Magazine article History Today

Nov 17 1558: The Accession of Elizabeth I

Magazine article History Today

Nov 17 1558: The Accession of Elizabeth I

Article excerpt

Elizabeth Tudor, one of the greatest and most fascinating of English monarchs, was the daughter of Henry VIII and admiring contemporaries thought her a chip off the old block. Her mother was Anne Boleyn. Her elder half-sister Mary, daughter of Catherine of Aragon, was brought up as a Catholic, Elizabeth as a Protestant. By the November of 1558, when the last of close to 300 Protestants were burned alive as heretics, Queen Mary I, after five years on the throne, was childless, prematurely old at forty-two and seriously ill. She clearly had little time left and her husband, Philip II of Spain, sent a message urging her to make sure that Elizabeth would succeed her (which he believed would best suit Spain's interests). He also sent an envoy, who visited the Lady Elizabeth. Now twenty-five, she was living at Hatfield Palace in Hertfordshire and keeping quiet while important people deluged her with private messages of support. When the Spanish envoy told her that it was his master who would make her queen, she told him he was talking nonsense and she would owe the throne to the people of England. He went away discomforted.

Mary accepted that Elizabeth must succeed her. She died at St James's Palace in London at six in the grey morning of the November 17th. Parliament was assembled by eight o'clock and the Commons joined the Lords to agree that the Lady Elizabeth must be proclaimed Mary's successor immediately. The Lady Elizabeth's closest adviser, Sir William Cecil, just fortunately happened to have a copy of the correct wording on him and the new queen was duly proclaimed. One of her first actions was to make Cecil her principal minister, which he would be for the next forty years.

On the 23rd, Elizabeth moved from Hatfield to London, which was seething with excitement. She stayed for five days at the Charterhouse, the former monastery. The new queen was a master of public relations and she endeared herself to her people with spectacular processions and brilliantly orchestrated events. Splendidly dressed in purple velvet, she rode in procession on the 28th through crowded streets from the Charterhouse to the Tower of London. She had once been a prisoner there, but now children recited speeches to her at points along the route and there was much joyful music and firing off of guns. …

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