17 November 1558 – Anne Boleyn’s daughter, Elizabeth, becomes queen

Posted By on November 17, 2020

On 17th November 1558, Queen Mary I, daughter of King Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, died at the age of forty-two. Mary left the throne to her half-sister, twenty-five-year-old Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn.

According to tradition, Elizabeth was reading under an oak tree in the parkland of her estate at Hatfield – although I have to say, knowing British weather, rather her than me! – when she received news of Mary’s death and her accession. Elizabeth sank to her knees and uttered in Latin a verse from Psalm 118, which translated to “This is the Lord’s doing: it is marvellous in our eyes”.

It is a wonderful story, and Cate Blanchett did an excellent job in that scene in the movie “Elizabeth”, although they show Elizabeth inside and then going outside to greet the councillors, which was far more sensible:

I’ve done two “on this day” videos about 17th November 1558, the second one giving an alternative account of Elizabeth’s speech on her accession:

And my Elizabeth I playlist:

I wonder how Elizabeth felt on that day in 1558? A mixture of grief and happiness? Relief? Victorious? Scared? Happy?

9 thoughts on “17 November 1558 – Anne Boleyn’s daughter, Elizabeth, becomes queen”

  1. Christine says:

    I too find it rather difficult to believe that Elizabeth was sitting in the park on a November day, unless of course the weather was especially fine and there had been no rain for several days, but it is a good tale and yes rather romantic, one can see the mist swirling around the old oak tree and the slight young woman reading in its shade, her red hair streaming over her shoulders, but her accession was not a shock to Elizabeth, as it was expected, Queen Mary had caught the flue or some other infection which she could not overcome, she was only forty two and it is believed today she had been suffering from cancer, sadly like her mother had years before, she had not been a popular queen in the last few years of her life due to the heresy laws she introduced, but she had enjoyed great favour with the people in her youth, when she had been her fathers pearl, and they had rallied to her side when she decided to fight for her crown, she had fought many battles in her day and her life had not been a very happy one, she disliked Elizabeth and yet honoured her fathers will and left her kingdom to her, Elizabeth that last week of her sisters life maybe had not slept much, she must have shed some tears for the sister who had played with her when young and yet sadly, as they had both grown older they had become rivals, differing religious views was much to blame and Elizabeth grew to look very like her mother, whom Mary blamed for all her and her mother’s misfortune, Hatfield is a charming building and the old palace still stands where the queen resided, the long gallery is beautiful with numerous oil paintings and Tudor artefacts on display, the grounds are ancient and very hilly, and it is like stepping back in time to Elizabeth’s day, Hatfield House is forever associated with Queen Elizabeth 1st, and her accession, like Hampton Court is with her father and his unfortunate wives, she is a little treasure in the county of Hertfordshire, Elizabeth was only twenty five when she became queen, she was confident strong willed and became as iconic a ruler like her father, years before her tragic mother had seen her marriage invalidated and her child’s legitimacy and position as heir to the crown stripped away, she had gone in despair to the scaffold desperately hoping no doubt that Elizabeth would be cared for and a good marriage made for her, when she was older, fate and circumstance has a way of surprising one, the baby whose sex was such a disappointment to her and the king, and which determined her own survival, suddenly became a step closer to the throne when Henry V111 reinstated both her and Mary in the line of succession, Edwards sudden death and Mary’s poor health paved the way for this remarkable young woman to take her place at the helm seize the reigns and lead England to glory, I must also refer to a line from Ives biography of Anne Boleyn, it is not exact word for word, but he did write something like this: when this young woman arrived at the Tower on her coronation day with her mother’s face, maybe the woman lying nearby in her unmarked grave was vindicated at last, it is a nice thought and I am sure Elizabeth herself must have had a similar one, her victory in a way was a victory for Anne Boleyn and throughout her daughters reign, she was looked on with much more sympathy and understanding, the rebuilding of her reputation led many to believe she had been a victim of court politics and was sacrificed because of her failure to give the king, her husband a male heir, at the time of her downfall her treatment had dismayed many, and in Elizabeth’s reign she became to be seen as a martyr for the reformist cause, her daughter had been reared in her religion and the catholics those of the old religion abhorred her, religious strife was still prevalent in England, and Elizabeth had to endure plots and uprisings, she had inherited the crown easily thanks to her sister, yet she never felt secure on the throne, because of the troubled circumstances of her birth, never viewed as legitimate by Catholic Europe and later bastardised by her father, she was seen as an usurper, surrounded as she was by troublesome legitimate cousins and the threat of Mary Stuart over the border, always fearful of an assassins bullet, Elizabeth though she presented to her people that of a strong figurehead, and as she later declared to her troops at Tilbury, ‘I may have the body of a weak and feeble woman but I have the heart and stomach of a king,’ she had her very real insecurities and yet she did achieve much in her lifetime, feeble woman though she was.

