15 January 1559 – Elizabeth I is Crowned Queen

Elizabeth I CoronationOn this day in history, the 15th January 1559, at 12pm, Elizabeth I was crowned Queen. She was the third of Henry VIII’s children to become monarch and she was the last of the Tudor dynasty.

Elizabeth had inherited the throne from her half-sister Mary I, who had died on the 17th November 1558, and the lavish coronation had been planned for the 15th January on the advice of the Elizabethan scholar, astrologer, mathematician and astronomer, John Dee. Elizabeth’s childhood friend, Robert Dudley, had advised Elizabeth to ask Dee to draw up an “electional chart” to find the most auspicious date and time for her coronation, for the birth of a new age. Dee was obviously restricted by time, in that the coronation needed to take place within a few months of Elizabeth’s accession, so he chose the 15th January as the best date, although it was not perfect.

Elizabeth’s coronation day began in Westminster Hall, which had been decorated with her father’s sumptuous tapestries and his collection of gold and gilt plate. Blue cloth had been laid from the Hall to the Abbey and Elizabeth, wearing her crimson parliament robes, processed along this cloth which Starkey explains was then torn to shreds by people as souvenirs.

Elizabeth processed to the crossing in the Abbey and withdrew to a curtained enclosure to change. She was then led by Oglethorpe, Bishop of Carlisle, up on to the stage where he proclaimed her queen in each of the four corners, asking the congregation if they would have her for their queen and listening for their enthusiastic replies of “Yea! Yea!”. Elizabeth then made the traditional offerings at the altar and then sat in the throne of estate to listen to the sermon. After the sermon, Elizabeth knelt for the Lords Prayer, took the oath and then withdrew to the traverse to change for the anointing part of ther service. Wearing a kirtle of gold and silver and leaning on cloth of gold cushions, which had been placed before the altar, Elizabeth was anointed on the shoulder blades, breast, arms, hands and head. She was then dressed in white gloves, a white coif and the white dalmatic (tunic) of a deacon. Now that she had sworn the oath and been anointed, she could sit in St Edward’s Chair and receive the sword, armils, mantle, ring and sceptre, and be crowned. She was crowned with three different crowns, one after the other, with fanfares marking each crowning.

Elizabeth I Coronation MiniatureElizabeth was then dressed in gold, right down to her shoes, and with the sceptre in one hand and orb in the other, she processed onto the stage where she sat in the throne where her people greeted her and Oglethorpe and the Lords Spiritual and Temporal paid homage to their new queen by kneeling at her feet and kissing her cheek. The coronation pardon was then read and this was followed by the coronation mass, which included the Epistle and the Gospel being read out in both Latin and English. Elizabeth then kissed the Bible. Oglethorpe then defied his new queen by elevating the host, at whic point Elizabeth withdrew to change into her purple robes. The Queen then processed from the Abbey, through Old Palace Yard and back to Westminster Hall to enjoy her coronation banquet. Elizabeth was now the official queen and her coronation and accession had been a huge success.

You can read an account of Elizabeth’s coronation by an “anonymous Englishman” online at www.hillsdalesites.org

Also on this day in history…

  • 1535 – King Henry VIII proclaimed that he was now Supreme Head of the Church of England:
    “Memorandum that the King in his privy chamber, 15 January 26 Hen. VIII., in presence of Sir Thos. Audley, lord Chancellor, Thos. duke of Norfolk, treasurer of England, Thos. earl of Wiltshire, keeper of the Privy Seal, Thos. Crumwell, chief secretary, and others, ordained that his style should henceforth be “Henricus Octavus, Dei gratia Angliæ et Franciæ Rex, Fidei Defensor et Dominus Hiberniæ, et in Terra Supremum Caput Anglicanæ Ecclesiæ.”” LP viii.52

Notes and Sources

  • Elizabeth: Apprenticeship, David Starkey (2000)
  • CORONATION OF QUEEN ELIZABETH anonymous Englishman, “The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth,” C.G. Bayne, English Historical Review 22 (October 1907):666–671
  • Illustrations: 1) Elizabeth I, Unknown Artist c. 1600 2) Elizabeth I – The Coronation Miniature
    Nicholas Hilliard, c.1600

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18 thoughts on “15 January 1559 – Elizabeth I is Crowned Queen”
  1. Claire, The Coronation miniature is generally accepted to have been painted by Levina Teerlinc. The Erna Auerbach attribution to Hilliard has long been discounted by scholars.

    The Coronation Portrait, currently attributed to Anon, is clearly based on the miniature, but painted around 1600, it was not painted by Teerlinc since she died in 1576. I am researching the possibility this was a large portrait by Nicholas Hilliard.

    These robes are a statement – a golden beginning for the hopes of the English people – pure marketing spin for Elizabeth, so who said PR was a modern concept!

