17 November 1558 – The Accession of Queen Elizabeth I

Posted By on November 17, 2014

Elizabeth I CoronationOn 17th November 1558, following the death of Queen Mary I early that morning, Mary’s 25 year-old half sister Elizabeth was proclaimed queen at around noon at Whitehall by by the Houses of Lords and Commons who had been in session that morning.

Sir Nicholas Throckmorton was dispatched to Hatfield to give Elizabeth the news and to give her Mary’s ring as proof of her death. According to tradition, Elizabeth was sitting reading under an old oak tree in the parkland around Hatfield Place when she received the news. On hearing of her accession, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn is said to have sunk to her knees and uttered in Latin what translates to “This is the Lord’s doing: it is marvellous in our eyes”, from Psalm 118.

Sir John Harington, Elizabeth I’s godson, writes of Elizabeth making the following speech on hearing the news:

“”My lords, the law of nature moveth me to sorrow for my sister; the burden that is fallen upon me maketh me amazed; and yet, considering I am God’s creature, ordained to obey His appointment, I will thereto yield, desiring from the bottom of my heart that I may have assistance of His grace to be the minister of His heavenly will in this office now committed to me. And as I am but one body naturally considered, though by His permission a body politic to govern, so I shall desire you all, my lords (chiefly you of the nobility, everyone in his degree and power), to be assistant to me, that I with my ruling and you with your service may make a good account to almighty God and leave some comfort to our posterity in earth. I mean to direct all my actions by good advice and counsel. And therefore, considering that divers of you be of the ancient nobility, having your beginnings and estates of my progenitors, kings of this realm, and thereby ought in honour to have the more natural care for maintaining of my estate and this commonwealth; some others have been of long experience in governance and enabled by my father of noble memory, my brother, and my late sister to bear office; the rest of you being upon special trust lately called to her service only and trust, for your service considered and rewarded; my meaning is to require of you all nothing more but faithful hearts in such service as from time to time shall be in your powers towards the preservation of me and this commonwealth. And for council and advice I shall accept you of my nobility, and such others of you the rest as in consultation I shall think meet and shortly appoint, to the which also, with their advice, I will join to their aid, and for ease of their burden, others meet for my service. And they which I shall not appoint, let them not think the same for any disability in them, but for that I do consider a multitude doth make rather discord and confusion than good counsel. And of my goodwill you shall not doubt, using yourselves as appertaineth to good and loving subjects.”

Historian David Starkey writes of how this speech, entitled “Words spoken by the Queen to the lords at her accession”, is normally assigned to the 20th November but that it is more likely to have been spoken on the 17th.

In this speech, Elizabeth makes various points:-

  • She expresses her sorrow for Mary’s death
  • She expresses her desire to do the best in the office to which she has been called by God
  • She asks for the assistance of the nobility
  • She thanks three groups: the pre-Tudor nobility, nobles who had been ennobled by her father, brother and sister, and those who had followed and advised Mary
  • She makes it clear that there will be what Starkey calls “a heavy cull” and that she will only appoint those “I shall think meet”
  • She consoles those who will not be appointed

It was the start of a new era, the reign of Gloriana.

13 thoughts on “17 November 1558 – The Accession of Queen Elizabeth I”

  1. Selina says:

    I sincerely hope that Anne looked down on her daughter with pride, and that Elizabeth knew her mother loved her very much.

  2. Bobbi says:

    I am so glad to see this posted as opposed to the ” this is the Lords doing, it is marvelous in our eyes”….she had so much more substance than popular myth allows.

  3. Christine says:

    I love the coronation portrait, in it she looks so young, barely more than seventeen and her lovely wavy hair is falling around her shoulders, it’s a pity she didn’t wear it like that instead of opting to have that awful frizzy hairstyle that made her look so severe, she must have felt she was dreaming when she heard of Mary’s death, for the first time in years she felt safe, awful though it sounds as Mary was her sister, I bet Anne was looking down and rejoicing and saying ‘that’s my girl’.

    1. Ursul Twang says:

      QE1 was 25, born in 1533.

      1. Claire says:

        I think Christine is saying that she looked younger than she was, not that she was actually seventeen.

        1. Christine says:

          Yes I know she was twenty five but to me she looks around 17 to 18, fair haired girls do tend to look younger than their darker sisters.

    2. Catlover says:

      It was the custom for queens to wear their hair loose when wearing the crown on state occasions. In earlier Tudor times women wore their hair loose when single but had to conceal it under hood and veil when married. Even queens did so, except when wearing a crown as mentioned above. And women wore their hair long in those days; in the cases of Anne Boleyn and Katherine of Aragon, long enough to sit on.

      There is evidence Elizabeth had an affection for her mother. But she had to express it very discreetly because her father couldn’t stand any mention of Anne Boleyn after her fall and expunged her memory as much as possible.

  4. LittleLear says:

    I can’t help but wonder if Henry ever got the irony of the situation. The daughter he had with the woman he deemed a traitor grew up to be a great figurehead. I wonder if he would have done things differently regarding his marriage with Anne had he known what kind of woman Elizabeth had grown into. Also if he would have known that his quest for a son would have been in vain in the end since Edward passed at such a young age. And if he would have done things differently, I wonder how that would effect how things are today.

  5. BanditQueen says:

    Would it not make more sense for such a speech to have been made to a gathering of Lords and Council or courtiers a few days later, on her entry to London or before her court rather than in her gardens at Hatfield? It makes little sense that she would greet the news of her sisters death with such a speech, which was probably made after practice and preparation, rather than a few words to express her inner feelings, even if they were ones of joy and relief. I can imagine her expressing some sorrow for her sisters death; Mary and she had been companions as well as sisters these last years until Elizabeth’s involvement in the Wyatt plot to displace her; and Elizabeth was naturally given to genuine affection. I would have believed such a speech being made a few days later, as she was greeted by so few people on 17th in any event.

    1. Vermillion says:

      I’d agree that the speech sounds pre-prepared but given that Elizabeth would have been well aware of Mary’s declining health at this time, it’s not impossible that she may have drafted the speech in advance of Mary’s death. That said, it does seem a bit ‘formal’ to have been given on 17 November.

      I would have thought Elizabeth’s chief reaction at Mary’s death would have been relief. Relations between them had been severely strained during the last years of Mary’s reign and they spent little time together. Elizabeth was now at last free from the threat of imprisonment (or worse) and able to take charge, albeit to a problematic inheritance.

  6. Graham says:

    Hi Claire wow thanks for your continued update on the files just a quick note hope your members particularly in the US find time to go to London and see for themselves the history of Elizabeth and Henry VIII that still exists today. The church of ST Dunstan in the West on The Strand has a statue of Elizabeth over the main entrance and ST Barts Hospital has the same of Henry VIII, also I am sure people are aware of two brilliant series made by the BBC on Henry VIII staring Keith Michell and Elizabeth starring Glenda Jackson made in the early 70’s a must see for any Tudor fanatic.
    Thanks again for your excellent updates.

  7. Christine says:

    When I was at school our history teacher took us on a trip to Hatfield House as it’s not far away and some girls went to see the oak tree that Elizabeth was sitting on when she was told she was Queen, I never saw it but over the years iv visited Hatfield and the tree is on display in the cafeteria, it’s just a stump but must be over a thousand years old as it was fully grown when Elizabeth was there, it’s lovely to see it though and imagine Elizabeth sitting on it reading her books.

  8. Fatima says:

    I just want to go back in 15’s and see all this Ann Boleyn things it is so interesting and fun!!

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