17 November 1558 – The Queen is dead! Long live the Queen!

Posted By on November 17, 2017

On this day in history, 17th November 1558, Queen Mary I, Henry VIII’s eldest daughter, died at St James’s Palace at the age of forty-two.

Mary had named her half-sister, twenty-five-year-old Elizabeth, as her heir and members of Mary’s council rushed to Hatfield to give the new queen the news of Mary’s death. On hearing the news, Elizabeth was reported to have recited a line from Psalm 118: “A domino factum est istud, et est mirablile in oculis nostris”, i.e. “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.”

Elizabeth’s half-sister had reigned for just five years but Elizabeth would go on to reign for over 44 years.

Here are my 60-second history videos on these two queens regnant:

You can also read more in these articles:

36 thoughts on “17 November 1558 – The Queen is dead! Long live the Queen!”

  1. Michael Wright says:

    I have much pity for Mary. Thanks to what was going on between her parents her life was a mess. The two things she really wanted to achieve- bringing an heir to the throne and returning England to Catholicism failed. She died a painful and miserable death at the young age of 42 with a tarnished reputation and unloved by her husband.

    We don’t give much thought to bastardy today but during Mary’s time being declared illegitimate meant that she was no longer suitable as a bride for someone of her rank.

    This is just my opinion but I believe that had her home life been more stable and not so chaotic she would have been an excellent monarch.

    1. Claire says:

      I have very mixed emotions when it comes to Mary. I feel desperately sorry for her that she was separated from her mother and bullied by her father and his council, that a marriage was not arranged for her when she was young and that she felt threatened in her brother’s reign and had to fight for the crown in 1533. But, at the same time, I hate what she did to Thomas Cranmer. His execution was based on nothing but hatred and vengeance. I cannot condone her persecution of Protestants or the execution of Lady Jane Grey, but they were not unusual for the time. Mary saw Protestants as heretics who needed stamping out and Lady Jane Grey became too much of a threat, a figurehead of rebellion to leave alive. So I have very mixed feelings about her, as I do about her reign too. She achieved much but she can’t be called a success either. An interesting queen to study.

      1. Michael Wright says:

        I completely agree with you. For the longest time I really disliked her but the more I’ve studied her it seems that all of these terrible things she did were due to as you say, the bullying and treatment by her brother etc. I just think she was so damaged all the good she had in her was replaced by hatred. I make no excuses for her. She rightfully earned the epithet ‘Bloody Mary’. I’m just saying that this behavior didn’t manifest until after all these things happened to her. If she were just another young woman she probably would have turned out fine but in her stratified world I’m sure she felt very alone and all of that anger turned inward and as soon as she was free to do so she got back at everyone and everything that she blamed for her plight. Thomas Cranmer pronounced her parent’s marriage void and Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn legal so that was personal. I know Mary claimed his execution was due to the obstinacy of his heresy but his death was just too cruel to be that impersonal.

        1. Christine says:

          I too have always believed that Cranmers execution was mere vengeance and she should have realised he was merely obeying her fathers orders by declaring her parents marriage null and void, she was as you say damaged by her unhappy early life, and in those days they had to cope with their own feelings without any counselling or anti depressants, as I am sure she was seriously depressed by the traumatic events which followed her parents seperation, the birth of her baby sister Elizabeth, being told rather spitefully by Anne Boleyn she had to wait on her new sister as she was now their fathers heir and Mary a bastard, Mary could not accept this as indeed she had been her fathers heir all her life then to be told she had to take second place to another must have been dreadful for her, she refused to acknowledge Anne as queen and Anne told her aunt Lady Shelton who ran Elizabeths household to box her ears for the cursed bastard she was, she was then told she had to eat her meals with the servants – very humiliating, Anne was determined to grind her down, she was determined her stepdaughter would acknowledge her as queen and Elizabeth the princess of the realm, all this she had to cope with on her own, she could not go to her mother for a cuddle and a big cry as they were not allowed to meet, it is only natural that festered feelings turn into resentment, Anne was the cause of all the trouble in the realm, she had brought the reform with her, therefore all those who believed in it were the same, all sinners! Mary found her salvation in prayer in her deep faith for what she believed was the true religion, her mothers lonely death added to her grief, she was estranged from her father and then when he to died she found being a catholic at her brothers court was not an ideal place to be, she had to celebrate mass in secret, Edward and she had been very close when young yet now as ardently Protestant as she was Catholic, their religion caused animosity towards them, Mary must have felt she was always fighting, and had to continue fighting after Edwards will cast her out of the succession, her very birthright was denied her and so she had to fight again for what she believed was hers, is it any wonder when the long struggle was won, and she was queen at last, she was determined to bring England back to Roman Catholicsm again and stamp out what she deemed as heresy, this she done with a vengeance that even her husband King Philip was surprised, and sought to advise her that killing so many was not necessary, Mary is an interesting queen I agree and her reign was tarnished with the burnings at Smithfield and the awful execution of Cranmer, a kind wise old statesman that her father had loved, all her actions I believe were the product of an unhappy and traumatic life, research has shown that those who have a happy secure childhood grow up to be kind and more tolerant, here we are talking about the 16thc which was a cruel harsh and intolerant age and religion meant everything, it is very sad what happened to Mary as she was popular with her subjects like her mother before her, yet when she died she was mourned by few, she had the makings of a good monarch for she was stoic and brave, she had a strong sense of duty and was highly intelligent, she could speak several languages and loved to dance and had a love of fine clothes and jewels, many people do not realise this but she had a frivolous side to, she loved gambling and had many friends amongst her circle of ladies, she had a natural rapport with people and visited the old and sick often taking them warm blankets and parcels of food, this is the Mary that the history books often hide, instead whenever she is mentioned the name ‘bloody’ comes to mind, and it is embedded in our history yet few do not care to know the real Mary, her golden childhood was the happiest in her life and then her marriage to Philip whom she adored, but here she was let down, she was left on her own whilst he went abroad to deal with his own affairs, her pregnancys turned out to be nothing and then she heard the bitter news that Calais had fallen to the French, poor Mary died a miserable death without her beloved husband at her side and only her devoted servants anf friends, but she must have had some comfort from them, she had no children which she had yearned for so now her realm was to be left to Elizabeth, the sister she did not trust and rather disliked for personal reasons, it was time for a new chapter in England’s history.

