One of Elizabeth’s first acts was to appoint Sir William Cecil as her Principal Secretary of State, and they would form a unique partnership over the years. On 23 November 1558, Elizabeth rode into London and moved into the Tower on 28 November. She moved again a week later, to Somerset House, before spending Christmas at the Palace of Westminster. The faithful Katherine Ashley was appointed as Mistress of the Robes, and Elizabeth also set out to select the men who would sit on her Privy council.
On 15 January 1559, Elizabeth received a magnificent coronation at Westminster Abbey. She wore a mantle of 23 yards of gold and silver tissue with fur trimmings and was followed by her ladies-in-waiting, dressed almost as sumptuously as she was, as she processed through the city the day before. Elizabeth was crowned, first with St Edwards Crown, and then with the Imperial Crown of England, which was over seven pounds. This was then replaced with a lighter crown; possibly the one made for her mother in 1533. The coronation ring was placed on the fourth finger of her right hand. After the service was over, Elizabeth walked from Westminster Abbey to Westminster Hall with the sceptre and orb in her hand.
Elizabeth was a pragmatist when it came to dealing with religious matters. She wanted to have a Protestant solution that would not offend the Catholics too much. A new Act of Supremacy became law on 8 May 1559, and all public officials had to swear an oath of loyalty to Elizabeth as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. A new Act of Uniformity was also passed, which made church attendance and the use of an adapted version of the 1552 Book of Common Prayer compulsory. However, the penalties attached to this were not severe.
The next major issue to deal with was Elizabeth’s future husband, as everyone expected her to marry. Count Feria, the Spanish ambassador, wrote, “The more I think about this business, the more certain I am that everything depends upon the husband this woman might take.”1 The idea that she might remain unmarried seemed inconceivable. A husband could give her an heir and could prevent a possible civil war upon her death. However, Elizabeth was quite sceptical towards marriage, and she also realised that no matter who she would pick, it would always be the wrong choice for someone. She told the Scottish ambassador that she hoped to remain single, upon which he replied, “I know the truth of that Madam, you need not tell it to me. Your Majesty thinks if you were married, you would be but Queen of England; and now you are both King and Queen.”2 Nevertheless, throughout her reign, suitors continued to be paraded before her, and she entertained them. In the end, she never married.
This did not mean, however, that she did not enjoy a flirtation or two. This did lead to some gossip at court that she had illegitimate children and that she was no longer a virgin. This seems rather improbable, if only for practical reasons. Elizabeth herself stated that “She was always surrounded by her ladies of the bedchamber and maids of honour.[…] My life is in the open, and I have so many witnesses… I cannot understand how so bad a judgment can have been formed of me.”3 Perhaps the one man she would have considered marrying was her childhood friend Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester but he was already married, and the suspicious death of his wife in 1560 cast a shadow over him.
The question of an heir remained for now, and the most senior claim was held by Mary, Queen of Scots, the granddaughter of Margaret Tudor, King Henry VIII’s elder sister and thus Elizabeth’s aunt. Mary had been Queen (consort) of France as well, but she had been widowed in 1560, and she had returned to Scotland after spending many years in France. In 1565, she remarried to Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, a grandson of Margaret Tudor through her second marriage. He, thus, also had a significant claim to the English throne, which became reunited with Mary’s and eventually joined in their son, the future King James VI. The situation in Scotland soon spiralled out of control, during which time Henry was murdered, and Mary was forced to abdicate in favour of her young son. She eventually fled to England in 1568, expecting help from Elizabeth but Elizabeth viewed her with suspicion. The two women never met during the entire time of Mary’s imprisonment in England.
Even with Mary’s claim to Elizabeth’s throne, there were more plots against Elizabeth, which used Mary. In 1569, there was Catholic rising in the north, which intended to remove Elizabeth from the throne and replace her with Mary who would then marry Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk. The Ridolfi plot in 1571 also intended to put Mary on the English throne and also involved Thomas Howard. He was executed for his role in the Ridolfi Plot on 2 June 1572.
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