At 3 o’clock in the afternoon of the 7th September at Greenwich Palace, a great Queen was born. This little red-haired, dark eyed girl was born to King Henry VIII and Queen Anne Boleyn, Bluff King Hal and the woman who was later maligned by history and called “The Whore”.
Her birth, although initially a disappointment, was a joyous occasion, but nobody on that September day realised that this baby would grow up to be a great Queen of England, a queen who would rule for over 40 years and who would be known for her Golden Age and England’s defeat of the Spanish Armada: the iconic Elizabeth I. Happy 477th Birthday, Elizabeth!
I’ve recently been accused of being overly “devoted” to Elizabeth, rather than running a website devoted to her, but I don’t see there being anything wrong in admiring Elizabeth I. As David Starkey says in his brilliant book “Elizabeth”, “almost all her historians fall a little in love with Elizabeth” and it is so true. The more I research her, the more I love her. Yes, she had her faults and could be incredibly cruel to those around her, but we all have faults, nobody is perfect. David Starkey talks about how most historians fall in love with the Queen, “the bewigged and beruffed Gloriana”, but how he fell in love with the young Elizabeth, the vulnerable, serious girl of the portrait, and I think it’s the young Elizabeth that I am drawn to too. The girl who suffered so much and who could be forgiven for becoming a psychological mess, a “victim”, but who instead rose above everything to become a success, a Queen. What draw me to her are her perseverance, ironic when that’s the part that her mother played in the “Chateau Vert” masquerade at the English court, and also her incredible strength of character. In her early life she had to cope with:-
- Losing her mother, in a brutal way, and being neglected by her father, so much so that Lady Bryan, the head of her household had to write to the King begging for clothes for her.
- Having stepmother after stepmother and losing one to the axeman.
- Losing her father when she was just 14.
- Being sexually abused by her stepfather, Thomas Seymour – Her stepmother, Catherine Parr, even restrained her while he slashed her dress to pieces.
- The stigma of being the daughter of Anne Boleyn, a woman executed as a traitor.
- Going from pampered princess to bastard to princess again and then once again being removed from the succession by her half-brother, Edward VI.
- Being imprisoned in the Tower of London by her half-sister, Mary I, and fearing for her life.
I’m not sure that I could have coped with all of that and then becoming queen at the age of 25! Whatever her faults and whatever your view on her reign, Elizabeth I was an incredible woman and her birth and her life should be celebrated. I will be raising a glass to you, Elizabeth, and also to your mother, Anne Boleyn.
Notes and Sources
- Elizabeth, David Starkey, page X in the introduction