  2. Banditqueen says:

    Rest in peace Queen Mary I, the first Queen Regnant to make it to her coronation and without whose reign the ascension of Elizabeth I would have been impossible.

    Congratulations on the Ascension of Queen Elizabeth I.

    It’s difficult to guess at how Elizabeth felt because she had succeeded peacefully thanks to the good work of her sister who accepted her as her successor at the end but also because Mary restored the dignity of the crown and made the authority of a female King accepted. Elizabeth must have had a number of feelings, the citing of a Psalm possible among her realisation that it was real. The famous speech was more likely said the next day or later in the evening to a larger audience in London. Leaders make speeches to audiences not half a dozen people. That’s how they made an impact. I would imagine her immediate reaction was disbelief. She had been made illegitimate and set aside by her father and brother. Mary only tolerated her as her potential successor until an alternative came along and people generally thought of her as such because she was the daughter of Henry Viii and next in line according to Parliament. Mary reluctantly chose not to make the same mistake as her brother and alter the succession. However, Elizabeth had still not been made legitimate. She was aware of the burden that brought. Mary did reverse her own legitimate status but for her own reasons Elizabeth never bothered. European royalty would not have accepted her as legitimate, even if her transformation to a crowned head of state changed her into the recognised Sovereign of England, Ireland and Wales and a good marriage prospect. Elizabeth had a number of dilemmas at home and abroad but I also feel her other emotions were shock and delight.

    Suspected of having knowledge of treason, implicated for a time after the Wyatt Rebellion, Elizabeth had spent much of Mary’s reign as a prisoner, first of all in the Royal Apartments at the Tower of London, a frightening prospect, particularly due to her mother’s execution, then she was released to house arrest, albeit luxurious at Woodstock in Oxfordshire, before being released to her own household in Hatfield, Buckinghamshire. She wasn’t the only claimant and had to promise to keep England Catholic before Mary would consider her as her successor. Mary had been ill for many months and it was King Phillip who prompted Elizabeth, not because he necessarily fancied her, but because a match with Elizabeth was advantageous. As Mary and he didn’t have any children, Philip would lose any future claim to England on her death but there was now the possibility of a new match and a new treaty which allowed him some control. Elizabeth would also offer a smooth transition. Mary had the problem of Lady Jane Grey because the natural line of succession was set aside by Edward vi, the result almost being civil war. A similar set of circumstances had to be avoided for peace in England and a transition Phillip could deal with. Yes, Elizabeth herself had a lot to offer, many of the attributes of Mary in regards to scholarship plus youth and good looks, the potential to bear children and a good deal of political acumen. Philip saw her as the best candidate to succeed Mary. He then didn’t wait five minutes to marry someone else. Elizabeth I am guessing, given all of these experiences over the last few years felt relief, shock, disbelief, expectation, grief, joy and excitement.

    I don’t really care if the story of the oak tree is true, its the symbolic nature, the romantic nature of this being her place of succession and she might well have been in the gardens if it was mild weather. It’s not too unrealistic that she was told men wishing to see her awaited her and then received them in the Great Hall. It’s not unreasonable that when she took it all in that Elizabeth let out a joyful exclamation and recited the said psalm. Any speech she gave was given later to a gathering of people. She also ordered prayers for her late sister and would have followed all of the formalities for her entrance to London. She was received, as Mary had been, with bells and joy and bonfires. Now Elizabeth must prepare for her coronation and her first Parliament and for that inevitable question of her marriage.

  3. Banditqueen says:

    P.S. The famous oak inevitably died and was replaced by a new one by Queen Elizabeth ii.