    1. Melanie I think that Elizabeth’s portraits are especially interesting due to the fact that she was perhaps one of the first monarchs to understand what PR was..Usually in the portraits there are objects that represent her reign and what she wanted to communicate to her people at any certain time.One of my favorite portraits is the Rainbow portrait and on her dress she has ears and eyes.Some think the ears and eyes represent that Elizabeth was “All seeing and all knowing.”But I think perhaps the eyes could have represented Robert Dudley because she called him her “Eyes.”Not sure what or who the ears would have represented then.But it is fun to speculate.

      1. Or the eyes and ears could have meant that she paying tribute to her people by saying that the eyes and ears of her people kept her on throne.

        1. Hilliard was the master of the layered meaning and his miniatures hold many enigmatic words or symbols. Often the only people who understood these added gems were the commissioner and the receiver of the miniature. The novel, The Truth of the Line,(published by MadeGlobal Publishing) weaves his own story and his relationship with the Queen as well as offering an explanation to some portraits that are sill puzzling art historians. I wrote an article on Hilliard’s Attici Amoris Ergo miniature for Claire, which is still somewhere on the Anne Boleyn files, if you are interested in my theory of the meaning behind this apparently gibberish motto.

          It’s heartwarming to know that Hilliard’s paintings still intrigue and delight us so many centuries after they were painted.

      2. Mrs Fiennes, the Rainbow portrait is lovely and considering who commissioned it, perhaps it represents the eyes and ears of the agents who worked for Robert Cecil, as argued by Andrew Graham Dixon. He also attributes the portrait to Isaac Oliver (once a pupil of Hilliard) unlike others who think it might be Marcus Gheerhaerts the Younger. Either way it is likely that the Olivers and the Gheerhaerts possibly discussed it as they were related by marriage!

        1. According to Dr Tarnya Cooper of the National Portrait Gallery, the attribution to Teerlinc is most likely. However, there are two very clear schools of thought – those that follow Erna Aubach & Dr Strong (and he studied under Dr Frances Yates). All this study was done in the 1960s, whereas the later research done by Drs Cooper, Hearn (of Tate) & Coombes (V&A), Emma Butterworth – the miniature specialist at the Philip Mould Gallery and those lesser mortals like me, subscribe to the Teerlinc theory.

          Unless we come across a sketchbook, or perhaps find it mentioned in a set of accounts, we will never know for certain.

  2. A couple of questions:
    1) I understood that Elizabeth had used Mary’s coronation robes, no doubt because of the expense. Were these the ones she wore to process to the Abbey? I don’t think they are the gold ones.
    2) Why 3 crowns? We did not have 3 kingdoms then. Was 3 crowns the normal practice? I have not read of it anywhere else.

    1. There is an interesting article on pageantry and coronation rituals in Tudor England at http://happyandgloriousblog.blogspot.com.es/2013/07/pageantry-forgery-faith-and-muddles.html and the writer says that Edward VI started the practice of being crowned with three crowns rather than St Edward’s crown and the Imperial crown. The writer of the article cites Roy Strong as pondering “that this triple coronation might have been a deliberate riposte to the pope, who was famously crowned with a triple-crowned papal tiara, and to the Holy Roman Emperor who was usually crowned three separate times with three different crowns.”

      Re the coronation outfit, for her coronation procession Elizabeth wore Mary I’s kirtle and mantel which she’d had altered to fit her. The kirtle had been given a new bodice and sleeves – Sources: Mary I: Gender, Power, and Ceremony in the Reign of England’s First Queen by Sarah Duncan, Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d by Janey Arnold.

  3. Claire You are probably correct in thinking the coronation portraits are by Hillard since that was who her early court artist was.I was assuming you were speaking of the Rainbow my apologies.

  4. What a wonderful spectacle of pomp and ceremony this must have been and a country proud of their new Queen.

    However, I need some help here I think, following Mary’s reign I assume the country was now Catholic. Would Elizabeth been crowned a Catholic Queen?

  5. Elizabeth was a Protestant Queen because she was educated by Catherine Parr, King Henry’s last wife, who I believe was also a Protestant.

  6. I think the most interesting and poignant feature of the famous coronation portrait of Elizabeth is that the eyes of Anne Boleyn are looking out.

    If I am not mistaken, Elizabeth, in most respects resembled her Tudor relations – the fiery red hair, and fair skin – but her eyes she inherited from her mother.

  7. The elevation of the Host is interesting: showing that the country was still Catholic and the service maintained its Catholic elements. The Coronation service seems to have been the same for hundreds of years, but it must have had some new elements in it. The Bishop was more likely to raise the Host than to obey Elizabeth as he would have been still in the habit of doing this and most likely saw obedience to God first as his priority. Elizabeth may have been raised a Protestant; but the service that she chose to follow still retains some Catholic elements. She did not make her religious settlement until her first Parliament and that attempted to find a middle way between the Catholic and the Calvanist factions in her Church and Court. She hoped that by doing so she could find a religious practice and worship that all could accept and appreciate. But the old faith was still official until Elizabeth changed it in this Parliament with the new settlement. Her prayer book and Bible tried to blend the old and new, but again they were not accepted by everyone and Elizabeth was to find opposition by both Puritans and Catholics and other None Conformists for the rest of her reign.

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