Early on the morning of the 17th November 1558 Mary I died at the age of 42 and her legal heir, her 25 year old half-sister Elizabeth, became Queen.

Elizabeth I was proclaimed Queen at around noon at Whitehall by the Houses of Lords and Commons who had been in session that morning. In the meantime, Sir Nicholas Throckmorton rode from London to Hatfield, carrying Mary’s ring to Elizabeth as proof that Mary was dead. Members of Mary’s council also made their way to Hatfield to see Elizabeth.

According to tradition, Elizabeth was sitting under an old oak tree in the parkland around the palace of Hatfield, reading a book, when lords of the council disturbed her to give her the news. Overcome with emotion, she sank to her knees and said in Latin “This is the Lord’s doing: it is marvellous in our eyes”, from Psalm 118. Alison Weir recounts this tale in her book, “Elizabeth, the Queen”, but another story is told by Elizabeth’s godson, Sir John Harington, and recounted by David Starkey. In this account, Elizabeth speaks the words that are normally assigned to the 20th November but that Starkey believes to have been spoken on the 17th:-

“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.”

Wow, what a speech!

As I read Elizabeth’s words, from either account, I am moved. The daughter of Anne Boleyn had become Queen! She was to become an icon, one of England’s most famous monarchs. The Virgin Queen, Gloriana, Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth I… Anne’s daughter. Wow!

Notes and Sources

  • Elizabeth, David Starkey, p236
  • Elizabeth, the Queen, Alison Weir, p1
  • Elizabeth I: Collected Works, p51-52

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15 thoughts on “The Accession of Elizabeth I – 17th November 1558”
  1. It’s ironic that Elizabeth would never have existed if Henry hadn’t been so desperate to avoid the situation of a woman ruling England. What he did to avoid this situation actually created a strong, succesful Queen. If he had accepted the idea that a woman could rule succesfully then we would have only had Mary as Queen who was not succesful. (I do accept that Mary’s reign did have some successes but mean overall). Despite having very conventional views on the role of women for her time Elizabeth was and still is a wonderful role model for women.

    1. Good point. However, if Henry accepted that a woman could rule successfully, I think that Mary may have been a more successful queen. I think that she would have handled religious matters differently,, if she did not equate Protestantism with those who injured her (and her mother) so badly.

      1. Absolutely agree with the both of you. Esther, I think you hit right on! I think Mary became obessed with the religious aspect of her reign do the bad feelings in regards to Protestantism.

  2. Elizabeth was the only Tudor monarch who fully fulfilled the promise of their birthright and early reign. I believe that one of the reasons for that was that she was the only one who reallly understood that a monarch owes loyalty to their subjects as well as the other way around.

  3. I believe I read somewhere — not sure where — that Elizabeth’s words “…This is the Lord’s doing: it is marvellous in our eyes” were words originally said by Mary Tudor when she ascended the throne. Wish I could remember where – I bring it up only because Elizabeth was clever enough to use it at the right moment. (If the Psalm fits, use it!)

  4. I like the way that Elizabeth made the distinction between the body corporeal and the body politic straight away, as if she wanted to immediately plant the idea that her sovereignty was separate from her sex. Subtle.

  5. Thank you for putting the image of the my portrait of Elizabeth on this wonderful day in history!
    I will toast to her tonight!


  6. I wholeheartedly agree with Louis 100%, Geri, The History Lady, and Ellen M. I’d also like to thank Claire for putting this here on this very historic day! Elizabeth was not only the tried and true daughter of Anne Boleyn, but also her father as well. Geri, The History Lady, in that I’ve read the same thing. That is why on my comments to to other forums have Elizabeth’s words, “This is the Lord’s doing: it is marvellous in our eyes” ~ Pslams 188:23. She definitely the daughter of Anne Boleyn in that her convictions and magnificent patience through horrible and monstrous situations finally (althougt I’m sure she never thought she would) succeed the the throne. She did with the brain of her father and her mother. I do also think the longer speech was given later, as the time for it would not have been better suited, and more to hear. She was England’s most magnificent monarch (after her England and Scotland were united through James VI of Scotland as well as James I of England). Elizabeth did well even naming her successor on her death pillows. No Anne; no Elizabeth. Thank you very much!

  7. If Henry had not pursued a divorce from Katherine of Aragon and accepted that a woman could rule most likely there would have been no Anne Boleyn or Elizabeth. There would probably not been a separation from the Catholic Church. Mary may have been a very happy and well adapted healthy girl in this scenario.

    1. Esther and Shari both make an interesting point about how Mary would have turned out if she had had a happier, more stable life. Would Mary have been less militant if she had not suffered due to her father leaving her mother and splitting with Rome ? Even without these events however Mary had still been brought up by her mother to be a strict conservative on the matter of religion. She would still have had it drummed into her that she was the granddaughter of Ferdinand and Isabella the catholic monarchs who had recaptured Granada from the Muslims and expelled the entire Jewish population from Spain. Mary having a easier life may not have made her a better Queen. If you look at Elizabeth she had a very traumatic childhood and adolescence but that was what made her a strong, clever ruler. By contrast Mary Queen of Scots was brought up in luxury in the French court and consequently had a much harder time dealing with the demands of monarchy.

  8. Elizabeth was in my opinion was a great ruler better than her predecessors she showed the world that a woman can rule without a husband she was amazing. I love history, and Elizabeth was the first ruler I have read about when it comes to the British Monarchy she is my favorite queen I have read so much about her and reading about her life it is amazing but also tragic and every now and then I cant help but think of what she said when she found out that Mary was dead: “This is the Lord’s doing: it is marvelous in our eyes” she was a great woman and queen. Thank you for posting this Claire!!
    Long live the Queen!!!!

  9. You know you’re really an unpopular monarch when the day of your death becomes a public holiday.

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