The Death of Elizabeth I

The Death of Elizabeth I, Queen of England by Paul Delaroche

On this day in history, the 24th March 1603, Queen Elizabeth I died at Richmond Palace aged 69 bringing the rule of the Tudor dynasty to an end. Elizabeth I had reigned for 44 years and 127 days and her reign was known as “The Golden Age”. She was the longest reigning Tudor monarch.

Depression and Illness

It is said that the execution of her former favourite, Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, on the 25th February 1601 had a huge impact on Elizabeth. She had already lost her great love Robert Dudley in 1588, her good friend Blanche Parry in 1590 and her friend and adviser William Cecil, Lord Burghley, in 1598. It seemed that all those she loved and depended on were dying and leaving her. Her grief, combined with a belief that she was losing her grip on her court and country, led to her becoming severely depressed.

Tracy Borman, in her book “Elizabeth’s Women”, writes of how Elizabeth decided to move to Richmond Palace in January 1603 because it was the place to which she felt that she could “best trust her sickly old age”. She was obviously feeling low and ill and just wanted to be somewhere where she felt at home. Borman also writes of how it was in the last couple of months of her life that Elizabeth decided that she did not want her young ladies around her, instead she wanted older ladies who had served her for years, friends who she trusted.

In February 1603, Elizabeth’s health deteriorated and her depression worsened when she learned of the death of her friend the Countess of Nottingham, Catherine Howard (nee Carey), the niece of her great friend and cousin Catherine Carey, Lady Knollys. But even though she was depressed and ill, Elizabeth I still had her stubborn streak and refused to retire to her bed, choosing to stand for hours instead. When Robert Cecil told her that she must go to bed, she said to him:-

“The word must is not to be used to princes…little man, little man. Ye know I must died, and that makes ye so presumptuous.”

In desperation to try and get the Queen to rest, her ladies spread out cushions on the floor and Elizabeth did eventually give in and lie on these cushions. As her condition deteriorated, it is said that Elizabeth became delirious and was tormented by ghosts from her past and feelings of guilt over events like the execution of Mary Queen of Scots and the execution of the Earl of Essex.

By the 23rd March 1603 it was obvious that Elizabeth’s death was imminent. Archbishop Whitgift visited Elizabeth and it is said that the weak Queen squeezed his hand when he spoke of the rewards in Heaven that awaited her. Elizabeth’s ministers then gathered at her bedside, they needed to know who Elizabeth was going to choose as her successor. Elizabeth was now beyond speaking but when asked if it was her wish for James VI of Scotland to inherit the crown it is said that Elizabeth gestured with her hands, drawing a circle round her head to indicate a crown and confirm that this was indeed her wish. Elizabeth I died in the early hours of the next day, the 24th March, 1603. Diarist John Manningham wrote:

“This morning, about three o’clock her Majesty departed from this life, mildly like a lamb, easily like a ripe apple from a tree… Dr Parry told me he was present, and sent his prayers before her soul; and I doubt not but she is amongst the royal saints in heaven in eternal joys.”

Tracy Borman writes of how Lady Scrope took the sapphire ring that James VI had given her to use as a sign of the Queen’s death and dropped it out of the window to her brother, Sir Robert Carey, ordering him to take it straight to the new King, James VI of Scotland and James I of England.

G J Meyer, in “The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty”, writes of the dying Elizabeth being “a pathetic spectacle, all the more so because throughout her reign she has been vain to the point of childishness”. Meyer writes of how Elizabeth had lost most of her teeth, that she had suffered with hair loss, that she had refused to be attended to and bathed…but don’t we all look bad when we are dying? I am sure that those around her, people like the Earl of Nottingham, who begged her to get some sleep, and her ladies would not have seen their queen as pathetic, they loved and respected her.

As far as Elizabeth being ” vain to the point of childishness”, I see her “vanity” as being more to do with propaganda and creating a powerful image, than simple vanity. We have to remember that Elizabeth was a woman, a queen but a woman, ruling a country in a man’s world and it was imperative that she projected a strong image and even more so as she grew older and went into decline.

Cause of Death

G J Meyer writes that the doctors probably had no idea of why Elizabeth was dying and that it could have been any of the following:-

  • A bronchial infection that turned into pneumonia
  • Streptococcus
  • The failure of some vital organ
  • Poisoning from ceruse – the white lead and vinegar mixture that Elizabeth used as make-up.

