17 November – Elizabeth I’s accession and the death of Mary I
Posted By joelridg on November 17, 2021
On this day in Tudor history, 17th November 1558, twenty-five-year-old Elizabeth, daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, became Queen Elizabeth I following the death of her half-sister, Queen Mary I.
In this talk, I look at an alternative account of Elizabeth I’s words on her accession, one recorded by her godson, Sir John Harington. Hear Elizabeth I’s wonderful speech, which she used to motivate her supporters and to reassure those who’d served Mary I.
Also on this day, 17th November 1558, forty-two-year-old Queen Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, died at St James’s Palace in London.
She passed the throne on to her twenty-five-year-old half-sister, Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn, who became Queen Elizabeth I.
Find out more in this video…
5 thoughts on “17 November – Elizabeth I’s accession and the death of Mary I”
Elizabeth knew god had guided her footsteps from the minute her mother’s head fell from one strike of the sword, through her fathers neglect of her afterwards, all through the calamitous years of her fathers successive marriages, the execution of his fifth queen, a kinswoman of Elizabeth, the heady sexual awakening of her teenage years living with her stepmother and stepfather, the grief that followed on their deaths, the danger whilst living in her sisters reign, where she was viewed with mistrust and suspicion, the Wyatt plot that occurred in which she was questioned incessantly and which led to her imprisonment in the Tower and the horror struck days of her sojourn there, the residence where she was sent to live on her release under the watchful eye of Sir Henry Bedingfield, on whom she was to refer to bitterly as her gaoler, it was there on a window she scratched the words, ‘ much suspected of me nothing proved can be’, the days hung over her like an oppressive dark cloak, but her captivity ended and she left to live in Hatfield Palace, where she lived quietly, one day whist she was sitting under an old oak tree, so the story goes, reading a book whilst the weak November sunshine filtered through the leaves, a party of horseman came riding towards her from a distance, she knew why they had come, her sister Queen Mary had been ailing for some time, as they dismounted and fell to their knees before her, she must have felt sheer unadulterated joy seep through her bones, lifting her up and banishing the gloom and worry forever, at last she was free, now she was the most important lady in the land, no one could ever call her a traitor again and send her to the Tower, the dramatic change in her fortunes that had occurred with one flash of the sword years before had been altered dramatically, now she was indeed queen, wether she uttered the words from the psalm in Latin or said them to Parliament five days later does not really matter I feel, but I think it’s more likely she said them on the day she learnt she was queen, it’s the word of words i feel she would say, an expression of emotion that now the dark days were behind her, whatever feelings of grief about Mary she felt she kept within her heart, her funeral had to be arranged and she was now queen, her coronation would soon follow, it was time for her to take the reins and this second daughter, the second surviving child of Henry V111 was to soon prove what mettle she was made of, she had come into her own at last, god had indeed preserved her for glory.
Second attempt at this post as had to abandon last night with painful fingers.
Mary was the real reason Elizabeth was able to succeed without a fuss. She had established the gender free authority of the crown. Yet, Elizabeth wasn’t necessarily the obvious choice.
For one thing Lady Elizabeth was not a Princess as she was still legally illegitimate. Mary had also shared that unfortunate status thanks to her father and her mother. Katharine was stubborn and her refusal to accept that her marriage was questionable led to Henry dealing with Mary harshly. Katharine might have been right, but it is with hindsight that we can say Henry reacted the way he did because of Katharine refusing to give in, even at the end in 1533 when his marriage to Anne Boleyn was a reality. Like her mother and equally pig headed father, Mary was also stubborn and her own rebellion and refusal to accept the situation entrenched Henry’s attitude towards her. Mary was also made legally illegitimate but her first Parliament changed that.
Mary and Elizabeth were put back into the succession in 1544 by Act of Parliament but where not made legitimate again. Then Edward excluded both of them in favour of their legitimate and Protestant cousin, Lady Jane Grey.
Mary must have thought long on the questions of who would succeed her as she was ill for several months. She even had Elizabeth brought to Court and made her promise to keep the Catholic faith.
Technically and legally Elizabeth was Mary’s heir as no Act of Parliament had changed that but Mary didn’t need to choose her. For example Margaret Douglas might have been a good choice for an alternative candidate. She was English, royal, married, had sons and was a Catholic. She was the descendent of Henry’s sister Margaret. There was also two other Grey sisters, Catherine and Mary, but one might see why Mary I wouldn’t want them on her throne.