      2. Anthony Hartley says:

        Hello Claire….I am a great fan of your work and only came across it several months ago. I have a soft spot for Mary, I think some historians have been very biased towards Mary because of her religion eg David Starkey (who I find biased and anti- atholic) I think he has actually admitted to stating that ‘he is no friend of the catholic church’. I have a biography about Mary (Bloody Mary by Carroly Erickson) and have read it several times.
        Yes her persecution of protestants was horrid but let’s not forget these were sanctioned by Parliament, the Heresy Laws having been re-enacted by Parliament, and also approverd by her Council. Thomas Cranmer was also implicated in having Jane Grey declared Queen against the written Will of Henry VIII. He should have been banished and sent into exile, as he was an old man by this time. I often wonder why he didn’t do more to prevent the execution of Anne Boleyn. I guess Mary did have a grudge against Cranmer for destroying her parent’s marriage, and causing her much unhappiness and grief.
        I’m also a great admirer of Elizabeth I but in her latter years she executed many catholic lay people and clerics. I really look forward to your daily posts ‘On this day in Tudor history’
        congratulations and kind regards,

  2. Esther says:

    I’m not too sure if she really deserves the name “Bloody Mary”, not when her dad is “Bluff King Hal” and her half sister is “Good Queen Bess” — they killed a lot more people for being Catholic than Mary killed for being Protestant. I also think it is unfair to blame her overmuch for Cranmer, since she could legally have him hung, drawn and quartered for treason (his recantation should have blocked punishment for heresy, but not punishment for treason)– and I am not sure which death would be worse.

    1. Michael Wright says:

      Mary’s reign was only 5 years. Henry reigned for 37 years and Elizabeth for 44 years.

      1. Esther says:

        IIRC, the numbers killed by Henry works out to a lot more than the 300 in three years (the part of Mary’s reign where the burnings occurred); the numbers killed by Elizabeth work out to something similar. While they may not have caused the same shock to contemporaries (because the death rate was much slower), they certainly should have affected the “post-reign” nicknaming.

        1. Michael Wright says:

          You are right. ‘Bloody’ probably would have been an appropriate name for all of them but unfortunately history is written by the victors and Mary’s Catholic supporters we’re not them.

  3. Michael Wright says:

    Hi Christine. One of my favorite stories about Mary which I think happened when Henry was married to Katherine Part was Edward had heard that his sister Mary really enjoyed dancing and Edward wanted her to stop wasting her time with such things. Up until I read that I never really pictured her with a fun side.

    1. Michael Wright says:

      correction: Katherine PARR

      1. Christine says:

        Yes I heard that, imagine your kid brother saying that to you even if he was the King, today we would call Edward a bit of a square, he also reprimanded her for attending mass and she burst into tears, it must have been intolerable for her, she must have felt the whole world was against her, and now Edward was having a go at her, yet they had been very fond of each other at one time, maybe they were still but Edward seems to be a rather unusual little boy, very very serious and unemotional, he is only said to have laughed out loud once in his lifetime, and he was fanatical about his religion.