But G J Meyer writes that whatever the actual medical condition it does appear that it was aggravated by Elizabeth’s state of mind, her depression.

The Funeral of Elizabeth I

The body of Queen Elizabeth I was place inside a lead coffin and carried by night by a torchlit barge along the Thames from Richmond Palace to Whitehall where the Queen was to lay in state until her funeral, giving time for King James to travel down to London. While the coffin lay in state, a life size effigy of the Queen, dressed in her royal robes, was placed on top of it to act as a symbol of the monarchy while there was no monarch in England.

On the 28th April 1603, Elizabeth’s coffin was carried from Whitehall to Westminster Abbey on a hearse drawn by horses hung with black velvet. The coffin was covered in a rich purple cloth, topped with the effigy of Elizabeth with a sceptre in her hands and a crown on her head. Above the coffin was a canopy supported by six knights and behind the hearse was the Queen’s Master of the Horse, leading her palfrey. The Chief Mourner was the Countess of Northampton who led the party of peers of the realm, all dressed in black.  Chronicler John Stow wrote:-

“Westminster was surcharged with multitudes of all sorts of people in their streets, houses, windows, leads and gutters, that came out to see the obsequy, and when they beheld her statue lying upon the coffin, there was such a general sighing, groaning and weeping as the like hath not been seen or known in the memory of man.”

Funeral Procession of Elizabeth I

Elizabeth was then buried at Westminster Abbey in the vault of her grandfather, Henry VII, until she was moved in 1606 to her present resting place, a tomb in the Lady Chapel of Westminster Abbey which she shares with her half-sister Mary I. King James I spent over £11,000 on Elizabeth I’s lavish funeral and he also arranged for this white marble monument to be built. The tomb is inscribed with the words:-

“Consorts both in throne and grave, here we rest two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in hope of our resurrection.”

The Tomb and Funeral Effigy of Elizabeth I

You can see an 18th century copy of the funeral effigy that was carried on Elizabeth I’s coffin at the Westminster Abbey Museum and there is a photo of it at You can also visit the Westminster Abbey page on Elizabeth I’s tomb at

Rest in peace, Gloriana and Virgin Queen, today we toast your memory.


21 thoughts on “The Death of Elizabeth I

  1. It was the oddest thing, but I watched “The Virgin Queen” for the first time last night. It ended at 2:40am on 24 March. It was an eerie feeling when I realized it was around the time Elizabeth died.

    Long Live Gloriana!

  2. Interestingly, Queen Victoria’s death was much the same. She was in bed, but seemed to die of a combination of old age and depression – the Boer war was raging at the time. All she wanted was her little dog Turi.

  3. R.I.P Elizabeth Tudor, one of the greatest Queens to ever rule over the Great country of England. She was amazing. So passionate and full of life, the best of both her parents. Long live the Virgin Queen!

  4. I will always believe Elizabeth I to be one of the greatest political figures the world has ever seen. And yes, Meyer does seem harsh doesn’t he?

  5. She was brilliant at PR when that phrase was unknown. Vanity? She knew what the public wanted of her, not just a brilliant sovereign, but a personage – She gave both until the end of her days. That is why I rate her much higher that Victoria – Elizabeth always had the public in mind – Victoria for a number of years went off and sulked about her dead husband. Elizabeth, with her councillors, was at the heart of every matter that affected England. Victoria, in some ways, couldn’t choose, and after Albert died, often didn’t care – For me therein lies the difference between the two

  6. Rest in peace your Majesty. I have great respect for her as a queen and more importantly, as a woman. I wonder tough, what her ghost would say about her body being with Mary’s. And vice versa. I hope she has met her mother and father in the next life and that they are proud of her. it would be a great thing for her to say to her dad, ‘you made me illigitimate, yet look what I did for our kingdom. I hope he’d be humbled.

  7. Excellent post. I wish we could see films like this in America. What a great representation of Elizabeth’s death.

  8. I consider the Lancastrian dynasty were usurpers and am a ‘champion’ of Richard 11.

    I hold the same opinion of the bastard Tudors and as a traditionalist Catholic I pray Henry V111 burns iin Hell’s darkest and hottest corner, along with that male child of a female dog Oliver Cromwell. I incidentally include Robespierre and Lenin in that same situation.

