7th September 1533. ‘Good Queen Bess?’
Much of what we knew about Queen Elizabeth I came through the Victorian ‘heroic and adulatory prism’ of history school, particularly the 17thc ‘fawning glosses’ of Robert Norton, translator of William Camden’s ‘Annales’.
Gloriana, The Virgin Queen, Good Queen Bess, The Spanish Armada, most history remembers, a time of peace, prosperity and tolerance.
Born Today in 1533 the life of Elizabeth, (daughter of later executed Anne Boleyn), was fraught with danger and imprisonment. She was declared illegitimate and removed from the succession, dispatched to the Tower and downgraded from princess to lady.
After King Henry’s death in 1547, she was incarcerated at Cheshunt in the care of Sir Anthony Denny after being banished from the house of Catherine Parr.(1)
After Wyatt’s rebellion Elizabeth was under stricter observation which included imprisonment at Woodstock, suspected of plotting against her half-sister the rabid Catholic, Queen Mary.
However surviving to accede to the throne in 1558, Elizabeth emerging from Tower imprisonment refused to honour Mary’s will or debts, and money left to universities and hospitals were left unpaid.
‘Gloriana’s broad policy was clear as to her role as Supreme Governor of a Protestant Church, the exclusion of Catholics and Anabaptists, but where clergy could now marry, in a church, ‘by law established’, now to become an agent of national integration.
Catholicity was countered by increased state security particularly after 1570 when Pope Pius V promulgated his Bull which anathematised and excommunicated Elizabeth, with her Catholic subjects released from any loyalty.
Having dealt, by execution, with the problem of Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth confronted with increased Catholic conspiracy at home and abroad, allied with the assassination of Protestant William of Orange in July 1584, and facing isolation in Europe, felt duty bound to help Protestants abroad and beat Spanish troops from the Channel Ports.
Between 1585 and 1603 Elizabethans campaigned in The Netherlands, France and Ireland and on the high seas, with recent manuscripts revealing that she was suing for peace as late as June 20th 1588, before the Armada.(2)
Not just opposed by Catholics she was defied by Lord Leicester in The Netherlands, Raleigh in the Atlantic and by the Earl of Essex everywhere. Then her later reign saw riots, famine and the lowest wages since records began. A time of inglorious war, harvest failure, religious dissent, unemployment and high taxation.(2)
Vagrants were liable to be hanged, Roman priests tortured with royal approbation. Loitering became a crime whilst ‘fat cats’ were building great houses, the Hardwick and Wollaton Halls.
Cost of war plus grain shortage and rising prices sent the country into recession and demobbed soldiers petitioned for back-wages, then in 1595 there was riot by apprentices.
A new Phoenix a popular symbol of the period, was to arise from the ashes again in eight years time when the last of the Tudors gave way to the Stuarts.
There is an early stone figure, the City’s earliest, over the doorway to St Dunstan-in the-West, Fleet Street, London to Elizabeth I (1533-1603) probably by William Kerwin (1586).
It once stood at the bottom of Ludgate Hill.
(1) Catherine was Henry’s 6th wife.
(2) John Guy see below.
Daily Telegraph Sat. 28.5.2016.Review: Elizabeth : The Forgotten Years. John Guy. Viking.