November 30, 1601 – Elizabeth’s Golden Speech

Elizabeth Before Parliament by an Unknown Artist (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

This was one of the two great speeches of Elizabeth’s career (the other was the speech to her troops at Tilbury right before the expected invasion of the Spanish Armada). This one was delivered to Parliament only 16 months before her death, and is viewed as marking the symbolic end of her reign. She really sets up her legacy, speaking eloquently of the love and respect she had for her country. The Six Wives of Henry VIII does a beautiful job with it – they have Cecil’s son mentioning how a candle always flares up before its flame is extinguished…

The following is the full text of the speech, from a document from the University of Munich; I have cleaned it up a bit, and highlighted the portions that are best known – they really do sing…

We perceive your coming is to present thanks unto us; know, I accept them with no less joy, than your loves can have desire to offer such a present, and do more esteem it, than any treasure of riches; for those we know how to prize, but loyalty, love, and thanks, I account them invaluable: and though God hath raised me high, yet this I account the glory of my Crown, that I have reigned with your loves. This makes that I do not so much rejoice that God hath made me to be a Queen, as to be a Queen over so thankful a people, and to be the mean, under God, to conserve you in safety, and to preserve you from danger; yea, to be the instrument to deliver you from dishonor, shame, and infamy; to keep you from servitude, and from slavery under our enemies, and cruel tyranny, and vile oppression intended against us: for the better withstanding whereof, we take very acceptably your intended helps, and chiefly in that it manifesteth your loves, and largeness of heart to your sovereign.

Of myself I must say this, I never was any greedy scraping grasper, nor a strict fast-holding Prince, nor yet a waster; My heart was never set upon any worldly goods, but only for my subjects’ good. What you do bestow on me, I will not hoard up, but receive it to bestow on you again; yea, mine own properties I account yours, to be expended for your good, and your eyes shall see the bestowing of it for your welfare.

Mr. Speaker, I would wish you, and the rest to stand up, for I fear I shall yet trouble you with longer speech. Mr. Speaker, you give me thanks, but I am more to thank you, and I charge you, thank them of the Lower House from me, for had I not received knowledge from you, I might a fallen into the lapse of an error, only for want of true information. Since I was Queen, yet did I never put my pen to any grant but upon pretext, and semblance made me, that it was for the good, and avail of my subjects generally, though a private profit to some of my ancient servants who have deserved well: but that my grants shall be made grievances to my people, and oppressions, to be privileged under color of our patents, our princely dignity shall not suffer it. When I heard it, I could give no rest unto my thoughts until I had reformed it, and those varlets, lewd persons, abusers of my bounty, shall know I will not suffer it. And Mr. Speaker, tell the House from me, I take it exceeding grateful that the knowledge of these things are come unto me from them. And though amongst them the principal members are such as are not touched in private, and therefore need not speak from any feeling of the grief, yet we have heard that other gentlemen also of the House, who stand as free, have spoken as freely in it, which gives us to know that no respects or interests have moved them other then the minds they bear to suffer no dimi∣nution of our Honour, and our Subjects love unto us. The zeal of which affection tending to ease my people, and knit their hearts unto us, I embrace with a princely care far above all earthly treasures. I esteem my peoples love, more than which I desire not to merit; And God that gave me here to sit, and placed me over you, knows that I never respected my self, but as your good was concerned in me: yet what dangers, what practices, and what perils I have passed, some, if not all of you know, but none of these things do move Me, or ever made me fear, but it is God that hath delivered me. And in my governing this land, I have ever set the last judgement day before mine eyes, and so to rule, as I shall be judged and answer before a higher Judge, to whose Judgment-Seat I do appeal in that, never thought was cherished in my heart that tended not to my peoples’ good. And if my princely bounty have been abused, and my grants turned to the hurt of my people contrary to my will and meaning, or if any in authority under me have neglected, or converted what I have committed unto them, I hope God will not lay their culps to my charge. To be a king and wear a Crown is a thing more glorious to them that see it, than it is pleasant to them that bear it: for my self, I never was so much enticed with the glorious name of a king, or the royal authority of a queen, as delighted that God hath made me His instrument to maintain His truth and glory, and to defend this kingdom from dishonor, damage, tyranny, and oppression. But should I ascribe any of these things unto my self, or my sexly weakness, I were not worthy to live, and of all most unworthy of the mercies I have received at God’s hands: but to God only and and wholly all is given and ascribed. The cares and trouble of a Crown I cannot more fitly resemble, than to the drugs of a learned physician, perfumed with some aromatical savor, or to bitter pills gilded over, by which they are made more acceptable or less offensive, which indeed are bitter and unpleasant to take; and for mine own part, were it not for conscience sake to discharge the duty that God hath laid upon me, and to maintain His glory, and keep you in safety, in mine own disposition I should be willing to resign the place I hold to any other, and glad to be freed of the glory with the labors: For it is not my desire to live or reign longer than my life and reign shall be for your good. And though you have had and may have many mightier and wiser princes sitting in this seat, yet you never had, nor shall have, any that will love you better.