Mary clearly wasn’t going to recover and have a child of her own so the question was a pressing one and Mary wanted to avoid the chaos of July 1553 when Jane Grey and her family seized her crown after her half brother, Edward had named her as his heir. Unfortunately for Jane Parliament had never ratified his Devise and the Judges where divided on the issue. Mary was also extremely well loved and was able to gain support and was Proclaimed Queen within ten two weeks.
Mary also knew that Elizabeth was gaining support herself and her own cause was raised by King Philip.
Philip may have found Elizabeth attractive, we don’t actually know but by marrying her, he gained control over England once more, something he lost on Mary’s death as they had no heir. He wasn’t being benevolent by championing her cause, he was being practical.
Elizabeth was not supported by everyone and the scandal of her mother’s execution, the fact that Anne Boleyn was still a convicted criminal of the worst kind, a traitor, adultress and a woman caught in sexual deviance with her own brother, didn’t help her reputation. Legally all of these stains still stuck to her. She was also as I said, still illegitimate and in fact this never changed. Mary may have restored herself to the Royal Dignity but Elizabeth was a different matter. Inside and outside of England people still saw her as the illegitimate daughter of Henry Viii and Anne Boleyn. Henry in fact had declared his marriage to Anne to be null and void the day before Anne was executed, just to confirm Elizabeth as illegitimate and no others as his heirs save the children he had with Jane Seymour. Anne was still a traitor and somehow guilty of adultery. This is inside the mind of Henry Viii and we know that in fact Anne was innocent. Yet, the law said otherwise. Mary saw Anne Boleyn in stark terms as an adultress guilty of sleeping with 100 men, a woman who had corrupted her beloved father and destroyed her beloved mother. She might have some affection for Elizabeth, whom had been close to her until 1554, but Mary still saw her as a Bastard. How could she leave the crown, therefore to a woman who was not worthy of it, not legitimate and probably a traitor herself?
This was her dilemma.
So Elizabeth was not destined in any sense to sit on the throne. She may have been Henry’s heir for a time but now she was anything but. Henry did leave Mary and Elizabeth as heirs in his will, but that will need not be honoured after so long and this was the debate throughout 1558.
In the end it was just common sense which prevailed. To avoid the crisis of 1553, a Tudor had to sit on the throne and Elizabeth like Mary was the daughter of King Henry Viii, whose great shadow still spread its mighty power over the realm of England. Elizabeth was gaining her own shadow political power base and would be the most popular choice. She would also be the best choice for peace. Elizabeth was the heir who made sense and who some of the Court expected to succeed Mary. She was starting to understand that she would succeed and Mary was reluctant, but didn’t prevent her succession.
Mary passed peacefully from this world just after midnight on 17th November 1558 and Elizabeth at Hatfield was informed later that day. According to legend she sat reading under an oak tree. She was given Mary’s ring, prayed for her soul and according to reports quoted scripture, saying that it was the Lords doing and marvellous in her eyes. Elizabeth always was arrogant. She was taken to London where she made a speech to the gathering lords. This was most likely to be made the next day and was most likely prepared for her. It is impossible to imagine anyone in shock and after such a day making a long speech. Elizabeth was more likely to be overwhelmed, in shock, tired and grieving. Her new role wasn’t totally unexpected but it did happen all of a sudden and she must have had a lot to do in a few short hours. Now her future began.
RIP Mary I Real Queen of England and also RIP Cardinal Reginald Pole who also died on the same day as Mary, probably from the flue epidemic sweeping the country.
Hail Elizabeth I, long may she Reign.
That was great Lynn Marie, Mary did indeed have a right royal dilemma in choosing who would succeed her, and we can see how reluctant she was in choosing Elizabeth as her heir, her cousin Margaret Douglas who was also her friend I think she would have preferred as her heir, the Grey sisters had the stain of treason on their house after the death of their father and sister, so Elizabeth really was the one whom common sense told her, was the only likely choice, in the end common sense prevailed but Mary was troubled on her young sisters faith, she did implore Elizabeth to keep the Catholic religion alive in England, and must have just hoped and pray with all the zeal she was capable of, that Elizabeth would honour that wish, it is to Mary’s credit that she did leave England in her hands of her younger sister, she did not wish the same carnage to unfold like what happened on the death of Edward 1V, so she put personal feelings aside she wanted no more bloodshed, Elizabeth was great Harry’s daughter and yes, as you say, his presence was powerful even after his death, she was really the only sensible choice, and although death is expected in an ailing person, it always comes as a great shock and although in the last few years the two sisters had mistrusted each other, they were still linked by blood and Elizabeth must have felt grief at Mary’s passing, yet she had to put aside personal feelings for she was now queen, and she was only twenty five, it is true Elizabeth never actually named her successor, as she said to someone once ‘people are more apt to worship the rising sun than the setting one’, she was no doubt thinking of the last weeks of her sisters reign when more fealty was done to her.
