On 10th October 1562, the twenty-nine year-old Elizabeth I was taken ill at Hampton Court Palace, with what was thought to be a bad cold. However, the cold developed into a violent fever and it became clear that the young queen actually had smallpox.
Elizabeth became so seriously ill with the disease that it was thought she would die. Fortunately, Elizabeth survived and was not too badly scarred, although Lady Mary Sidney, who had nursed her back to health, contracted the disease and was badly disfigured. In his “Memoir of Services”, Mary’s husband, Sir Henry Sidney, recorded the effect nursing Elizabeth had on his wife:
“When I went to Newhaven [Le Havre] I lefte her a full faire Ladye in myne eye at least the fayerest, and when I retorned I found her as fowle a ladie as the smale pox could make her, which she did take by contynuall attendance of her majesties most precious person (sicke of the same disease) the skarres of which (to her resolute discomforte) ever syns hath don and doth remayne in her face, so as she lyveth solitairilie sicut Nicticorax in domicilio suo [like a night-raven in the house*] more to my charge then if we had boorded together as we did before that evill accident happened.”
It was while Elizabeth was recovering from the illness that she ordered her council to make Robert Dudley protector of the kingdom and she made it clear that “as God was her witness nothing improper had ever passed between them.”
*Sidney is quoting from Psam 102 verse 6.
Notes and Sources
- A Viceroy’s Vindication? Sir Henry Sidney’s Memoir of Service in Ireland, 1556-78, ed. Ciaran Brady