    Every August 22 I remember Richard 111 and have soil taken from Bosworth where the last Plantagenet King was betrayed and savagely killed in 1485. On September 03 I remember the martyred Charles 1, judicially murdered in 1649 by treasonous parliamentarians. Had I been around when the regicides were dis-interred from their un-deserved tombs in Westminster Abbey I would have cheefully played foorball with the skull of the ‘Lord Protector’.

    Henry V11 was a miserable ruler and his son Henry an absolute swine, only redeemed by his beautiful Yorkist mother. As for Elizabeth 1, I consider her to have been a bitch of the first water and certainly would not have been among those who wept for her in 1603. I would have rejoiced.

  9. Dear me, so much hate, and its hurting only you. That was something like centuries ago. I hope that you won’t die in this state.

  10. When reading different biographies of this queen, the writers mention Elizabeth’s body “was not treated with respect” after it waited for several days to be buried. What do they mean by that? I really believe they should be specific about that “disrespectful treatment”. Also, as a young adolescent in the mid 70s I read a biography of Elizabeth that said she had horrible visions while dying, in those visions and nightmares she was burning in the flames of hell. That is why they called the clergyman, to come to give her comfort. Apparently, she felt guilty for more than one death warrant she had signed throughout her reign.

  11. @ Roger Edward DESHON ….. I wonder do you have any idea how you sound to normal people? Such hatred for people who lived centuries ago is appalling, in my opinion, and you are certainly no good example for the Cathoilic religion, in fact you make me very glad I’m a Protestant! For goodness sake, read the bible and try to follow the advice of Jesus about loving people, even your enemies (bizarrely, you seem to see these kings and queens of centuries ago as enemies).

    Please – I’m serious here – try not to feel such bitter hatred. Maybe you’re just trolling, but it’s horrible to pollute this wonderful site with such dreadful words.

  12. How does poor Edmund Spenser fit into all this who loved her so much yet banished to Ireland for his pains? Read “Ice to Fire” a sad poem of unrequited love.

    Iseult – you can have feelings for people who lived centuries ago, I feel for poor Edmund Spenser.

  13. My brother has researched our family lineage and has determined that we are related to the Tudors. I am very proud to know that someone so extraordinary is one of my ancestors. Elizabeth I was definitely her father’s daughter and showed great courage against the men/ women who wished her harm in attempting to take her throne or trying to disrespect her wishes as the queen. She is also her mother’s daughter in that she stood her ground for her beliefs even when her half sister, Mary I was considering putting her to death for a possible plot to overthrow her. Her mother, Anne Boleyn had stood up to Henry VIII and refused to sign the paper that would have prevented Elizabeth from being part of the succession, which led to her being beheaded for false charges of incest, adultery and treason. She died so her daughter could rule. She was a very educated woman for her time and could speak several languages fluently, so it would have been a great joy to have been able to converse with her. I’m sure that both of her parents were looking down from above with pride at what she had accomplished as a woman in a man’s world. It is sad that she died in such a state feeling so lost and alone, but she tried to keep control over how she was going to leave rather than others telling her what she should do for the brief time she had left. R.I,P, Elizabeth Tudor, one of the greatest English monarchs of all time.

  14. I am able to search out where is Elizabeth soul.If give me healthy body and give me knowledge of Elizabeth 1 from the barth to die whole knowledge with picture and with knowledge of her life event.when she sorrow and when she happy so please give me healthy body.for this work i will have to visit native place and i will have to live some time with natural then please give me healthy life.Please i am telling true.Please understand me.I love Elizabeth 1.Plz plz plz


  16. I do not quite share the feeling of my fellow Catholic up there. I agree that all the people whom he named were wicked and deserve reprobation; however, I hope for their salvation by the merits of Christ, the blessed Virgin, and the Catholic martyrs whom they sent to their deaths. Deus miserere eis!

    I must deprecate the one-sided, hagiographic account of Elizabeth’s death given here. Even if one discounts Lady Southwell’s appalling eye-witness account of the Queen’s death as propaganda, accounts such as that of Lord Howard’s visit to her death-bed make it clear that Elizabeth died hard and miserably, with no great hope either for her own or her country’s future state.

  17. Mary Tudor had a very pleasant death bed experience. What an interesting contrast,,especially given that Elizabeth is celebrated and Mary hated. Mary I died with dreams of children singing.

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