Thus Mr. Speaker, I commend me to your loyal loves, and yours to my best care, and your further counsels; and I pray you Mr. Controllor, and Mr. Secretary, and you of my Council, that before these gentlemen depart into their countries you bring them all to kiss my hand.

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August 9, 1588 – Elizabeth’s Speech to her Troops at Tilbury

Elizabeth at Tilbury - portrayed by Glenda Jackson in the BBC's wonderful 1971 series, Elizabeth R

Elizabeth at Tilbury – portrayed by Glenda Jackson in the BBC’s wonderful 1971 series, Elizabeth R

This is one of the most famous speeches of all time – delivered by Elizabeth I to inspire her forces just before the arrival of the Spanish Armada. And inspire she did. Carolly Erickson describes her riding “through their ranks on a huge white warhorse, armed like a queen out of antique mythology in a silver cuirass and silver trauncheon.” The speech was received with thunderous applause, and word of it quickly warmed the hearts of her entire country. As Leicester wrote to the Earl of Shrewsbury, “Our royal mistress hath been here with me to see her camp and people, which so inflamed the hearts of her good subjects, as I think the weakest person among them is able to match the proudest Spaniard that dares land in England.”

My loving people,

We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit ourselves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear, I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust.

I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.

I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns; and We do assure you in the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you. In the meantime, my lieutenant general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject; not doubting but by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over those enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.


Wikipedia has a specific page for this: Speech to the Troops at Tilbury.  If you want something more in-depth, Carolly Erickson’s The First Elizabeth offers a wonderful  description. And if you really want a deep dive, you can’t beat Susan Frye’s article, The Myth of Elizabeth at Tilbury.


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July 29, 1565 – Mary of Scotland Marries Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley

Mary and Darnley circa 1565 (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Mary and Darnley, painting circa 1565 now at Hardwick Hall (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Mary and Henry were actually cousins – they shared a grandmother in Margaret Tudor – and they both had strong claims to the throne of England.

Mary had the stronger claim since her father, James V of Scotland, was Margaret’s first-born son. Darnley’s claim arose through Margaret’s second marriage, and was through a daughter (also named Margaret), so his claim was lesser than Mary’s.  But because Margaret was Henry’s older sister, both their claims were stronger than anyone else’s, including the Greys who claimed through the younger Mary Tudor.

Both Mary and Darnley were Catholic – which made them even more of a real threat to Elizabeth’s throne as it offered a dynastic alternative to a Protestant rule. The fact that Darnley was free to marry Mary of Scotland proves Elizabeth’s strong belief in justice and the letter of the law: Darnley had been imprisoned after his parents, the semi-regal Lennox family, went crazy in 1562, trying to seize power wherever they could find it – Scotland or England (they also had strong ties to France), but Elizabeth released him when nothing could be proved against him. (Henry VIII would have executed them just for the risk they posed!)

Quick context from Wikipedia about Darnley’s parents: “Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox, was third in line to the Scottish throne, and his wife Margaret Douglas was niece to Henry VIII and granddaughter of Henry VII.[7]

Was this marriage or wasn’t it another instance of Mary baiting Elizabeth? After all, Mary married the man who could help her steal the English throne. To dissuade her from this choice, Elizabeth had offered the widowed Queen of Scots her own favorite, Robert Dudley, as husband. The Six Wives of Henry VIII does an amazing job giving us this story, showing us an Elizabeth foiled in her plan to protect her throne and make her beloved a King at the same time. “How could she marry Darnley, I offered her Leicester.”

