17 November 1558 – The death of Queen Mary I and the accession of Queen Elizabeth I

Posted By on November 17, 2015


On 17th November 1558, Queen Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, died at St James’s Palace, London. She was just forty-two years of age and had reigned for only five years and four months. She passed the throne on to her half-sister, Elizabeth, the twenty-five year-old daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn.

Chronicler Charles Wriothesley recorded:

“Thursdaye the xviith of November, 1558, about sixe of the clock in the morning, Queene Marie died at her manor of St. James by Charinge Crosse.
And that daye at xi. of the clocke in the forenoone the Ladie Elizabeth, her sister next inheritor to the Crowne, was proclaymed Queene of Englande, France and Irelande, Defender of the Faythe, &c. in London, with herraldes of armes and trumpetors, &c.”1

Merchant-tailor and diarist Henry Machyn wrote:

“The xvij day of November be-twyn v and vj in the mornyng ded [died] quen Mare, the vj yere of here grace(‘s) rayne, the wyche Jhesu have mercy on her solle! Amen.

[missing text]

[The same] day, be-twyne a xj and xij a’ for[noon, the lady Eliza]beth was proclamyd quen Elsabeth, quen of England, France and Yrland, and deffender of the feyth, by dyvers haroldes of armes and trumpetors, and dukes, lordes [and knights,] the wyche was ther present, the duke of Norfoke, [the] lord tresorer, the yerle of Shrousbere, and the yerele of Bedford, and the lord mayre and the althermen, and dyver odur lordes and knyghtes.’

The sam day, at after-non, all the chyrches in London dyd ryng, and at nyght dyd make bonefyres and set tabulls in the strett, and ded ett and drynke and mad mere [made merry] for the newe quen Elsabeth, quen Mare(‘s) syster.”2

It is not known what Mary died of but ambassador Christophe d’Assonleville wrote to Mary’s husband, Philip II of Spain, on 7th November and mentioned how the queen had had some “good intervals”, going on to say “and there have been days when she was free of the paroxysms from which she had suffered”. He also wrote “the outcome of her illness is not yet certain. Indeed, the people make her out to be more dangerously ill than the doctors say”.3 It appears that the people were right!

Click here to read more about Mary I’s illness and death.

Mary had left instructions in her will for her mother’s remains to be exhumed and brought to London so that mother and daughter could be buried together, but it was not to be. Catherine of Aragon’s remains were left untouched at Peterborough and Mary was buried by herself at Westminster on 14th December 1558 “with only stones from demolished altars marking the spot where she was laid to rest.”4 In 1606, in the reign of James I, Elizabeth I’s remains were moved from their resting place in Henry VII’s vault to join her sister Mary’s remains. James I erected a monument bearing Elizabeth I’s effigy, but not one of Mary, and the Latin inscription on the monument can be translated as:

“Partners both in throne and grave, here rest we two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in the hope of the Resurrection.”

Mary I’s Archbishop of Canterbury, Cardinal Reginald Pole, died on the very same day as Mary at Lambeth Palace in London. He had been ill since September 1558 but died after hearing news of Mary I’s death. He lay in state at the palace for forty days before being buried at Becket’s Corona in Canterbury Cathedral.

Following Mary’s death, 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, has Elizabeth making a speech on hearing the news – click here to read that.

Elizabeth I reigned until her death on 24th March 1603.

Notes and Sources

  1. Wriothesley, Charles. A Chronicle of England During the Reigns of the Tudors, from A.D. 1485 to 1559, Volume II, p. 141. Read online at https://archive.org/stream/achronicleengla02hamigoog#page/n147/mode/2up
  2. Machyn, Henry. The Diary of Henry Machyn Citizen and Merchant-Taylor of London (1550-1563), Originally published by Camden Society, London, 1848, p. 169-184, available to read at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/camden-record-soc/vol42/pp169-184#fnn32
  3. Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 13, 1554-1558, 498.
  4. Whitelock, Anna (2009) Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen, Random House, p. XVII.