    1. Christine says:

      Yes Bq it was very old when Elizabeth was alive, as we know oaks grow to a great age and it must have been around five hundred years old then, our history teacher took us there and we all had a good time, some girls went to see the famous oak and yet they came back disheartened, hardly a tree they complained just an old stump, but of course it was then about a thousand years old so it’s glory days were well and truly over, now all that remains of this famous oak is on display in the cafe next to the gift shop, kept behind a wall of glass, the notice next to it explains how Elizabeth was sitting underneath when she saw men of the late queens council riding in the distance, they dismounted and bowed and she knew then that she was queen, maybe it is just a tale but yes it is a good one, and one that has endured in the stories of Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne, and of course in the stories of the old palace of Hatfield.

      1. Banditqueen says:

        We went to visit Hatfield and found it closed even though it was down as being open. Come back on Wednesday she told us, we have closed to do some cleaning. As we were on the way home and had stopped on the way, that wasn’t possible. It’s not as if it was easy to find either. The gate person let us look at the gardens as we had gone out of our way. Never mind, ine day.

        Hatfield Old Palace and the new Palace which the Cecils expanded are two completely different entities, both very beautiful though.

        In our local park in Calderstones, built on ancient megalithic grounds is an oak which was named in the Doomsday Book and the Anglo Saxon Chronicle. The Allerton Oak is at least 1100 years old. Named last year as Tree of the Year it is held up with gerders to keep its spread. It really is very large. Under the branches the 100 Courts dispensed justice and disputes were settled. Now it can be preserved properly as the prize was 750,000 pounds. Our local pub is named after it. The Calderstones are exactly what they claim to be, a stone circle, but actually we know they were an avenue and they have been rearranged and are in a proper visiting centre. At Clune Castle in the East Midlands there is a famous forest of oaks many of which are well over 2000 and 3000 or more years old. They were very creapy when we visited as there had just been a storm. They were all bent and twisted and you could see the characters in them. They must have witnessed a thing or two.

        1. Christine says:

          Sounds very interesting, I find forests very creepy even in daytime as you feel enclosed, in one of my local parks there once stood a huge tree I think it was an oak, and it was very odd because two giant branches stood from its bark, like two huge arms bent at the elbows, and smaller branches attached to it looked like fingers, albeit gnarled and twisted ones, you really expected it to come alive and grab you and I never really liked walking under it, I think in the famous storm of eighty six (cannot remember the actual year), it died and afterwards I felt quite sad it had gone, even though i found it rather spooky.

        2. Banditqueen says:

          I actually believe the story of the oak is credible, at least to see the councillors arrive, but like so many stories around Elizabeth, its part of the romantic and mysterious allure of Elizabeth in English folklore. The image of Queen Elizabeth under an oak and the image of Elizabeth on horseback at Tilbury all play into the poetry of Edmund Spencer in the Fairie Queen. In fact there are so many images of Elizabeth that its hard to know which is the real woman beneath it all. Elizabeth as a human was in fact very sensitive and confidence did not come naturally to her. As Queen she learned one secret which worked to hide any weakness and to project wonder and majestic mystery. Elizabeth used the art of clothing. The many portraits of Elizabeth are essentially all the same as she controlled her image, just as a pop star does today, but look not at the image of Elizabeth but the clothing. The skirt or kirtle is wide, very wide so as to create personal space between the Queen and the audience. The ridiculous collar, the high wide ruff, the floating attachment at her back, all create a goddess like silhouette. Its all part of the theatre and it took Elizabeth hours to dress. Imagine the theatre as she swept into the throne room. The gathering before her would be mesmerised by her illusion of majesty and wonder. It was that image which was packaged in the portrait, sold in the legends.

          The oak is old and wise, its roots go on forever, deep into the earth. The image of Elizabeth being proclaimed by an oak, a mighty and majestic tree, the revered tree of the forest, used for sacrifice and to symbolize the World Tree of life, it is here a worthy symbol of the new Elizabethan Age to come. The story is linked to that hope of renewal and eternal glory to come in the eyes of the myth makers and regardless of the truth of the story, its certainly a worthy beginning to those who later praised Elizabeth I and her Age.