Either way, marriage to Darnley launched the downhill trajectory of her life. The union didn’t end well, though it did produce the perfect heir to the English and Scottish Thrones in James VI/James I of England. So let us stop there and raise a glass to toast the consequences of today’s marriage – the peaceful unification of Scotland and England. (I’m not going to mention the possible ramifications of Brexit here…that’s for another post.)


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February 8, 1587 – The Last Letter of Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary Stuart's Last Letter (Creative Commons License  via the National Library of Scotland)

Mary Stuart’s Last Letter (Creative Commons License via the National Library of Scotland)

Mary, Mary, Mary. As much as she was a victim of circumstance and a pawn of ambitious people around her, she really did dig her own grave when she conspired against Elizabeth…Six hours before she was executed, Mary Stuart wrote her final letter – to Henri III of France, the brother of her first husband. In it, she continued to maintain that she was innocent of the charges against her, and that she was being persecuted only because of her Catholic faith. Perhaps she was not aware of how clear the case was against her – give the coded letters written by her own hand sanctioning the assassination of Elizabeth – or perhaps it was all bravado. Either way, her attention was now clearly on her legacy.

To the most Christian king, my brother and old ally.

Royal brother, having by God’s will, for my sins I think, thrown myself into the power of the Queen my cousin, at whose hands I have suffered much for almost twenty years, I have finally been condemned to death by her and her Estates. I have asked for my papers, which they have taken away, in order that I might make my will, but I have been unable to recover anything of use to me, or even get leave either to make my will freely or to have my body conveyed after my death, as I would wish, to your kingdom where I had the honour to be queen, your sister and old ally.

Tonight, after dinner, I have been advised of my sentence: I am to be executed like a criminal at eight in the morning. I have not had time to give you a full account of everything that has happened, but if you will listen to my doctor and my other unfortunate servants, you will learn the truth, and how, thanks be to God, I scorn death and vow that I meet it innocent of any crime, even if I were their subject. The Catholic faith and the assertion of my God-given right to the English crown are the two issues on which I am condemned, and yet I am not allowed to say that it is for the Catholic religion that I die, but for fear of interference with theirs. The proof of this is that they have taken away my chaplain, and although he is in the building, I have not been able to get permission for him to come and hear my confession and give me the Last Sacrament, while they have been most insistent that I receive the consolation and instruction of their minister, brought here for that purpose. The bearer of this letter and his companions, most of them your subjects, will testify to my conduct at my last hour. It remains for me to beg Your Most Christian Majesty, my brother-in-law and old ally, who have always protested your love for me, to give proof now of your goodness on all these points: firstly by charity, in paying my unfortunate servants the wages due them – this is a burden on my conscience that only you can relieve: further, by having prayers offered to God for a queen who has borne the title Most Christian, and who dies a Catholic, stripped of all her possessions. As for my son, I commend him to you in so far as he deserves, for I cannot answer for him. I have taken the liberty of sending you two precious stones, talismans against illness, trusting that you will enjoy good health and a long and happy life. Accept them from your loving sister-in-law, who, as she dies, bears witness of her warm feeling for you. Again I commend my servants to you. Give instructions, if it please you, that for my soul’s sake part of what you owe me should be paid, and that for the sake of Jesus Christ, to whom I shall pray for you tomorrow as I die, I be left enough to found a memorial mass and give the customary alms.

Wednesday, at two in the morning
Your most loving and most true sister  

Mary R  


National Library of Scotland, with their full collection of manuscripts and archives. They also have a series of pages dedicated to this letter – showing the images of each page, the French transcription and the English translation. Please go visit – it is sublime!

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January 15, 1559 – Coronation of Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I, in her coronation robes, by an unknown artist (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Elizabeth I, in her coronation robes, by an unknown artist (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

A coronation was actually a two-day affair: the first day involved the monarch’s procession through the capital city, the second was the religious ceremony in which s/he was anointed and crowned.

