17 November 1558 – The Death of Mary I and the Accession of Elizabeth I

On this day in 1558, Queen Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, died peacefully after a few months of illness. She had been queen for just five years but unfortunately those five years are remembered for persecution and bloodshed. Mary has gone down in history as Bloody Mary – see The Myth of Bloody Mary.

By noon, Mary’s half-sister, Elizabeth, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, had been proclaimed queen by the Houses of Lords and Commons. As Sir Nicholas Throckmorton rode in haste to Elizabeth’s estate at Hatfield with Mary’s ring, as proof of her death, members of Mary’s council also made their way there. It is said that they found the new Queen sitting under an old oak tree in Hatfield’s parkland, reading a book. When she heard the news, Elizabeth sank to her knees and said in Latin words from Psalm 118: “This is the Lord’s doing: it is marvellous in our eyes”.

Sir John Harington, Elizabeth’s godson, told a different story, writing of her making the following speech:

“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.”

Others record this speech as being an address by Elizabeth to the House of Lords.

Whatever the truth behind the events of that day, Mary I was dead and Elizabeth was Queen Elizabeth I and would reign until her death in March 1603.

Mary is known for persecution and bloodshed, while Elizabeth is known for the “Golden Age” of her reign, but both women achieved so much in an age when women were not meant to rule. Both deserve our admiration and to be remembered today. “The Queen is dead, long live the Queen!”.

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