    2. Banditqueen says:

      Mary I was an excellent dancer and loved fun. She was also a great gambling lady and spent a fortune as a card sharp winning and losing. She loved the hunt as did most well born women and she was a fashion Queen who loved rich clothes. She was very innocent and hated swearing or crude language but she was definitely fun, even when banished she tried to make things well for others.

  4. Michael Wright says:

    Something I just thought of to add to the sadness of Mary’s life: She doesn’t even have her own tomb. She’s buried with her half sister and only has a plaque indiicating she is there!

    1. Christine says:

      Yes in death she’s eclipsed by her half sister who has a magnificent tomb raised in her memory, her face was modelled from her death mask and she lies on top of Mary, Elizabeths reign has been seen as a success in comparison to Marys which has been hailed as a golden age but she had her fair share of trouble, rebellions from her catholic subjects, the problem in Ireland and the execution of Mary Of Scots to name a few, it was also an age of exploration and discovery and the birth of the theatre, it was an age of two great playwrights Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare and the defeat of the Armada, all these added to the mystique of Elizabeth who resided over her court like a glittering Demi god the virgin queen as she liked to call herself, I believe Marys reign could have been a success also but for her attempts to stamp out heresy and her unpopular marriage to Philip of Spain, time was not on her side and she was a very ill woman, it is believed she died from cancer, had she lived longer she could maybe have regained her popularity with her subjects as all monarchs in our history have done unwise things from time to time, Elizabeths execution of Mary Of Scots was a black mark on her reign as Jane Greys and the Smithfield fires was on Marys, yet Marys execution was deemed as being more deserved as she had conspired to kill Elizabeth, Elizabeths succession was greeted with euphoria by many, compared to her half sister she was not an embittered woman old before her time but a dazzling twenty five year old with all the charisma of her parents, it was a time to rejoice and in this remarkable young woman England saw a very real hope for peace at last.

  5. Christine says:

    I live not far from Hatfield, and when I was about eleven our history teacher took our class there and we saw the famous oak tree that Elizabeth was sitting under studying when she heard she was queen, old when she was alive it is now but a stump, the atmosphere of the place is steeped in history, since then iv visited Hatfield several times and it is still like going back in time, there are no indications that you are in the 21st c, miles and miles of hilly countryside and the tree is now on show in the cafe, so old it was dug up but reserved for immortality, the palace is very beautiful inside with the old palace where Elizabeth resided and a later piece added on, her gloves and stockings are on display as well as other artefacts, the interior of the ill fated liner Titanic was modelled on the oak panelling in Hatfield also, it is a beautiful building if anyone has not visited but thought about doing so.

  6. Michael Wright says:

    Thank you for that information about the oak tree. I just assumed that by now it was completely gone but I’m happy to hear that part of it has been preserved for posterity.

    1. Christine says:

      I think it is the most famous tree in England, apart from the apple tree that Sir Issac Newton was sitting under or standing, when an apple fell of its branch and from then he discovered the theory of relativity, that too is preserved and is also a sight of national interest.

      1. Michael Wright says:

        I had never heard that about Newton’s tree before thank you so much for that information about its preservation.

        1. Christine says:

          Your welcome Michael have a nice weekend.

  7. Banditqueen says:

    Rest in peace, Queen Mary I who made it possible for a woman to reign in her own name and whose short reign was far more successful than later bias allowed.

    Yes, as with all of the Tudors and Medieval Kings, there were rebels to deal with and the added dimension of religious strife now was a real problem, something few monarchs had up to now dealt with. Henry had divorced her mother and torn the country along religious lines and his three children in the same way. Nobody else managed to make one child a devout Catholic, one into a self thinking reforming Protestant and one who didn’t care enough to go either way but became Reformed just the same. Even Henry went from Catholic to reformed and back again depending on how his marriage was going and burnt three heretics and hung drawn and quartered three Catholics on the same day.

    Mary didn’t invent the laws against ‘heretical ‘ beliefs in England, they had existed for a century. Yes, there was nothing unusual in this because even Thomas Cranmer burnt people for nothing more than weird beliefs. However, there were now far more people living openly as members of the reformed beliefs because it had been the official faith of England for the last six years. The majority of people were still Roman Catholic and the decision to bring England back officially to the old faith was welcomed almost universally. Even before Mary had arrived in her capital Mass was being said again and the old saints and religious objects appeared once more. Reconciliation needed a settlement made via legislation and the visit of the appropriate Nuncio from Rome. Mary’s first Parliament made a religious settlement more akin to her father’s in 1529 and she didn’t recall the monastery lands already given to various nobles but she did reinstate religious life at every level, including the chantry chapels and shrines and religious orders. She also declared her parents marriage valid and introduced new laws to protect English trade and reformed social aid for the poor.