Her procession through London on January 14th featured five stations displaying pageants that emphasized poems and orations (rather than a heavier reliance on the tableaux vivants more popular during the Middle Ages) where she was depicted as a savior of the Protestant faith, a new Deborah. At Mary’s death, the English treasury was “utterly exhausted” and so there is every reason to expect that that the pomp might have been slightly abbreviated. But Elizabeth had always shown herself to be brilliant at the things that mattered: the opportunity for natural propaganda and for cementing a sovereign’s hold on subjects’ hearts. So she economized on that first day by re-using her sister’s old coronation gowns and some of the giant figures created for Mary’s wedding to Philip – and focused on creating personal moments with as many people as possible. In Agnes Strickland’s words:

“The City of London might, at that time, have been termed a stage, wherein was shown the spectacle of the noble-hearted queen’s demeanor towards her most loving people, and the people’s exceeding joy at beholding such a sovereign, and hearing so princely a voice. How many nosegays did her grace receive at poor women’s hands! How often stayed she her chariot, when she saw any simple body approach to speak to her!”

The ceremony itself presented far more pitfalls to Elizabeth – including one issue that consumed several weeks of consideration. For political expedience, Elizabeth had decided she wanted to be crowned according to the rites of the Church of Rome…but still take on the title of Supreme Head of the Church of England. So who would crown her? That should have been the duty of the Archbishop of Canterbury – and the last holder of that post, Thomas Cranmer, would have been delighted to do so had he not been burned for heresy. Next in line was the Archbishop of York, but he was a devout Catholic who refused to name Elizabeth as Supreme Head of the Church – a resistance that was matched by bishop after bishop who had been appointed by Mary… At the last minute, the Bishop of Carlisle (Dr. Oglethorpe) borrowed vestments from the Bishop of London (Edmund Bonner) and fulfilled the role.

With that solution out of the way, the ceremony could proceed. The following is taken from Strickland, quoting liberally from John Nichols’ The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth (I have eliminated the double quotes, footnotes, and also some text relating to a side issue):

The path for the queen’s procession was railed in, and spread with blue cloth. The queen was conducted, with the usual ceremonies, to a chair of state at the high altar: she was then led by two noblemen to the platform for recognition, and presented by bishop Oglethorpe as queen, trumpets blowing between every proclamation. When she presented herself at the high altar, she knelt before Oglethorpe and kissed the cover (veil) of the paten and chalice, and made an offering in money. She returned to her chair while bishop Oglethorpe preached the sermon and “bade the beads;” then the queen, kneeling, said the Lord’s Prayer. On being reseated, the bishop administered the coronation oath: the precise words of it are omitted, but it has been asserted that it was the same exacted from James I and the Stuart kings of England who were required to take a similar oath – viz.,, to keep the church in the same state as did king Edward the Confessor.

When bishop Oglethorpe was kneeling before the altar, the queen gave a little book to a lord to deliver to him, which he at first refused to receive and read in other books; but immediately afterwards tool the queen’s book and read it before her grace. It is supposed that the queen sent, with her little book, a request that Oglethorpe would read the gospel and epistle in English which was done. Then the bishop sang…the mass from a missal, which had been carried in procession before the queen. A carpet was spread before the high altar, and cushions of gold cloth placed upon it; and then secretary Cecil delivered a book to the bishop, another bishop standing at the left of the altar. The queen now approached the altar, and leaned upon cushions, while her attendants spread a silken cloth over her and the bishop anointed her. It seems she was displeased at this part of the ceremony, for when it was finished, and she retired behind her traverse to change her dress, she observed to her maids that the oil was grease, and smelled ill.

When she reappeared before the public in the abbey, she wore a train and mantel of cloth of gold furred with ermine. Then a sword with a girdle was put upon her, the belt going over one shoulder and under the others; two garters were put on her arms; these were the armillae or armlets, and were not connected with the order of the Garter. Then the bishop put the crown upon her head, and delivered the scepter into her hand. She was then crowned with another crown – probably the crown of Ireland – the trumpets again sounding. The queen then offered the sword, laying it on the altar, and knelt, with the scepter and cross in her hand, while the bishop read from a book. The queen then returned to her chair of state, the bishop put his hands into her hands, and repeated certain words. And then the lords went up to her grace, kneeling upon their knees and kissing her grace.[…] 

Then the bishops began the mass, the epistle being read, first in Latin, and then in English; the gospel the same – the book being sent to the queen, who kissed the gospel. She then went to the altar to make her second offering, three unsheathed swords being borne before her, and one in the scabbard. The queen, kneeling, put money in the basin and kissed the chalice; and then and there certain words were read to her grace. She retire to her seat again during the consecration and kissed the pax. She likewise received the eucharist but did not receive from the cup. When mass was done, she retired behind the high altar and as usual, offered her crown, robes and regalia in St. Edward’s chapel; coming forth again with the state crown on her head and robed in violet velvet and ermine, and so proceeded to the banquet in Westminster hall.

