After a reign that lasted more than 44 years, Elizabeth’s death at the age of 69 ended two eras – her own Elizabethan Era and the Greater Tudor era. She had beaten the odds over and over, making it to the throne, defeating the Armada, replenishing the Treasury, exploring new lands, and outwitting her enemies. But this was a fight no one can win.
They say that her death was portended by the death of her namesake lion in the Tower (lions had been part of the Royal Menagerie at the Tower since at least the 14th century, often named after the reigning monarch). They say she had suffered from a deep melancholy from having outlived everyone she loved (Leicester died in 1588, Blanche Parry in 1590, William Cecil in 1598, Essex in 1601…). But the more immediate cause was blood poisoning, probably from the heavy layers of ceruse (a mixture of white lead and vinegar) she used as make-up.
Stubborn to the end, she stood for hours weighing her past. Her ladies having failed to persuade her to take to her bed, Robert Cecil tried to add his own pressure. That led to the last of her amazing one-liners, “The word ‘must’ is not to be used with princes…little man, little man.” More standing and weighing until finally her ladies came up with the idea of spreading cushions out around her and after a bit she gave in and lay on them.
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