    Mary’s efforts to reintroduce Catholic life into England was not a failure. She also used teaching, preaching and propaganda the same as the rest Tudors to great effect according to Eamon Duffy an expert on life in Marian England. It can clearly be seen that she was succeeding and that her policies were effective before the end of her reign and no, she was not called Bloody Mary by her contemporaries. Her reign was cut short, and how do you judge a reign of five or six years against one of forty five. Had Mary been fortunate enough to come to the throne in her twenties, might she not herself have ruled for a lot longer? It may be a rhetorical question, one nobody can really answer, but there are more than one factor which made Elizabeth a successful Queen. Ironically, one factor was Mary herself, who made the female image and her status as a Queen in her own right as a female King acceptable, allowing her sister to be able to reign without too much discussion over her right to do so. Mary accepted that she needed a husband and heir, while Elizabeth tried to rule alone much to the annoyance of her Council, but female authority as a sovereign was established by Mary.

    Mary has mixed acclaim today, with people either being totally ignorant of her true story and continuing to malign her or modern scholars who have brought her achievements into the light and presenting her short reign as it truly was, with its problems and things we should rightly criticise, the persecution of men and women for their religion, just as we should her father and Elizabeth. We would have to criticise every other monarch of her century as well. It is fair and realistic to have mixed feelings about Mary because of her treatment of someone a lot of people revere like Thomas Cranmer or Hugh Latimer, but it is also fair to access her as a moderate ruler who pardoned many of those who had tried to kill her or depose her because of their own ambitions or desire for a Protestant monarch. Mary like her predecessor and successors believed that she was a righteous Queen, the chosen of God and they held the truth as a sacred charge and it was a serious matter to believe anything which contradicted that. Heresy or treason (what Catholics were accused of under Elizabeth and James) was a threat to the stability of the realm and few people questioned it. Historically, we have to criticise, but we also have to remember context. It is never easy to access either Mary or Elizabeth or Henry Viii with any sense of balance and neutrality because of a natural outrage of the suffering of ordinary people executed because of their conscience. However, Mary today is shown in a balanced light and her story is told with truer assessment of the contemporary sources.

    It also has to be remembered that Elizabeth overshadowed Mary simply because of the length of her reign and the Protestant settlement and later propaganda which praised her. Much was hailed because of discovery and the Armada and the theatre, but the Elizabethan Age also saw war with Ireland and twenty three years of war with Spain. The portrait myths of Elizabeth gave us images of Elizabeth as a Glorious Queen which hid the truth of the frail woman underneath. Despite her Council Elizabeth remained single and did so because she would not let anyone share or take her power, but she did so in a way which some see as masterful and kept anyone thinking of challenging her at bay. Her own religious settlement tried to strike a balance but this failed and Catholics were practically bankrupted if they refused to attend their parish church, so lots did. Growing tension and a change of papacy made the situation impossible.

    The new Pope was concerned about the general situation in England and saw Elizabeth as a heretic and a bastard with no right to rule. He issued a Bull of Excommunication, not entirely without just cause, because it was still practically illegal to be Catholic in England and the fines and imprisonment for not paying were heavy. There had also been innocent people killed so it was not merely out of the blue. However, the previous Pope had been more open to discussing a deal but it all went wrong with his death. Two years later a Bull made anyone who deprived Elizabeth of her throne a hero, while it did not tell people to kill her. If she was killed it was not a sin, as it was not a sin to kill a tyrannical ruler but the Bull does not give orders for her death as is often spouted by historians in documentary television. From this moment on Elizabeth became paranoid and her spies became paranoid, seeing reds under the beds or every Catholic is automatically a traitor. There were some plots by bored young men who were fanatical to replace Elizabeth and kill her, one led by the Spanish Ambassador and another, the Babington Plot to replace her with Mary Queen of Scots. This was another element in the plots, Mary, Queen of Scots being held as a prisoner by Elizabeth gave Catholic gentlemen something to aim for. Without an alternative, there may have been no point in trying to assassinate Elizabeth. Other plots involved mad individuals and yet others were in the twisted mind of her spy masters. Most Catholics were trying to be loyal and mind their own business, but harsher and harsher laws simply made it impossible even to survive. There are some excellent books on life as a Catholic under Elizabeth, but Jessie Childe has done the best, most recent study.