The champion of England, sir Edward Dymock, performed his official duty by riding into the hall, in fair, complete armor, upon a beautiful courser richly trapped with gold cloth. He cast down his gauntlet in the midst of the hall as the queen sat at dinner, with offer to fight him, in the queen’s rightful quarrel, who should deny her to be the lawful queen of this realm. The proclamation of the heralds on this occasion an historical and literary curiosity. The right the champion offered to defend was according to the proclamation of Mr. Garter king-at-arms, that ‘of the most high and mighty princess, or dread sovereign lady Elizabeth by the grace of God queen of England, France, Ireland, defender of the true, ancient,, and Catholic faith, most worthy empress from the Orcade isles to the mountains Pyrenee. A largesse, a largess, a largess.’


Agnes Strickland, Lives of the Queens of England, Volume VII

John Nichols, The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth

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November 22, 1515 – Birth of Marie de Guise (Consort of James V)

Marie de Guise, painted by Corneille de Lyon c.1537 (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Marie de Guise was a member of the powerful House of Guise – a family that played a major role in 16th Century France.

Marie was married at 18 to Louis II d’Orleans, the Duke of Longueville, then widowed three years later in 1537. The timing led her to become the focus of marriage negotiations with Scotland since its King, James V, had recently lost his wife (Madeleine de Valois, the fifth child and third daughter of Francis I of France). James wanted another French bride to continue and strengthen the Auld Alliance but with no more princesses available, the next best option was marriage into the semi-regal Guise family.

Francis I clearly promoted this option: he announced that he would pay a princess-sized dowry for her. This made her a much-courted bride: even Henry VIII sued for her hand (his wife Jane Seymour had just died). These plans and offers were not terribly welcome to the 22-year old widow, who had hoped to be given a little more time to come to mourn a husband that she truly loved, and who hated the idea of leaving her beloved country. Still, given Henry’s marital history and Scotland’s traditional role as a friendly nation (to say nothing of the fact that James was a ruggedly handsome 26 while Henry was 46, fully bald and already tending to fat), James was obviously the preferable outcome.

Marie impressed her new mother-in-law (Henry VIII’s sister Margaret), the nobility, the entire country. She quickly bore her husband two sons – both of whom unfortunately died before they were a year old. She had a third child, Mary, born December 8, 1542. Unfortunately, Margaret Tudor’s death the year before had removed the only pro-English voice left at court, which led to war between Scotland and England. James spent several months with his army, took sick several times. He died of a fever on December 14, shortly after a serious defeat at the Battle of Solway Moss, leaving his six-day-old daughter Queen of Scotland.

James Hamilton, the Second Earl of Arran and the most powerful man in the realm, became Regent for the young Queen, though Marie de Guise remained a powerful political player. In 1554, she took over as regent for her daughter, then eleven years old and living in France with her fiance, the Dauphin Francis. Under Marie’s regency, Scotland was completely pro-French, with many top government posts held by Frenchmen. Scotland was also adamantly Catholic. This created bad feelings with England when Elizabeth I mounted the throne. Under Henry VIII’s will, his niece Mary of Scotland was the next rightful heir – but to Catholic rulers, Elizabeth was an illegitimate usurper and Mary already the true queen.  When Mary and Francis came to the French throne in 1559, the couple exacerbated the issue by adding the arms of England to their blazon. It was a move Mary was to regret later in life.

Marie lived to see her daughter become Queen of France, and she was spared seeing that same daughter widowed in December 1560: Marie had fallen seriously ill earlier in the year, and died of dropsy on June 11th. Her body was secreted out of the country so that she could be buried in France, in the Convent of Saint-Pierre. Mary attended the funeral.