  4. Christine says:

    Lovely post Bq, especially the bit about the oak tree, yes Elizabeth did use her flamboyant attire to promote the mystique of divine majesty, in that she was not unlike her father whose elaborate outfits with the huge slashed shoulders made him look much bigger than he actually was, the precious stones woven into his outfits and huge codpiece to proclaim his fertility to his subjects and the world was all part of his image, sadly the image of fertility was false, as her father presented to the world that of divine masculinity so his daughter modelled herself on the blessed mother Mary, she took pride in her virginity and declared she would die in the virgin state, marriage was not for her she was married after all to her people, wether she actually was a virgin is debatable but it is woven into the many stories about this strange woman, Elizabeth herself wore precious gems sewn into her outfits to, the huge ruff got bigger as fashion changed and it became a mark of high status, she became more god like more mystical as she grew older, like the Faerie Queen you mention, in her later portraits you can see the marked difference in her coronation portrait where she gazes out as us, she looks although regal with the trappings of royalty a very young woman still, her hair loose over her shoulders and somewhat vulnerable, her mother’s famous eyes are very deep and penetrating, as a young girl there is another portrait of her holding a book, her hair pinned up and she is on the verge of womanhood, very slender not as tall as her father who was a giant among men, but taller than her mother whose height was described as ‘middling’, compare those portraits with her later ones commissioned during her reign and she is remote auguste and very regal, no trace of vulnerability there, her hair instead of falling in soft waves over her shoulders is curled and crimped, and as she grew older she wore dark red wigs, unlike her natural colouring which was more light red, today we would possibly call it a strawberry blonde, all her life she stayed slender rising early to take long brisk walks and possibly eating only small amounts, although she loved sugary confections and suffered from rotten teeth in old age, she possibly had gum disease, she never grew into a sloth like creature like her father and her great grandfather Edward 1V, the image of her with the oak is like a symbol as indeed the oak is ancient and revered, like the lion is the king of the beasts so is the grand oak tree the king of the forest, so it does indeed symbolise the power and majesty of Elizabeth, Gloriana, good Queen Bess, and the Faerie Queen.

  5. Banditqueen says:

    When you think about it, the Kings and Queens of old had some clever public relations people or as we would say spin doctors because many of them attracted mythology and strange imagery to show off their power and majesty and some of them didn’t half think of themselves greater than they were. The way they flashed the bling and decorated everything one was meant to believe that they ruled the world. Even Ludwig of Bavaria in the nineteenth century built dozens of over the top fairy tale castles which draw thousands of tourists today. The tragic thing was that he suffered from deep depression and died by drowning one night. One historian thinks he was murdered but the whole family had similar mental health problems. He lived in his own fantasy world and left it as his legacy. Its a great pity Elizabeth wasn’t a builder like her father but yhen again she did inherit 60 palaces. However, what she did do was inspire her courtiers to build grand houses which she then lived in. So we have Bess of Hardwick and her magnificent Elizabethan/Jacabean houses at Chatworth and Hardwick and the great homes of William and Robert Cecil at Hatfield, Theobalds, Wimbledon and Burleigh House in Lincolnshire and London and Derbyshire which are typical of the splendid E shaped house in grand palatial style which Elizabeth relished. The more bling the better. Even as far back as the Anglo Saxon and Celtic Kingdoms we have for example Northumberland and Rheged in the North East of England. The Raven King thought he was the greatest King in the world and was well blinged up. Unfortunately, the Vikings liked bling and stole all his wealth. But before that he received tribute from all over the place and acted in an impressive manner. It was all for show but it worked. Elizabeth and Henry loved to spend money and get others to spend it for them. They actually started to run out and turned to other sources of income, many not very savoury. However, the displays of bling dazzled and impressed and hid the peeling paint underneath. The problem with Henry and most probably Elizabeth was the evasion of reality. Henry thought he was 25 when he was 49 and Elizabeth thought she was a beautiful young woman when she was 68 and toothless. Neither could accept the relentless march of time, unfortunately. This is why they commissioned tapestries showing them as nymphs or Sheba and Solomon, wise, agile, beautiful and strong. The illusions of youth and eternal power was added to every painting and the monarch was there always to be worshipped. It was a wonderful fantasy and one which has endured.

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