    I think both sisters could have done things differently, but the threats at the start of their lives shaped in part their outlook and they faced real dangerous situations. I don’t believe it is fair to compare their reigns in terms of executions, martydom or length because one was such a long reign and the other too short. Nor can one measure success or failure by the latter. You can only access them on what they intended or how they faced those difficult crises as well as how ordinary people saw things. Both Queens made some effort to improve life for ordinary citizens, but Elizabeth, although she introduced a Poor Law, also introduced monopolies which made free trade and prices unfair on small holders and small commerce and restricted trade. Mary’s heresy laws affected ordinary people as well as several highly profile members of the reformed clergy but her return to traditional worship was also widely popular. Mary began to make new contacts abroad and to build new ships but it was over the longer period of a settled reign that our pirates and discoverers set out to obtain new land and lay the foundations of Empire (although if this is an achievement or exploitation is a matter for debate). Mary won a spectacular and often forgotten victory at Saint Quentin which was more important than the Defeat of the Armarda that overshadowed it under Elizabeth. It was at the very end of her reign that we lost Calais when it was without adequate defence due to this battle, although it was actually handed over as part of a deal in 1559, the first months of the reign of Elizabeth I. Losing Calais has always been bemoaned by the English but it was expensive to maintain and useless. Both Mary and Elizabeth are to be admired for making female Queenship normal, although many were determined not to have a female alone again, after Elizabeth caused one rival after another to look to the crown before finally but secretly doing a deal to give the crown peacefully to James of Scotland. Mary to had hesitated before during the last weeks naming Elizabeth, in order to ensure a safe and smooth succession, one favourable to Spain and who had the Tudor name.

    Mary did have her own tomb, but Elizabeth was placed next to it and her image is larger. Mary Queen of Scots was added close to this, which is even grander, but the two sisters share an epitaph. Here lie two sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, together awaiting Eternity or words to that effect. It is a reminder that at one time they were sisters who in contradiction to myth did not hate each other, but that it is not us or history who will judge them ultimately, but the Divine Judge and He will be fairer than posterity.

    1. Christine says:

      I think it reads here lie two sisters Elizabeth and Mary in hope of the resurrection, yes Elizabeths reign was longer therefore she had more chances of maintaining popularity and the events that happened in her reign, the trouble with Ireland and the Spanish Armada I believe Mary could have dealt with just as efficiently, as she was catholic Philip would have had no need to send the armada to Englamd anyway, it was Sir Francis Drake and his fellow pirates who aggravated Spain time and again with their attacks upon the mainland, he even went so far as to say ‘he would singe the King of Spain’s beard’ the incarceration of Mary Of Scots who was catholic all these turned Philip more and more against Elizabeth, after Mary was betrayed by her son James she signed over her English birthright to Philip thus making him ever more determined to bring England under the yoke of Spain, it is interesting how Mary would have dealt with her Scottish cousin, I believe she would have received her warmly at court and maybe allowed her safe conduct to France, I doubt she would have given her the use of the army which Mary wanted to restore her to the throne again as she would not have wanted war with Scotland but who no’s, Marys reign was short lived she was not a healthy woman and sadly time was not on her side, therefore her reign was not seen as a success compared to her younger sisters, like Queen Victoria generations later whose reign has also been hailed as a successful one it was in part due to the length of time she reigned over, the British Empire was at its height in the latter part of the 19th c then having recently gained dominion of India, Victoria was this called Empress of India, a title she revelled in, however I don’t mean to digress as we are talking about Mary Tudor here, but had Mary been allowed more time on this earth she could well have gone down in history as a completely different queen.

    2. Vermillion says:

      The 1570 bull didn’t tell Catholics in England to kill Elizabeth but it did absolve them of any allegiance to her and instructed them to disobey her laws. I can’t imagine this was meant to mean that Elizabeth’s Catholic subjects should disobey her and act in a treacherous manner in some sense, but that they would continue to suffer her reign and wouldn’t take direct action against her. The implication of the bull seems to me to be perfectly clear: it was instructing Catholics in England to view Elizabeth as ‘the enemy’, with all the likely consequences that this would entail. This wasn’t imagined paranoia – it’s clearly there in the text of the bull.

      Mary certainly deserves her pity – after a happy childhood, she had a very tough experience on and off from her early teens up to her accession, and this clearly left its mark on her. She does seem to have been a straightforward and principled woman, but this inflexibility may not have resulted in a successful reign had she lived longer, given all the political turbluence in Europe in the second half of the sixteenth century.

      It’s also worth making the point that although Mary’s ability to achieve change and success was limited by her short reign, you could equally say that Elizabeth’s lengthy reign meant that she was exposed to even more risks and crises that could have resulted in ultimate failure. The fact that her reign was by and large successful in seeing off these challenges to her authority, country and life for over 40 years (or at least up to the 1590s, when it did start to run into more problems) is I think proof that she was an unusually capable monarch.

