Long cosidered the definitive biography of the great Tudor Queen, this scholarly and immensely readable book won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Biography and hs been translated into nine languages.
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Queen Elizabeth I
By J.E. Neale
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 2015 J.E. Neale
All rights reserved.
On Sunday, September 7th, 1533, between the hours of three and four in the afternoon, Anne Boleyn gave birth to a child at the pleasant river-palace of Greenwich. Its destiny was bound up with accidents of State, which none could then foretell; but this at least might have been discerned, that the birth was a symbol of the most momentous revolution in the history of the country.
It was six years or more since Henry VIII's fancy had been stirred by the black eyes, vivacious personality, and easy French manners of one of Catherine of Aragon's ladies-in-waiting, and thoughts of divorce had taken final form in his mind. His was not a tale of light-of-love. He had opportunities enough of diversion, with no complicating problem of marriage; and if other overwhelming reasons had not suggested divorce and re-marriage, who can tell how long Anne Boleyn's virtue would have withstood his siege? For it was not dishonour — certainly not at the French Court where she had spent three years — to be a royal mistress. The fact was that Henry as a king, and the second of a new dynasty, had no duty more urgent than to secure the future of his house by providing an heir to the throne. While there was no Salic Law in England to exclude his only legitimate child, the girl Mary, from the succession, the most distinguished legal writer of the previous century had argued that a woman could not succeed to the English throne; and in the four and a half centuries since the Conquest there had only been one queen regnant, Matilda, whose singularity and fate were nearly as decisive against a female sovereign as any Salic Law. The dangers accompanying a woman ruler were grave and obvious. She must marry, either at home or abroad: if at home, the country faced the risk of being plunged into civil war through jealousy of her husband's power; if abroad, of being converted into a province of another realm. The law on the subject might leave room for argument, but prudence was certainly flat against a woman ruler.
This it was which set Henry forth in quest of a son. He had borne with Catherine of Aragon as long as there was any hope of a prince, and in all probability would have borne with her till death if she had produced his heir. But in 1527 she was forty-two years old, six years older than her husband; stout, without charm, and aged with disappointment. She had been tragically unfortunate in childbed. Five children — three of them boys — had been stillborn, or, in one instance, had died within a few weeks of birth. The last was born dead in November 1518. In an age accustomed to see the visitation of God in plague or dearth or in the collapse of a flimsy floor under a conventicle of heretics, it was neither hypocrisy nor undue sensitiveness in Henry to associate his wife's misfortunes with the wrath of God. Had He not spoken clearly in Leviticus? 'And if a man shall take his brother's wife, it is an unclean thing ...; they shall be childless'. The divine hand, as emphatically as reasons of State, pointed to the King to put away Catherine of Aragon.
Thus the famous divorce began, bringing in its train the incalculable results of the breach with Rome. Deep as was Henry's infatuation for Anne Boleyn — she was his great folly — her place in the revolution was none other than prospective mother of the heir to the throne. In the autumn of 1532, after the divorce suit had dragged on for six years and Henry had drawn nearer and nearer to the last act of defiance against Rome, he and Anne began to live together. By January she was with child, and as the political object of the divorce now seemed assured, further delay was pointless. On January 25th Henry married her in secrecy and haste, and once Cranmer had obtained the Pope's recognition of his election to the see of Canterbury, the breach with Rome was completed. In May Cranmer declared Henry's marriage with Catherine null and void and recognized the legality of his marriage with Anne. The English Church had cast off the supremacy of Rome. And the proximate cause was the child that Anne was bearing. Whatever fame the future held in store, its birth at least ensured that it would be the child of the English Reformation.
'I pray Jesu, and it be his will, send us a prince': so a chronicler of the time prayed. Rarely has the sex of a child mattered so much. No one dared to contemplate a girl. The physicians and soothsayers assured the King of a boy. Its name — Edward or Henry — was decided in advance, and one of the richest beds in the royal treasury, a prince's ransom, was brought to Greenwich to grace the event. There were to be jousts and rejoicings.
Alas! for hopes and prophecies. The child was a girl. If it was a bitter disappointment for Henry, it was worse for Anne. She had failed the King; far more, she had failed herself. Her rise to power had made many enemies: those whose influence at Court she had diminished or eclipsed, those opposed to the new radical tendencies in religion, and those who resented the arrogance of her upstart relations and the sharpness of her own and her brother's tongues. It was an age in which political power created implacable opponents. Woe to the day on which the King's favour wavered, for courtiers who saw their own advancement in another's fall seldom missed an opportunity of poisoning the royal mind; and 'the wrath of the Prince was death'. To some extent Anne's position as Queen guarded her against malicious tongues; but much more than with Catherine her security depended upon being the mother of a prince. Only a week or two before the birth of her child — so it was said — when she was protesting against a flirtation of Henry's, she was told to close her eyes and put up with it as her betters had done. She must understand, said Henry, that in a moment he could debase her even further than he had raised her. For Anne, as for Catherine, God and a prince were a dangerous concatenation in the King's mind; and the girl she had borne was the edge of the cloud that ultimately blotted her out.
