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Elizabeth I â" the People's Queen
Her Life and Times: 21 Activities
By Kerrie Logan Hollihan
Chicago Review Press Incorporated Copyright © 2011 Kerrie Logan Hollihan
All rights reserved.
A Princess Unwanted
When beggars die there are no comets seen; The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes. — William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
The midwife must have groaned. Praise God for Queen Anne's safe delivery in childbed, but this new baby was a maid, not the lusty boy King Henry had been promised. As the midwife displayed the baby girl to the crowd of people in the queen's chamber, they knew the queen had failed. She had not borne the heir to England's throne, the son her husband longed for.
Still, the baby girl's arrival signaled the start of a celebration. It was September 7, 1533. England had a new princess, first in line to the throne. As the news flowed out of Greenwich Palace and up the Thames River to London, people poured out of their houses to make merry. King Henry VIII and his new queen, Anne Boleyn (boe-LIN), had a healthy child. Surely a son would follow in God's — and King Henry's — good time.
With her mother still in bed, where she would stay for a month to recover from the birth, the baby girl was taken to a church in Greenwich. There she was christened with great pomp and style. One of the king's men shouted her name: "God of his infinite goodness, send prosperous life and long to the high and mighty princess of England, Elizabeth!"
But in a different household, another English princess refused to celebrate. She was Mary Tudor, 17 years old and daughter of Henry VIII with his first wife, Queen Catherine of Aragon. The new baby meant only bitterness to Mary When her mother could not give Henry a son, he dropped her for the pretty, dark-haired Anne Boleyn. Henry's wandering eye had spotted Anne, one of Queen Catherine's ladies at court.
Queen Anne Boleyn, Princess Elizabeth's mother, was executed when Elizabeth was two.
Under the rules of the Roman Catholic Church, Henry could not divorce his wife. So Henry split from the Catholic Church. The king created a new Protestant religion, the Church of England, and he made himself its supreme head. Now Henry made the laws. He divorced Queen Catherine and packed her off to a home in the country, where she and her servants lived in disgrace.
Under the king's new rules, Mary became Henry's illegitimate daughter, a bastard child not born in a legal marriage. Henry stripped away Mary's title of princess. The king's older daughter became simply Lady Mary. Her claim to England's throne came second to baby Elizabeth's.
A Home at Hatfield
When Elizabeth was just three months old, King Henry gave her an estate of her own with caregivers and servants. Elizabeth was taken to Hatfield, a royal manor home west of London. There, following the customs of the day, the little girl was raised in the manner befitting a princess. Her mother Queen Anne stayed at court, no doubt in the hope that she would quickly become pregnant with a son for King Henry.
Surrounded by noble ladies of high birth, common servants, and wet nurses who breast-fed the little princess, baby Elizabeth thrived at Hatfield. Her sister Mary lived at Hatfield as well; the king had ordered her to serve as one of Elizabeth's ladies.
But Mary refused to acknowledge Elizabeth's royal birth. By insisting that she alone was England's princess, Mary outraged her father. Over the years, the distance between King Henry and his eldest daughter grew, as did Mary's dislike of her small sister.
Queen Anne did her best to produce an heir for King Henry. She miscarried one baby and then, in the winter of 1535, she gave birth to a stillborn son. By then, Henry's eyes had landed on several choices for a new queen. He plotted ways to rid himself of Queen Anne and replace her with his new favorite, one of Anne's ladies named Jane Seymour.
Henry's courtiers accused Anne of betraying the king with other men. Anne was removed from the royal household, placed on a boat, and rowed along the Thames River to the forbidding Tower of London, where she entered prison through Traitors' Gate.
Anne tried to defend herself against these false charges, but King Henry was determined. Found guilty of treason — disloyalty to both her king and country — Anne was condemned to be beheaded. Anne was a member of the nobility, so her sentence was carried out in private on Tower Green, a grassy patch inside the walls of the Tower of London. Henry brought in a French executioner, the most skilled swordsman he could find. As a woman, Anne was entitled to die by the sword instead of an ax.
The executioner did his work perfectly. At eight o' clock in the morning on May 19, 1536, he beheaded Anne with one swift stroke. Nobody had thought about a coffin, so her ladies took her head and body and placed them together in an old arrow box. By noon, the box had been buried under the floor of the chapel just steps away.
Now, two-year-old Elizabeth became both motherless and a bastard. As with her sister Mary, Elizabeth was stripped of her title by King Henry. Before Anne Boleyn's body was barely cold, Henry became betrothed to Lady Jane Seymour. Queen Jane became Henry's third wife and little Elizabeth's stepmother. The new queen gave King Henry his longed-for male heir. On October 12, 1537, Prince Edward Tudor was born.
