July 31 – Elizabeth writes to her stepmother, Catherine Parr

On this day in Tudor history, 31st July 1544 and 1548, in the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, the future Queen Elizabeth I wrote letters to her stepmother, Catherine Parr.

The letters were written at very different times in Elizabeth’s life.

In 1544, Catherine was married to Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, and Elizabeth had been separated from her stepmother for a while. In 1548, Catherine was married to Thomas Seymour and she had removed Elizabeth from their household.

Le me share Elizabeth’s letters and explain the context…


On this day in Tudor history, 31st July 1544, the future Queen Elizabeth I wrote her earliest surviving letter. The daughter of King Henry VIII by his second wife, Queen Anne Boleyn, was just ten years old at the time and she wrote the letter to her stepmother, Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife, Queen Catherine Parr, when Catherine was acting as regent while the king was in France. It was written in Italian and in a beautiful italic hand:

“Inimical fortune, envious of all good and ever revolving human affairs, has deprived me for a whole year of your most illustrious presence, and, not thus content, has yet again robbed me of the same good; which thing would be intolerable to me, did I not hope to enjoy it very soon. And in this my exile, I well know that the clemency of your highness has had as much care and solicitude for my health as the king’s majesty himself. By which thing I am not only bound to serve you, but also to revere you with filial love, since I understand that your most illustrious highness has not forgotten me every time you requested from you. For heretofore I have not dared to write to him. Wherefore I now humbly pray your most excellent highness, that, when you write to his majesty, you will condescend to recommend me to him, praying ever for his sweet benediction, and similarly entreating our Lord God to send him best success, and the obtaining of victory over his enemies, so that your highness and I may, as soon as possible, rejoice together with him on his happy return. No less pray I God, that He would preserve your most illustrious highness; to Whose grace, humbly kissing your hands, I offer and recommend myself.
From St. James’s this 31st July.
Your most obedient daughter, and most faithful servant, Elizabeth”

Although past historians like Agnes Strickland have picked up on the word exile and assumed that Elizabeth had done something to anger her father, the king, David Starkey has pointed out that Elizabeth’s relationship with her father was good at this point. She had been restored to the succession, and she had dined with her father and half-siblings just a month earlier, she just hadn’t seen the queen recently due to what she describes in her letter as “ever revolving human affairs”, i.e. the royal family’s busy schedules.

The main purpose of the letter, anyway, as David Starkey notes, is to show off Elizabeth’s scholarship, her courtly Italian, to her stepmother.

And exactly four years later to the day, on 31st July 1548, the now-fourteen-year-old Elizabeth was writing another letter to her stepmother, who was now Dowager Queen and married to Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley. It is the last known letter between the two women and was written just before the pregnant Catherine took to her chamber, and just weeks before Catherine died of puerperal (childbed) fever.

In a beautiful Italic hand, Elizabeth wrote:
“Although your Highness’s letters be most joyful to me in absence, yet, considering what pain it is for you to write, your Grace being so sickly, your commendations were enough in my Lord’s letter. I much rejoice at your health, with the well liking of the country, with my humble thanks that your Grace wished me with you till you were weary of that country. Your Highness were like to be cumbered, if I should not depart till I were weary of being with you; although it were the worst soil in the world, your presence would make it pleasant. I cannot reprove my Lord for not doing your commendations in his letter, for he did it; and although he had not, yet I will not complain on him; for he shall be diligent to give me knowledge from time to time how his busy child doth; and if I were at his birth, no doubt I would see him beaten, for the trouble he hath put you to. Master Denny and my lady, with humble thanks, prayeth most entirely for your Grace, praying the Almighty God to send you a most lucky deliverance, and my mistress wisheth no less, giving your Highness most humble thanks for her commendations.
Written with very little leisure this last day of July.
Your humble daughter,

Elizabeth had been sent away from Catherine’s household to reside with Catherine’s good friends, Sir Anthony Denny and his wife, at Cheshunt. Catherine’s husband, Thomas Seymour, had been reported as acting inappropriately with Elizabeth, and Catherine had also found Elizabeth and Seymour in each other’s arms. Catherine had to send Elizabeth away, not only to protect Catherine’s marriage, but also to protect Elizabeth’s reputation. Catherine gave birth to a daughter, Mary, on 30th August 1548 but Catherine died on 5th September 1548. Little Mary disappears from the records after March 1550 and it is thought that she died in early childhood.

So, on this day in Tudor history, 1544 and 1548, two letters from Elizabeth to her beloved stepmother, written at very different times in her life.

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