But for the time being the prospect was not desperate. Anne had given Henry a princess, and with God's favour would yet give him a prince. At the news of the birth bonfires were lit in the city and bells rung — for joy in the King's disappointment, said a malicious ambassador. The next day a solemn Te Deum was sung at St. Paul's, and on the Wednesday, with splendid ceremonial, the child was christened, London's mayor and aldermen, in bright gowns and gold chains, and accompanied by councillors and citizens, taking barge to Greenwich where with lords and ladies they joined in a procession that moved by arras-covered walls and along ways strewn with green rushes to the Franciscan church. Cranmer was godfather, the old Duchess of Norfolk and the Marchioness of Dorset godmothers. When the christening was over, Garter King-of-Arms, in a loud voice, proclaimed the child's style: 'God of his infinite goodness, send prosperous life and long to the high and mighty princess of England, Elizabethl'
Seventeen and a half years before, the same proclamation had saluted Catherine of Aragon's daughter. At the time of her mother's disgrace Mary was adolescent and was swept by her emotion into a passionate resistance to the new order of things. Under the secret stimulus and guidance of the Imperial ambassador she flouted her father's wishes and commands with a tenacity that roused his wrath to dangerous levels. Anne Boleyn she persisted in regarding as a concubine, her child as a bastard, with the result that the relations between the two women became charged with venom. An excellent opportunity of curbing Mary's pride and reminding her that she was no longer princess, nor indeed anything more than Henry's illegitimate daughter, presented itself when Elizabeth was three months old, for following precedent a separate household was then set up for the baby princess at the royal manor of Hatfield. As the child was borne there, passing through London on its way and providing a diversion for the spectacle-loving people, part of the escort was detached to break up Mary's household and bring Mary to pay court to Anne's child and live as a member of the new household. It was in vain that she protested. All that she could do was to continue in her obstinacy, refusing to surrender the title of princess or to recognize Anne or her child. She spurned overtures from the Queen and the two became implacable enemies. Nor did relations with her father improve, and whenever he visited Elizabeth, he ordered Mary to be confined to her room, refusing to see her. This manner of life went on during the years 1534 and 1535. The Princess and her household were now at Hatfield, now at Eltham or Hunsdon or at some other royal manor, and occasionally at Court.
Meanwhile the sands were shifting under Anne Boleyn. God had not favoured her with a prince. In the summer of 1534 she was believed to be with child, but by September Henry knew that it was untrue. His affections, temporarily drawn back to her, reverted to a very beautiful damsel of the Court, and when Anne was resentful he again reminded her rudely of her origins. The Court watched these signs like vultures their prey. She still retained something of that power over Henry which had kept him in thrall as a lover; but her bursts of temper were irritating, his old ardour was gone, and, ominous sign! conscience was once more in the ascendant. He began to think of the possibility of release from her. Catherine, however, was a stumbling block, for during her life Henry might free himself from Anne only to revive the old trouble over her. He hesitated, and while he did so Anne became pregnant. The prince was coming.
At the opening of the year 1536 Anne Boleyn's position rested on two supports: the life of Catherine of Aragon and the prospect of a prince. Never was fortune more cruel. On January 7th Catherine died, and on the twenty-ninth, the day of the funeral, Anne gave premature birth to a male child. She had miscarried of her saviour. The tragedy must obviously move to a close; and it moved swiftly. On May 2nd she was arrested and sent to the Tower, accused of adultery with five men, one of whom was her brother. In the subsequent trials all were found guilty and the law took its course. Anne herself was executed on May 19th. Whether she was guilty or not, no human judgment can now determine, and contemporaries differed. In all probability she had been indiscreet. If she had gone further, if she had really committed adultery — and the possibility cannot be lightly dismissed — then it is likely that a desperate woman had taken a desperate course to give England its prince and save herself from ruin. Whatever the truth, she had played her game and lost.
Lost indeed! She was denied even the hope of triumphing through her child. In the four days between her trial and execution Cranmer had to find cause for nullifying her marriage, thus reducing Elizabeth to the status of a bastard. It mattered little that it was illogical to condemn and execute for adultery a woman who had never been a wife: Henry was not averse to having it both ways. What cause Cranmer found is unknown: it may be that he relied upon the fact that Anne's elder sister had been Henry's mistress, which in ecclesiastical law established a relationship between the two that prohibited marriage. In any case it was a sorry business although it achieved a rough sort of justice and was not unstatesmanlike. Elizabeth was reduced to the same status as Mary, who therefore took priority by age, while both gave place in sex to their baseborn brother, the Duke of Richmond. The succession to the throne thus became clearer, for at worst people could now look to a prince, though an illegitimate one; at best they could trust in God to bless the King with an indisputable heir. Henry was only forty-five, and with Catherine and Anne dead, the past was liquidated. He could start again on his quest for a son.
