“….I will be as good unto you as ever a queen was unto her people.”
These were the words of Elizabeth I on the eve of her coronation on this day, the 15th January, 1559. Not bad for a daughter of Henry VIII, who himself declared her illegitimate in his turbulent career as King of England. Fortunately, he would reverse this decision in 1544.
However, there were more troubled days ahead for Elizabeth, when her half-sister Mary imprisoned her briefly in the Tower of London in 1554. In the same tower her mother Anne Boleyn had spent her last horrible days as a prisoner before being beheaded on the orders of Henry VIII. Elizabeth had good reason to fear the same fate.
In a brief background to Elizabeth’s rise to the throne, England was a dangerous time for Protestants under Elizabeth’s half sister’s reign, in which, she shared a very stormy relationship. Queen Mary, a devote Catholic, imposed pro Catholic dogma and made efforts to restore papal rule again in England. She went to great lengths to prosecute Protestants which included the barbaric act of burning. Mary would earn the nickname “Bloody Mary” for her prosecutions of Protestants by her opponents.
Elizabeth’s tower imprisonment was a response to the Protestant rebellion that ensued during Mary’s reign. Was it an act of desperation on Mary’s part to imprison her Protestant sister ? Mary’s prosecution would largely fail, including her attempt to punish her sister for treason. Elizabeth would be released after no evidence of a conspiracy could be proved.
During the last months of Mary’s reign, it became clear that she was now mortally ill. Her parliament urged her to name her sister as heir apparent. She reluctantly agreed and approved the succession of Elizabeth. (A condition of Elizabeth’s succession was a promise of sorts that Elizabeth wouldn’t change her Catholic reforms and legislation. Elizabeth never kept her promise.)
After Mary’s death, Elizabeth survived a brief Catholic plot against her, to be largely hailed by the majority of English lords who were Protestant. The English parliament would be called to announce that Elizabeth would take her place as ‘queen of this realm’.
Below is a clip from the movie Elizabeth (1998) starring Cate Blanchett as Queen Elizabeth I. I have decide to share the scene of the coronation with you, to give you a feel of what it may have been like to be part of such a historic day in English history. Even though it is an interpretation of what may have happened, pay attention to her coronation robes which are very similar to the portrait at the top of this article. Enjoy !
Notes and Further Reading
Peter Ackroyd, The History of England Volume II: Tudors, MacMillan, 2012.
Christopher Hibbert, The Virgin Queen: A personal history of Elizabeth I, Tauris Parke, 2010.
“….I will be as good unto you as ever a queen was unto her people”: quoted in DK, History of Britain and Ireland, Dorling Kindersley, 2011