  8. Michael Wright says:

    We shouldn’t forget that one of the reasons that Elizabeth was so well-protected from Catholic plots was Francis Walsingham. He ran one of the most amazing spy networks ever. Though his methods would never be accepted today at that. And time they were necessary and highly effective. He was a staunch anti Catholic. A lot of that had to do with him being in France at the time of the St. Bartholomew Day Massacre that was instigated by (probably)Catherine de Medici. A lot of his operations had to be paid for out of his own pocket because Elizabeth was not that eager to let money slip through her fingers. She was much more like her grandfather than her father when it came to spending money. William Cecil, Elizabeth’s Chief advisor was also a strong anti-catholic and wanted to rid the kingdom of Catholics.

    1. Christine says:

      Yes Walsingham was the one who trapped Mary Queen Of Scots, he was very wily, Elizabeth Cecil and Walsingham were all three of the most wiliest people in Tudor England, Elizabeth’s girlhood had been precarious and unstable, from being heiress apparent to her father she was reduced to the status of being merely kings bastard, she was almostly certainly harassed by her stepfather whilst in her youth and endured plots carried out in her name to being imprisoned in the Tower, she grew up cautious and knew the importance of knowing when to guard ones tongue, she had seen her father tear the kingdom apart in his quest for a male heir and knew her mother had died because of it, she had seen her sister marry an unpopular bridegroom and knew she would never make that mistake, Elizabeth learnt from her fathers and her sisters mistakes, tho she would never criticise him whom she adored, she knew her sister had been an emotional woman and where Philip was concerned let her heart rule her head, Elizabeth was determined never to allow that to happen to her.

      1. Banditqueen says:

        Walsingham was definitely one of the models of modern espionage and code breaking, although some of his methods for obtaining confessions were questionable. The code breakers were probably the best in the game and he used undercover and double agents within the Catholic communities themselves. However, Mary Queen of Scots was his match. On several occasions he and Cecil had failed to pin anything on her and he almost failed the final time as well, but he was determined to catch her in a plot. He knew something was up during 1585 and 1586 when Sir Anthony Babington and five others decided to free Mary and replace Elizabeth with her. It was also alleged that they intended to kill Elizabeth but this has long been in doubt. Mary’s own part in this last part of this conspiracy has also been debated because she denied consenting to the death of Elizabeth and we know that Cecil and Walsingham changed her letters and those of her contacts in order to force her into showing her hand.

        For six weeks barrels with letters and goods went in and out of Chartley Castle and Walsingham allowed this communication to go on, although they carried letters from these men and details of the alleged plot, because he needed Mary to consent, so desperate was he to destroy her, partly on his own part, partly because he took personal responsibility for Elizabeth’s safety. Yes, he was anti Catholic and saw them all as disloyal assassins based on his experience in France, but he was also a dedicated servant and protector of the crown. He would recruit anyone he could turn informer and put them back into the Catholic heartlands as double agents. He would also take known Catholics who had only refused fines a few times off the streets, who were not big fish, keep them, without torturing them, letting them go, having revealed nothing, to create doubt and suspicion among leading and ordinary Catholic subjects. These methods are very much part of how our secret services do things now, use undercover, secret codes and contacts and informers. When a letter to or from Mary was intercepted they were in double layers of code, it was read and copied, then resealed with a copy of her seal and sent onwards. Once her code was broken, he would add parts of his own duplication code to the letter, changing what was said in a few parts of the letters, thus setting a trap. When he hit the information that he was looking for, that is letters outlining a date to free Mary and details of the wider conspiracy, he allowed them to continue with their plans because Mary had not taken the bate. It was only at the very end that she received a letter not saying they were going to kill or replace Elizabeth but in code that they were ready to begin going about their venture. This was a clever way of saying everything but in a way that could mean anything or nothing. Mary was no fool and Francis Walsingham and Cecil knew that. This was not enough until Mary said yes and even then he had some doubts. Mary thought long and hard but then she responded that she wished the six gentlemen success in their venture. The main thing that she consented to, however, was her own freedom. The gentlemen were to ride and meet the Queen on a daily ride and lead her to safety. She would wait in safety, there would be an invasion or rebellion, then Elizabeth would be replaced by Mary, who later claimed she just wanted freedom. Walsingham had what he needed, allowed the gentlemen to meet Mary and trapped them, taking their place and she was arrested and charged with treason. Mary claimed that she hadn’t agreed to anything other than the escape and knew nothing else. However, there are meant to be other letters found in her chambers but we don’t really know what was planted and what was innocent or what was really anything to do with alleged plots, as most have since been lost. The evidence which was presented to her judges at her trial was mostly that which Walsingham had invented and Mary gave a good account of herself. There is some evidence that he was nervous that Elizabeth would not accept his evidence and he was even more worried after Mary was found guilty, because Elizabeth hesitated for so long over the death warrant. When Elizabeth eventually signed it, apparently without knowing it, although of course she did, it was taken upon the Council’s own authority that it was passed for execution. Elizabeth never fully recovered from Mary’s execution, mourning her cousin fully and she knew the danger which awaited around the corner, the Armarda of Philip ii. I wonder if Francis Walsingham or Cecil ever wondered if they had unwittingly unleashed Philipp’s revenge and the press of his own claim and hope of saving Catholic England, as those 120 plus ships set sail in 1588. Luckily for them, the Armarda was defeated by storms in the Irish Sea, storms in the Channel, fireships and English warships, who had sea cannon, not land cannon, which was the Spanish failure. The Spanish had come to invade, meet and land an army, so they had huge canon which could only be loaded a few times, while the English fleet had canon, large and small for rapid fire and loading at sea. However, it was actually a very close contest with the Spanish ships being in a tight crescent formation, hard to pick off or break. It took days of harrowing to break and as the Armarda took shelter some of her ships were burnt. Finally she was attacked of Gravelands and fireships and Dutch wildfire used to destroy more ships. The rest of the fleet limped home around the coast and storms destroyed most of the fleet, plus hundreds of men were murdered by English soldiers and Irish loyal to the crown in Ireland. At any point in the first eight days it could have gone the other way and imagine Walsingham then, after taking this risk. When Elizabeth allowed Mary Queen of Scots to be executed she was staring down the barrel of a loaded gun, but when Walsingham and Cecil set out to trap Mary in a capital crime, they put that gun in the hands of Philip II who had been itching to invade England, under growing provocation for some time.