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November 17, 1558 – Death of Mary I

Mary I, painted by Antonis Mor in 1554 (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

November 17, 1558 marked the sad end of Mary I, first Queen Regnant of England (except for Matilda, whose reign was disputed and who was arguably the reason that Henry VIII was so terrified of leaving his kingdom to a daughter…).

Mary died at Saint James Palace. Sir Nicholas Throckmorton removed Mary’s betrothal ring from her finger and brought it to Elizabeth at Hatfield to prove that the succession had truly taken place. The legend is that Elizabeth was sitting under an old oak tree when Throckmorton found her. After he placed the ring in her hand, she sank to her knees and quoted from Psalm 118: “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.”

Much of the country agreed. Mary was not a popular monarch. She had a vested interest in returning England to Catholicism – it was, after all, the creation of the Church of England that allowed her mother to be set aside. So, following in her father’s footsteps, she burned Protestants to persuade the people to return to Rome. She also married Philip II of Spain, allying England with a power that was actually then at war with France – and threatening the end that had so terrified Henry VIII: that England would become a province of one of the European powers.

But the truth was, Mary was more of a victim than almost anyone. She was only twelve when her father began the proceedings that would end with her bastardization, she had to watch a succession of stepmothers, some of which she loved and some of which she hated. She had to endure a younger brother threatening her religion and her very existence. And even after she acceded to the throne, she suffered two false pregnancies and the sinking feeling that the world secretly wanted her dead so her younger sister could inherit the throne. When you think of the misery endured by her mother, it’s hard not to sit and wonder whether she was subject to some kind of familial curse, like the Kennedys of today who have lost bright stars from several successive generations…

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November 8, 1543 – Birth of Lettice Knollys

Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester, by George Gower (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester, by George Gower (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Lettice Knollys was a well-known figure in the Tudor court, though she spent little time actually there.

Her mother, Catherine Carey, was a daughter of Mary Boleyn, born about 1524. That was near the time that Mary Boleyn was mistress to Henry VIII, and gossip claimed that the King had fathered Catherine, though he never acknowledged her or her brother Henry, born in 1526, as his children the way he did with Henry Fitzroy (of course, he was pursuing Mary’s sister at the time!). Catherine was a Maid of Honor to both Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard, then wed Sir Francis Knollys and retired from court. She returned in 1559 when her first cousin (or half-sister…) Elizabeth acceded to the throne, and was appointed Chief Lady of the Bedchamber. Acknowledged as one of the new queen’s favorites, she also secured a place for Lettice as Maid of the Privy Chamber.

Lettice quickly caught the eye of Walter Devereux, Viscount Hereford. They married in late 1560 and Lettice retired from court. She did visit from time to time, enough that in the summer of 1565, the Spanish Ambassador Diego de Silva describe her as “one of the best-looking ladies of the court.” Unfortunately, during that same visit she got herself sent away for flirting with Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester…

The affair with Leicester seems to have continued. In 1573, he sent her a present of venison from his seat in Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire – and apparently she also visited Kenilworth to hunt in 1574 and 1576 while her husband was in Ireland. Devereux, who by that point had been raised to the Earldom of Essex, was said to despise Leicester. Unfortunately, there was little he could do about it. He died of dysentery on September 22, 1576, “bemoaning the frailness of women.”

Lettice observed the traditional two-year mourning period, then on September 21, 1578 married Leicester in a secret ceremony. When the Queen discovered it two months later, Lettice was banished from court for life. She was allowed a single visit back – it occurred in 1598, after Leicester had died and before her son, who had inherited the Essex title, launched the revolt that led to his execution – but nothing changed.

Only 45 when Leicester died, Lettice married a third time: Sir Christopher Blount, a trusted friend of her late husband’s. Gossip followed this union – since the marriage took place only six months after Leicester’s death, Lettice was rumored to have poisoned Leicester so that she could be with her new lover. She claimed it was just hard to be a woman alone.

Blount was caught up in her son’s treasonous revolt against Elizabeth, so Lettice lost both of them in 1601. She herself lived on until 1634, dying on Christmas Day at the age of 91. She chose to be buried with Leicester.

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August 29, 1588 – Leicester’s Last Letter to Elizabeth I

August 29, 1588 - Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, writes his last letter to Elizabeth I. Read it on

“His Last Letter” (public domain thanks to the National Archives and Records Administration, England) 

Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, had a long, deep, and complicated relationship. They were childhood friends, and he was one of her favorites (if not her very favorite) when she came to the throne in November 1558. Truly he was the love of her life, though she never married him. They remained close until he died.