7 thoughts on “17 November 1558 – The death of Queen Mary I and the accession of Queen Elizabeth I”

  1. Renita says:

    We can disagree with Mary’s methods, but also understand her. She had a terrible life, and likely blamed the Reformation and Protestantism for most of what befell her.

    I’m curious about her death as well. I saw in the article (and in the one that was linked to it) that Mary was said to have “dropsy.” Some other sources mention she might have also had
    cancer. Is there any consensus on what might have caused her death?

  2. ANNA PARKER says:

    I believe “Partners both in throne and grave, here rest we two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in the hope of the Resurrection.” was for Elizabeth 1st and Mary Queen of Scots. Mary 1st was buried near her sister but was given a marble slab with “Bloody Mary”

    1. Claire says:

      No, it’s definitely Mary I and Elizabeth I in that vault and with that inscription. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Elizabeth I and Mary I were half-sisters. As I say in my article “Mary was buried by herself at Westminster on 14th December 1558 “with only stones from demolished altars marking the spot where she was laid to rest.” In 1606, in the reign of James I, Elizabeth I’s remains were moved from their resting place in Henry VII’s vault to join her sister Mary’s remains.” And that is when James had the monument made above the vault with the effigy of Elizabeth.

      Mary, Queen of Scots, was moved from Peterborough to Westminster Abbey by her son James I and she also has a tomb in Henry VII’s chapel with a beautiful effigy of her on it. You can read about the tomb of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the inscription on it at http://www.westminster-abbey.org/our-history/royals/mary-queen-of-scots.

      1. Banditqueen says:

        A few years ago Westminster Abbey made a new crown for Elizabeth I and within hours someone stole it. As a recent photo showed her again with the new crown you can only assume it was found. The joint memorial definitely says as above, not Bloody Mary. Mary Tudor had a magnificent tomb, but it is obscured by Elizabeth and the even grander tomb of Mary Queen of Scots. Where do people get their misinformation from?

        Visiting Peterborough to see the memorial and simple slab above Queen Katharine, with the Victorian rails stating Katherine the Queen is wonderful, as was their exhibitions of her life and that of Mary Queen of Scots. They still mark the place of her original burial place there. The political goings on are reflected in the fact James moved his mother and gave her a proper royal tomb even better than Elizabeth I. No official memorial to Mary Tudor says Bloody Mary, although pamphlets in the late Stuart era and William and Mary plus the Book of Martyrs naturally may have done. The Tudors were worshipped in their life times, no matter what they did, so good was their propaganda that even their enemies believed it. I have seen the three tombs several times, there is no slab or Bloody Mary. There is a black slab for Henry Viii as his original tomb design was so elaborate that it was too expensive to complete. It remained half done before being taken down and remaining unmarked until the reign of William iv who wanted to find and mark all the royal tombs. This is why a few now have modern monuments, simply black smart slabs, with their burial coffins marked below. It’s also how we know who is still missing. A current dig is looking for the intact tomb of Henry I in the remains of his or original burial place in Reading Abbey. We have found the impossible with Richard iii, so it is hoped that Henry I will turn up soon.

    2. Banditqueen says:

      Mary Tudor was not called Bloody Mary until the 1670s, political crisis at the time gave rise to this in extreme Protestant prolamic at the time.

  3. Banditqueen says:

    RIP Mary Tudor. One day someone will see sense and give you a true and proper monument, as befits a Queen of England.

    Could Mary have died from the terrible flue epidemic in London at that time? Cardinal Archbishop Reginald Pole died soon afterwards and it is believed he died of this terrible epidemic.

  4. Sunshine VanScoy says:

    I’ve been trying to find out about the ring. Was the ring taken from Mary’s hand upon her death and given to Elizabeth a royal sovereign’s ring? What happened to it?

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