Great post, Christine. I know theoretically it was treason to imagine the King’s death, but I have always wondered if that really extended to informing them they have hours to live and naming a successor. Maybe people where just too terrified to ask. I’m like, look, people, you are just about hanging on to life, whether you want to hear the truth or not, now if you want peace in this realm, name you’re successor and die in peace. Spend your last hours preparing your soul and just go to sleep. What on earth where they hanging out for? Did they think someone might bunk them off like 8 hours before they died anyway? I am your doctor, mate, I can do that any time. Now sign the document and hand over the ring. There are some people who suspected at the time that Cecil did that anyway. He took the ring off Elizabeth’s finger quick enough. Everyone knew James was the next heir. The Grey line was tainted and the Stanley line via Margaret Clifford was also tainted. The Council didn’t want another woman. James had carefully worked his way into the minds of those at the English Court for years. Elizabeth was paying him a pension. Members of her Court had promised him the crown for months. James was the son of Mary Queen of Scots, who was more acceptable to many in England than Elizabeth. Elizabeth might have been well loved but she was hard work. She had her detractors. There was a reason that the Tudors didn’t go North unless there had been a Rebellion, this was not a place they were all that welcome. There was a reason why only one Marian martyr came from the North, it was still a Catholic heartland. Henry Vii was unique in his link to the North but that’s because the Stanley family lived here in Lancashire. By the time of Elizabeth I the Stanley family had one eye on the crown. To be fair, Margaret and her children where never serious contenders but that didn’t stop people dreaming. There was also the remote possibility of Arbella Stuart whose marriage would cause James so much concern. This was a concern shared by Elizabeth who kept her single. We all know the story of the unfortunate Lady Catherine Grey and her marriage to another claimant and that she had two sons. She was locked up in the Tower and eventually died of illness connected to her persecution by Elizabeth. Poor Mary Grey married a man much beneath her but he was still thrown in jail. I can see where Elizabeth might be especially cautious of these surviving Grey sisters. They married contrary to her wishes without permission and their elder sister had already taken the crown for herself. One might argue the legitimacy of being a usurper to until the cows come home, its the person on the throne who is in control, regardless of how they got there. A recent book lists practically every English King or Queen as a usurper. I don’t actually recommend it, its not very well written or researched. It was hyped on social media as so many are these days. I don’t usually dislike books, but this one wasn’t very good. A lack of references didn’t help.
Elizabeth had acted with reasonable common sense up until this period of her death but for some reason it was too hard to let go. Of all the people whom she could choose, James was the most obvious choice. He wasn’t going to be loved universally and people made assumptions about him. He promised toleration to the Catholic families yet within months he had broken that promise. Yet he made peace with Spain and sorted out the crap with the Earls in Ireland, who fled, ending the wars there for now as well. He had certain advantages, like a ready made family. In the end he too was the only realistic choice.
For the record Mary didn’t actually name Elizabeth as her successor, although it must have been understood this was her intention. She actually named her crown would pass to.. “My next lawful successor”
Elizabeth I was even worse. She waited until she was unable to speak at all before the Council where given sny indication through gestures that she might name someone. She didn’t, keeping tight lipped and breathing her last. It was understood her intention was that James should succeed her, she never named him, but a plot was made between Robert Cecil and the Lords to ensure the crown passed in peace to James vi of Scotland, son of Elizabeth’s rival and in the end, deadly enemy, her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots. There were other candidates, but he was the most obvious, the nearest and the one most people acknowledged. James was male, adult, Protestant, close Royal blood, married with sons and daughters and he was already a King. He was firm and he was said to be well educated and prudent. It was tacitly understood for several years that James of Scotland would succeed to the thrones of England and Ireland as well. Thus Robert Cecil had riders ready to speed away to Scotland on the night of March 24th 1603, before the Queen’s body was even cold.