It was just after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Leicester’s stomach had been bothering him for some time (it is believed he was suffering from stomach cancer) and he decided to travel to Buxton to take the healing waters there. He wrote this letter shortly before his planned departure, which never occurred (he died at his house in Oxfordshire on September 4, 1588). The letter was found after Elizabeth’s death in 1603, in a small casket by her bed. She had written “His Last Letter” on it and kept it close beside her for the rest of her life.

I most humbly beseech your Majesty to pardon your poor old servant to be thus bold in sending to know how my gracious lady doeth, and what ease of her late pains she finds, being the chiefest thing in this world I do pray for, for her to have good health and long life. For my own poor case, I continue still your medicine and find it amends much better than with any other thing that hath been given me. Thus hoping to find perfect cure at the bath, with the continuance of my wonted prayer for your Majesty’s most happy preservation, I humbly kiss your foot. From your old lodging at Rycote, this Thursday morning, ready to take on my journey, by your Majesty’s most faithful and obedient servant.

R. Leicester

Even as I had writ thus much, I received Your Majesty’s token by Young Tracey.


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March 20, 1549 – Thomas Seymour Executed

March 20, 1549 - Thomas Seymour executed.

Thomas Seymour Being Inappropriate with Katherine Parr, from the BBC’s Six Wives of Henry VIII

“This day died a man of much wit – and very little judgment.”

These are said to be Elizabeth’s words upon hearing of the death of Thomas Seymour – though the first reference to them is in the work of a seventeenth-century historian so they might fall into the category of “I wish I’d said that”…

One of the commentators on Wikipedia’s Talk Page about Thomas Seymour summed up his character perfectly: he was a “loud, boisterous, fun fellow, whom people, especially women, liked very much, who rushed into crazy schemes, full-steam-ahead, without ever thinking things through very well.” Indeed, that’s what got him killed. I published an article today about Edward VI on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog (these two articles are meant as companion pieces, hope you enjoy); that piece is centered around Edward and so focuses on the details of the treasonable charges – how Seymour tried to break into the King’s apartments in the middle of the night to kidnap him. This article is more concerned with the other part of his hare-brained scheme, his plot to marry the Lady Elizabeth.

Thomas Seymour’s dealings with Elizabeth were a foundational influence in her life. Right after Henry VIII’s death, Seymour applied to the Council for permission to wed either her or Mary. When the Council refused, he married Katherine Parr. Elizabeth came to live with them, and Seymour began to be far more familiar than propriety and their positions warranted. He would come into her bedroom early in the morning, in bare feet and clad only in his nightclothes, to wake her up. At first, Katherine dismissed the behavior as innocent fun, and even joined in some of the early morning tickling sessions. But then she is said to have come upon her husband on his knees before the young princess. At that point Katherine sent Elizabeth away.

When Thomas Seymour was arrested for treason, Elizabeth came under suspicion as well. The Regency Council arrested her servants, Kat Ashley and Tom Parry, and brought them to the Tower to question them. Ashley and Parry quickly confesssed, sharing the details of the early morning romps, admitting that the topic of marriage between Seymour and Elizabeth had been discussed, and just generally implicating her. I remember watching Masterpiece Theater’s Elizabeth R when I was younger, and appreciating their brilliant way of explaining the charges against Elizabeth – and why she was innocent of treason: they had William Cecil come to Elizabeth to privately instruct her (and the viewers!) in the law.

“The Parry confession is treason only if you used the man as your messenger to the Admiral, and only then if the object of your message was to arrange your marriage. The Ashley confession is treason if you admit that from the beginning, even during the life of the late Queen, it was your plan to marry the Admiral or he to marry you. Both confessions are treason if it was your intention to take any action against or without the permission of the Council. Hold to that.”

Indeed, this was the line that Elizabeth walked, and it saved her. From here on in, she was circumspect and careful in all her actions (at least until she acceded to the throne). This experience, while almost getting her killed, also kept her safe during Mary’s reign by teaching her how potentially deadly her position was. In other words, some good came out of Thomas Seymour’s temporary insanity.

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