Elizabeth was two years and eight months old when her mother was executed and even the wrench that a child of that age might feel was spared her through living in a household of her own. Her emotional life, in contrast with Mary's, was unaffected by her mother's misfortunes. Neither shame nor resentment ate like a canker at her pride. Not shame, for she grew up in a society with feelings differently tuned from ours. A royal father was parentage enough: it could glorify the bar sinister, remove the taint of an adulterous mother. Nor did the scaffold matter seriously: it was an instrument of state to which the great families of the age paid tribute in turn. A Mantuan, describing England in the middle of the century, remarked that 'many persons, members of whose families have been hanged and quartered, are accustomed to boast of it. Lately, a foreigner, having asked an English captain if anyone of his family had been hanged and quartered, was answered, "Not that he knew of". Another Englishman whispered to the foreigner, "Don't be surprised, for he is not a gentleman"'. It was enough for Elizabeth that she was Henry VIII's daughter. He was a father of whom she could be, and she was, justly proud and fond. Against her mother's shame there always stood a large interrogation mark; and if Catholic writers later remembered and embroidered her wickedness, Protestant writers extolled her virtues.
At the time of her mother's death, Elizabeth was at Hunsdon under the charge of Lady Bryan, who had been Lady Mistress, or Governess, to Mary when a baby. It was a household of troubles; or so Lady Bryan thought as she poured them out in a letter to Thomas Cromwell. Elizabeth, she wrote, was put from her rank of princess and she had no notion, except from hearsay, of her charge's new rank, or how she should order her, or order herself and the women and grooms under her authority. The child, too, was lamentably short of clothes; she had neither gown, nor kirtle, nor petticoat, nor any manner of linen for smocks, nor several other necessaries. It was impossible to make shift any longer. Moreover, the male head of the household, Mr. Shelton, had been lording it over Lady Bryan, interfering with her charge and insisting on my Lady Elizabeth dining and supping in state, publicly. 'Alas! my Lord,' wrote the harassed lady, 'it is not meet for a child of her age to keep such rule yet. I promise you, my Lord, I dare not take it upon me to keep her Grace in health, and she keep that rule; for there she shall see divers meats and fruits and wine, which would be hard for me to refrain her Grace from. Ye know, my Lord, there is no place of correction there. And she is yet too young to correct greatly. I know well, and she be there, I shall neither bring her up to the King's Grace's honour, nor hers; nor to her health, nor my poor honesty.' 'God knoweth,' she went on, 'my Lady hath great pain with her great teeth, and they come very slowly forth, and causeth me to suffer her Grace to have her will more than I would. I trust to God, and her teeth were well grafted, to have her Grace after another fashion than she is yet; so as I trust the King's Grace shall have great comfort in her Grace. For she is as toward a child, and as gentle of conditions, as ever I knew any in my life. Jesu preserve her Grace!' The lack of clothes, distressing as Lady Bryan made it seem, was a misfortune that might have befallen the household at any time. It was no sign that Anne Boleyn's fate had weakened Henry's affection for his daughter. He was much too good a parent, and Elizabeth's precocious intelligence endeared her still more to him. At six years old, it was said, she had as much gravity as if she had been forty. 'If she be no worse educated,' Secretary Wriothesley wrote, 'she will be an honour to womanhood.'
The love that a child needs was not lacking. Especially in her stepmother Catherine Parr, Elizabeth found a second mother; and even her sister Mary's attitude changed, for the death of Catherine of Aragon followed closely by the execution of Anne Boleyn, prepared the way for a general reconciliation. Mary found it painful to submit to her father, no half-measures being tolerated; but her cousin, the Emperor, needing Henry's political support, urged her to give way, and in July, 1536, she did. Outwardly the submission was complete, but she treasured her real thoughts in the secret places of the heart. No longer was there any irksome injunction to call her sister 'Princess', and instead of having to pay court to Elizabeth, Mary was given a suite of attendants of her own, as became a king's daughter, and shared a common household in which she was now the senior partner. Her natural affection was able to find its voice: 'My sister Elizabeth,' she wrote to her father, 'is such a child toward as I doubt not but your Highness shall have cause to rejoice of in time to come'.
Excerpted from Queen Elizabeth I by J.E. Neale. Copyright © 2015 J.E. Neale. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
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Table of Contents
NOTE TO THE 1952 EDITION,
II THE SEYMOUR EPISODE,
III THE EXPERIMENT OF A WOMAN RULER,
IV THE THRONE,
V THE MARRIAGE PROBLEM,
VI FIRST ESSAYS IN FOREIGN POLICY,
VII MARY QUEEN OF SCOTTS,
VIII THE SUCCESSION QUESTION,
IX THE MARRIAGE PROBLEM AGAIN,
X THE DARNLEY MURDER,
XI THE NORTHERN REBELLION,
XII THE RIDOLFI PLOT,
XIII 'THE AFFABILITY OF THEIR PRINCE',
XIV RELIGIOUS PASSION AND POLITICS,
XV A LAST EFFORT AT MARRIAGE,
XVI THE TRAGEDY OF MARY,
XVIII TROUBLESOME SUBJECTS,
XX 'A NATURE NOT TO BE RULED',
XXI ESSEX: NEMESIS,
XXII THE PASSING OF THE QUEEN,
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