  9. Michael Wright says:

    Wiley is a perfect description. I’ve always been intrigued by by the fact that with all the backstabbing going on at court people never seem to learn that they could be the next Target. Elizabeth however, seems to have been very observant when she was growing up and saw how things worked and was very good at protecting herself.

  10. Michael Wright says:

    Another thing that worked against the Armada was Drake’s previous attack on Cadiz. One of the most important things destroyed by this raid was the supply of barrel staves for the ships provisions. Because of this they had to use unseasoned wood for their barrels and their supplies started going bad not too long after they left Spain. The crews were already in pretty bad shape by the time they met the English fleet.

    1. Banditqueen says:

      Interesting information, Michael. We always think of the Armada as this well planned, well organised and well supplied unit, but they were plagued by all sorts of things like not being able to land and collect their land army. That’s very interesting about the wood and barrels. Cheers.

  11. Michael Wright says:

    Spain was building additional ships up until the time they left Port. Philip was told that they needed more time but he would have none of that. Plus the pope had promised Philip money to pay for his Endeavour but the pope was too greedy to ever give any of it up. That’s not just my opinion that’s what the Ambassador in Rome was saying about the Pope.

  12. Christine says:

    I think some of Philips advisers cautioned against the armada sailing, I watched a splendid programme on the battle on the tv a few years ago, it took you through each day from when she sailed right upto the battle and after, it was a bit of hit and miss, our wonderful unpredictable weather was our greatest ally, and when some of the galleons had sunk Drake dived under to retrieve some of the cannon, however what I thought was very sad was that some of the valiant seaman died not long afterwards having been mortally injured and suffering from sickness, Elizabeth seemed to forget about them also and they were the ones who suffered whearas Elizabeths popularity grew and her name became synonymous with the defeat of the mightiest sailing fleet in the world, a medal was struck and it was hailed as a victory against the inquisition, Drake himself died a few years after of dysentery, yet the men and women of the west did not forget their most famous hero and a statue of him stands in Plymouth Hoe, maybe the defeat of the Spanish Armada was Elizabeths greatest triumph, her valiant speech at Tllbury is legendary yet for a whole week she lived in fear of her country losing and becoming just one more of Spain’s dominions, she was also in fear of her life as she did believe she would not be allowed to live, it must have been a truly dark and terrifying time and was akin I think to the state of the nation in September 1940

  13. Michael Wright says:

    As much as I admire Elizabeth something I don’t like about her is after the campaign she did not want to pay her sailors and soldiers. There’s an incident where one of her officers tried paying his men out of his own pocket and he was reprimanded for it. I read this in a book by Robert Hutchinson called the Spanish Armada. It came out two to three years ago.