The king ordered Elizabeth and Mary to Hampton Court Palace so they could take part in the christening ceremony. Only four, Elizabeth was too small to carry a fancy cloth for the ceremony. A nobleman scooped her up and held Elizabeth as she grasped the jeweled fabric in her small hands. Elizabeth looked on as prayers were offered for the health and long life of her baby half brother.
Queen Jane was not blessed with a long life. Like so many women in her day, she developed a massive infection after giving birth to Edward and died 12 days later.
Henry VIII went on to marry three more wives by the time Elizabeth turned 10. A princess from the Netherlands, Anne of Cleves, arrived to marry the king in 1539, but Henry found her so plain he divorced her and sent her to the countryside.
Henry's next wife, yet another pretty girl from court named Catherine Howard, liked Elizabeth and sent her small trinkets. But the hapless Catherine truly did cheat on the king and was beheaded on Tower Green in 1542 when Elizabeth was nine. At long last, King Henry, now old and sick, settled on an older woman named Katherine Parr and married her in the summer of 1543.
Elizabeth tried to please her father and his new wife. Following the Tudor custom of exchanging gifts at New Year, she made her stepmother a handmade book. In it, Elizabeth labored with pen and ink to translate a French poem into English. Instead of using the Old English style of writing, Elizabeth wrote with a new kind of penmanship, the Italic style so fashionable in Italy. Then she took up needle and thread to embroider a cover for the little book.
A Princess Once More
In 1543, Elizabeth's future brightened. Henry VIII, a whimsical man, changed his mind about his daughters' low position. Henry rewrote his will and reversed his shocking decision to remove his daughters' royal titles. Mary, now 28, and Elizabeth, 10, again became Tudor princesses.
King Henry was trying to plan for the future. If his son Edward died without fathering children, first Mary and then Elizabeth would follow their brother on England's throne.
Under English law, sons always came first. Among England's noble families, the oldest son inherited his father's title and practically all of his land and buildings. Other sons and daughters could only hope that their father would leave them some land or cash to give them an income.
The same tradition held in England's royal family. The oldest son — and then his children — inherited the crown. If the oldest son died childless, the crown went to the next son — or daughter, if no sons were left. Even if a princess was older than her brother, she could not wear the crown before he did.
Elizabeth's family tree was an example of the royal succession. Her father Henry had an older brother, Arthur, who died in his teens. Henry then became first in line to the throne, though his sister Margaret was two years older.
The Reformation and a Europe Split in Two
Queen Elizabeth's life played out against a bloody backdrop. The 1500s, a century of religious uproar, saw the Christian church splinter into groups that hated each other and went to war. They fought over land, power, and money.
As the 1500s opened, the Roman Catholic Church oversaw a religious empire across Europe. At its head was the pope, who traced his authority back to St. Peter, a disciple of Jesus. From its seat of power in Rome, the Catholic Church wielded its enormous influence for 1,500 years over everyone in Western Europe.
The Church taught that it held power over people's souls, from humble peasants to kings and queens. Everyone must obey Catholic teachings and do good works during life on earth. Otherwise, a person's soul would go to the fires of hell.
Even then, living a righteous life might not be enough. Catholics taught that after death, a dead person's soul enters purgatory. There, the soul repented for bad deeds before earning its way into heaven.
In the early 1500s, the popes were busy planning a magnificent new church of St. Peter in Rome. The cathedral promised to be an extraordinary but expensive building. As they watched the new creation rise in Rome, the Church leaders found a way to pay for it by selling indulgences — "time off" from purgatory.
Greed and corruption had seeped into every level of the Church, from parish priests to bishops to the pope himself. Then, in 1517, a young priest named Martin Luther nailed a list of complaints on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther charged that Church leaders had fallen into this sorry mess by selling indulgences.
Luther had other shocking ideas. He claimed that faith alone — not good works — earns one's soul a place in heaven. Luther pointed out that Christ's church is a body of believers — both ordinary people as well as priests. He declared that Church leaders such as the pope, bishops, and priests had no special lifeline to God. Luther kept only two of the seven Catholic holy sacraments: baptism and the Lord's Supper — communion. His views also changed the meaning of taking bread and wine at communion.
