

About Moniek Bloks 2748 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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