31 July 1544 – 10-year-old Elizabeth writes to her beloved stepmother

On this day in history, 31st July 1544, ten-year-old Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn, wrote a letter to her stepmother, Catherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife.

It’s the earliest surviving letter written by the future Queen Elizabeth I, and Mary Anne Everett Green, editor of Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies of Great Britain, in which the letter is translated and transcribed, explains:

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5 thoughts on “31 July 1544 – 10-year-old Elizabeth writes to her beloved stepmother”
  1. Henry VIII was a very intelligent and learned man and this certainly showed in his children. Their mothers were also quite smart. Edward too wrote to Catherine in Latin at a much younger age than Elizabeth. Elizabeth did a triple translation into Latin, French and Italian of Catherine’s ‘Prayers and Meditations’ with NO mistakes as a gift to her father. Catherine very much encouraged her step children’s learning and they were quite fond of her. Elizabeth Norton’s points out the very positive influence Catherine had on Elizabeth that carried into Elizabeth’s later life When you read about how good she was with all of her step kids you realize what a good mom she would have been to her own children and it is very sad that she and the daughter she had with Thomas Seymour, Mary, did not survive.

    1. Anne Boleyn was not ‘quite smart!’ She was Henry’s equal intellectually. In fact, she may have been able to outsmart him. One of the reasons he grew tired of her.

  2. I wonder if this letter is actually dictated or if it is not meant as David Starkey says a demonstration of Elizabeth’s ability as much as an eloquent piece of communication. Italian would be needed as the language of diplomacy if Elizabeth was to rule or make a good match. Evidence that Elizabeth as an adult was fluent in Italian exists in her many letters in Italian. This letter may partly reflect her learning at an early age but it is also formalised and it is not correct. Elizabeth wasn’t separated from either her father or his last Queen, now acting as Henry’s Regent, for twelve months and had been at Court a month earlier. In this letter Elizabeth speaks as if she has been absent and missing the grace from her stepmother, but it is clearly meant to be a practice letter.

  3. This is the princess whom Starkey fell in love with, the serious minded grave teenager who studied earnestly and produced beautiful eloquent pieces of work, that she was fond of her stepmother is apparent and she was really the first role model for her, the first stepmother to whom she had possibly grown quite close to and grew to admire and wish for her praise and admiration, she was fond of her fathers fourth wife and possibly was a little dazzled by his fifth, but Cathwrine Parr was a mature sensible adult who possibly longed for children of her own and had had no luck with her previous marriages, she was more a nursemaid to her last one than a wife, her maternal love she poured out on Edward and Elizabeth who were only children, with Mary she possibly enjoyed an amiable adult friendship and people were fond of her, she as a likeable woman and of good sense to, Henry certainly trusted her with the care of her realm when he left for France, Elizabeth it is noted had dined with her father Edward and Mary only a month before but had not seen Catherine for a year, and the cause of her exile is a mystery, it could be she had been unwell as she was known for being delicate and Henry with his morbid fear of illness had kept her from court, there was no animosity between her father and herself therefore it was probably illness which kept her from the court or maybe the King had wanted her to devote herself to her studies more, the letter is a prime example of Elizabeth’s scholarly achievements, she was also fluent in French and Spanish Latin and Greek, though possessing a frivolous streak and a love for dancing and flirtation which she inherited from her mother, she had the drive of the academic and was never happier when she was at her studies, it was most likely written in Italian recommended by her tutor much like an essay written today by students learning another language, her mother could write and speak French but Henry V111 was fluent in several languages and it was considered necessary for a renaissance Prince to be so, the court was buzzing with foreign visitors, diplomats and ambassadors, therefore it was necessary to be able to speak several languages, Catherine herself must have been delighted to have received this letter, after the Kings death Elizabeth was happy to live with her stepmother and she enjoyed a happy family life in the tranquil beauty of Sudeley Castle, she was her guardian her protectoress, her peaceful existence was shattered by her new stepfather but for now she enjoyed a loving and warm friendship with her fathers last and final queen, from her portrait she stares out at us, a slender girl with white translucent skin dressed in an ornate dusky rose red and gold gown hung with pearls, the very gems which she had a life long love of, and which she wears in her much later portraits, long elegant fingers enclosed over a book to show her love of learning, beside her there is also another on a stand and in the background heavy velvet drapes, she looks delicate and vulnerable but her outward appearance hid a sharp calculating brain, like Starkey this is also the Elizabeth I love, not the autocratic monarch she later became with her heavily powdered and rouged face, but the young innocent girl eager to please and who wished for her step mothers approval and welfare, with Catherine Parr I am sure Elizabeth must have felt a very real warmth and genuine affection that stayed with her all the days of her life.

  4. Yes indeed this letter reflects the close relationship with her last step mother and her affection for her. She obviously misses Katherine, even though she has been only away from her for a month and she also shows her love of learning, her keeness to show her ability, yes, this is the delightful Elizabeth, before she grew up into a suspicious monarch. This is the Elizabeth who loved fun and delighted even her father and this is the Elizabeth who was elegant in her handwriting and would grow to know the benefits of a classic education.

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