    1. Christine says:

      Elizabeth had a bad reputation for parsimony it’s true, and yes her sailors were not rewarded for saving the country by having a generous pension bestowed on them, it was a shabby way to treat the men who had fought for their queen and country so bravely, yet she thought nothing of spending a fortune on fine gowns and costly jewels, England was not really equipped to withstand an invasion in 1588 and it must have come as quite a shock to parliament yet trouble between England and Spain had been brewing for years, Elizabeth outwardly reprimanded her pirates for the benefit of Spain yet secretly she garnered the treasures stolen from the Spanish ships, Philip may have had sentimental memories of Elizabeth from years before when he had met her whilst married to her sister queen Mary, she was a young slender red head with large dark eyes and a flirty vivacious manner like her mother, yet now all that was in the past, she was a heretic bastard queen and her pirates were ravaging his homeland and she had killed the Catholic queen of Scots, he was all fired up to teach this one time sister in law of his a lesson, the eve of when his armada left port he prayed to God that he may have a great victory, but it was not to be, God it appeared was not on his side and his morale and that of his country must have been so low when the last of his battered fleet reached home, and Spain never threatened England again.

  14. Banditqueen says:

    Yes, the sailors were not paid and numerous men died of fever, hunger, poverty and disease. It is estimated that in fact more men who fought died afterwards because of neglect by Elizabeth I than died during the two weeks that England fought the Spanish Armada.

    Another problem that the Armada had was its own commander. The original choice to commend this vast fleet was the Marquis Santa Cruz, a veteran Admiral and General, but he died in 1588 and a new commander was chosen. Two commanders were needed of course, one for the land forces because this was an invasion force, with some 30,000 soldiers, so the well established Duke of Parma was put in charge here. Santa Cruz was replaced by a soldier, an experienced man called Medina Sidonia but he was not an Admiral, not a sailor, and he told King Philip not to appoint him because of this. He was given no choice but he was not happy. He disagreed with Parma on many important points and academic errors led to the failure of the enterprise. For example Parma wanted some of the smaller ships to be sent attack the Dutch ships stopping a landing to collect the army but Medina Sidonia could not and would not do this because he was forced into anchorage at Calais and needed them for his own protection. The invasion was racked with all sorts of problems, many small but they added up eventually to disaster, poor weather, an alliance between England and Holland, division in the command, problems with their own supplies, land guns instead of sea guns, due to the hope of a swift landing, the problems with quality of their equipment, fireships, and, more importantly, the inability to join up the 16,000 soldiers on Spanish ships and 30,000 on Dutch soil. Dogged determination to break her formation over several days, together with fire and storms and a bit of luck gave England her victory, but it was not an easy thing. It was not the great triumph it was later claimed, not in military terms anyway. The battle which settled it Gravelands was against a much weakened fleet, gathered after being attacked by fire and storms, not the strong crescent that had first arrived several days earlier. It was the storms which broke up the rest, the winds had won the victory and the coins of Elizabeth were to commemorate that in their new production. It was God’s Protestant Wind, according to Elizabeth’s propaganda, which blew and defeated the Armada, but in fact it was just good luck.

    What I find amazing is that had the fleet picked up Parma and his army, then had they come straight into the Channel at the beginning of this campaign England was actually ill equipped to deal with such a force. Admiral Charles Howard according to Parker admitted that the men in England had hardly any armour, let alone equipment to fight. When Elizabeth went to Tiltbury to encourage the army gathered there, it was as well most of the real threat was over, because the numbers waiting were much smaller. 4000 men were under the command of the Earl of Leicester and there were other private armies but these were not enough to resist the huge army under Parma and it’s quite frightening to think this Enterprise could have easily succeeded. I suspect that that Elizabeth knew this and was anxious until it was all over.

    Under Francis Drake there was a Counter Armada but it was not very successful. Philip saw the defeat in terms of the displeasure of God and withdrew to his rooms in prayer. He didn’t blame his commanders. There was a state of war between England and Spain for twenty three years until a peace was signed in 1606 under James vi and I but as Christine says there was no large scale invasion attempt after 1588.

  15. Michael Wright says:

    For us 429 years later looking back on it it’s so obvious the things that the Spanish should have done differently. I’m just thankful it turned out the way it did. Although I am very sad for the huge loss of life suffered by Spain.

  16. Anthony Hartley says:

    This day 17th November 1558 is the same day that Cardinal Reginald Pole, Arcbishop of Canterbury, died at Lambeth Palace just a few hours after Mary died. One wonders what would have been his fate under Elizabeth I, had he lived. Reginald Pole was related by blood to the Tudors through his mother Margaret Pole Countess of Salisbury who was executed by Henry VIII. Margaret Pole was the niece of Richard II and 1st cousin of Elizabeth of York the mother of Henry VIII. The Poles were seen as a threat to the Tudor Dynasty.

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