The Accession of Elizabeth I – 17th November 1558

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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