Soon Luther's reforms snowballed into a movement called the Reformation. Throughout the 1500s, Protestant ("protest"-ant) churches surged across northern Europe in a wave of Lutheranism. Many people approved of Luther's reforms and became Protestants. For better or worse, the new church attracted about 300 princes in northern Germany alone. They wanted to help themselves to the riches and influence of the Roman Catholic Church. But in southern Germany, Catholics continued to hold power.
King Henry VIII of England left the Catholic Church in the 1530s in order to get a divorce that the pope would not approve. Henry established his own form of a Protestant religion: the Church of England, or Anglican Church. In Switzerland, yet another branch of Protestants united under their leader, John Calvin, who taught that only special people, "the elect," were "predestined" to enter heaven.
The Reformation laid the groundwork for bloody clashes in the 1500s. Nations took sides depending on which way their monarchs worshipped. Kings and queens signed treaties and married each other to cement the bonds of religion across national borders. When armies went to war, they took sides depending on whether they were Catholics or Protestants.
About the time Elizabeth became England's queen in 1558, Europe's map was divided in two. Under Elizabeth, England was Protestant. But much of the north of England was still friendly to Catholics, and farther north lay Catholic Scotland. To the west, Ireland was divided. English landowners in Ireland were Protestants, but their Irish enemies were Catholics.
In Northern Europe, including Scandinavia and Germany, kings and princes followed Protestant beliefs. In France, most kings and the occasional queen were Catholics, but French nobles also included Protestants, which led to infighting and murder. Germany remained a nation of princes divided between Protestants and Catholics. Members of Spain's royal family were strong Catholics, as were the monarchs of the Holy Roman Empire that spanned central Europe and parts of Holland, Belgium, and Italy. The princes of Italy kept their Catholic ways as well.
The lives of everyday people also played out against this backdrop. Protestants and Catholics feared each other. A small child's future depended on the family religion, and that family felt safer living near others with the same beliefs.
In cities and towns, a father's work and even the chance for his sons to go to school depended on how he worshipped as a Catholic or Protestant. In the countryside, families followed the religion practiced by the rich landowners who gave them work and shelter.
This split between religions set the stage for killing between Protestants and Catholics in Europe for more than a century. Elizabeth Tudor grew up during these days of war and revenge.CHAPTER 2
"No Womanly Weakness"
The purest treasure mortal times afford Is spotless reputation — William Shakespeare, Richard II
As the child of Henry VIII, Elizabeth had the best teachers in her father's kingdom. Even Elizabeth's governess, Mistress Katherine Ashley, was handpicked for her knowledge. Kat Ashley spent hours with the little princess each day and most likely taught Elizabeth how to read and write. Elizabeth began to learn Latin, the language of Europe's educated people.
For a time, Elizabeth and her brother Edward lived in the same home. Like some girls in rich families, Elizabeth was lucky to work with a tutor hired to teach her brother. Side by side, Edward and Elizabeth studied Latin and Greek, a newly popular subject for study and conversation. Elizabeth, however, did not study international politics and affairs of state as Edward did. No one dreamed that a young girl would need to understand these subjects.
Elizabeth loved learning. In a different place and time, she might well have become a scholar. By age 11 she was well into learning Greek, Latin, French, and Italian. Elizabeth took pride in her work, be it her penmanship, her stitchery, or her bookwork. As she neared her teens, she was growing into a smart and strong-willed young woman.
Elizabeth was delighted to get a tutor of her very own. But this teacher, a thoughtful man named William Grindal, soon died of the Black Death, a plague that attacked its victims with fever, vomiting, and black, blood-filled boils. A replacement was named, but he was not Elizabeth's first choice. Elizabeth, a hardheaded girl, had become a penpal — writing in Latin — with a teacher at Cambridge University named Roger Ascham (ASK-um). She would accept no one else, and when she was 16, Ascham joined her household for two years.
Elizabeth's intelligence astounded her new tutor. He eagerly wrote, "She has just passed her sixteenth birthday, and exhibits such seriousness and gentility as are unheard of in one of her age and rank."
Elizabeth's morning lessons began with readings from the Bible in its original Greek. Ascham then directed her to translate complex passages from Latin, Greek, and Italian into their original languages. Once she finished, Ascham asked her to translate them back into English — with no peeking until she was finished.
A well-taught pupil during the Renaissance studied other subjects as well. (Today, a Renaissance man or Renaissance woman means anyone with a wide range of interests and talent.) Ascham taught Elizabeth his own lovely penmanship in the Italian style, and Elizabeth learned to write in a fine hand that served her well through life.
Excerpted from Elizabeth I â" the People's Queen by Kerrie Logan Hollihan. Copyright © 2011 Kerrie Logan Hollihan. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
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