The House Of Tudor
Mary, Queen of Scots
Mary Queen of Scots, after years spent incarcerated in English prisons, entered into secret correspondence with the Catholic Duke of Norfolk, the most powerful nobleman in England and Elizabeth's cousin on the Boleyn side. A plot was hatched where Mary was to marry Norfolk. Elizabeth, however, was informed. She confronted Norfolk, who denied all knowledge of the plot. The northern Earls rose but the revolt was easily put down.
The Pope excommunicated the heretic Queen of England, thus compelling English Catholics to decide between their religion or their Queen. A second plot was formulated in 1571, known as the Ridolfi Plot, which again Norfolk was found to be involved in. Fortunately for the Queen, the plot was uncovered before it reached fruition. Norfolk was sent to the block, but the Queen, while thanking them for their loyalty, refused to countenance Parliament's request for the execution of the Queen of Scots.
Aware of the growing threat the arch Catholic Phillip of Spain posed to England, Elizabeth entered into marriage negotiations with the French in 1572, who were prepared to enter into an Anglo-French alliance to counter the balance of power in Europe, at the time stacked highly in Spain's favour.
The younger brother of Charles IX, Francis, Duke of Alencon, was offered as a candidate for Elizabeth's hand, negotiations were of course lengthy and stayed Phillip's hand. Elizabeth was over twenty years older than her prospective suitor, Alencon was short and pock marked, she referred to him as her "Frog". The Queen was known to be dilatory, (especially with prospective suitors) and kept him in suspense until 1584, when she finally decided that she did not want to marry.
In the meantime, the Protestant Netherlands rose in revolt against Spanish rule. Elizabeth, recognising the opportunity to weaken Phillip and engage his attention elsewhere, supported the Dutch. Eventually Spain put down the Dutch revolt, Leicester's expedition there after the assassination of the Dutch leader William the Silent ended in utter failure.
The captive Queen of Scots, having learned nothing from her previous disasters, was again involved in Catholic plots. Elizabeth's spy master, Walsingham, was engaged in secretly monitoring the Scottish Queen's activities and correspondence.
When Mary involved herself in the Babington Plot in 1586 she sealed her fate. She was tried, condemned and the death sentence passed. Elizabeth could not bring herself to sign the Death Warrant, she agonised over it for months, being unable to make up her mind. On 1st February 1587, she at last brought herself to do so. It was, she said, a case of "strike or be stricken". Mary was beheaded at Fotheringay Castle in Northamptonshire, displaying immense courage and dignity at the last.
Philip, provided with an excuse to attack the heretic Queen, launched the Spanish Armada in 1588. It was sighted off Cornwall on 19th July and warning beacons flared all along the south coast. The English naval forces were commanded by Drake, Hawkins, Frobisher and Howard of Effingham. Elizabeth went down to Tilbury, making her famous speech to the troops assembled there:-"I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a King of England too." The country was ecstatic when news of the defeat of the Armada arrived and Elizabeth at the very peak of her fame.
The Later Years
Her later years saw Elizabeth I surviving her advisors, she kept Leicester's last letter for the rest of her life. Walsingham, Drake, Frobisher and finally Cecil, who had been her chief advisor from the beginning of her reign, died. Cecil was replaced by his son Robert Cecil. Most of Elizabeth's generation had passed away, the Queen adopted Leicester's step-son as her new favourite. Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, was a handsome and high spirited young man. The Queen heaped honours on him but in 1601 he lead a rebellion against her and was executed.
Contemporary Descriptions of Elizabeth
There are various contemporary descriptions of Elizabeth in old age.
Paul Hentzen, tutor to a visiting nobleman, has left us an eye witness description of her:-
'Next came in the Queen in the sixty-fifth year of her age, as we were told, very majestic, her face oblong, fair, but wrinkled; her eyes small yet black and pleasant; her nose a little hooked; her lips narrow; and her teeth black ( a defect the English seem subject to from their too great use of sugar) she had in her ear two pearls, with very rich drops; she wore false hair and that red, her hands were small, her fingers long and her stature neither tall nor low; her air was stately; her manner of speaking mild and obliging.'
De Maisse, recorded in his journal after a meeting with the Queen:-
'She was strangely attired in a dress of silver cloth, white and crimson, or silver gauze as they call it. This dress had slashed sleeves lined with red taffeta, and was girt about with other little sleeves which hung down to the ground, which she was for ever twisting and untwisting. She kept the front of her dress open, and one could see the whole of her bosom, and passing low.'
He went onto add 'As for her face, it is and appears to be very aged. It is long and thin, and her teeth are very yellow and unequal, compared with what they were formerly, so they say, and on the left side less than on the right. Many of them are missing so that one cannot understand her easily when she speaks quickly. Her figure is fair and tall and graceful in whatever she does; so far as may be she keeps her dignity, yet humbly and graciously withal.'
Elizabeth addressed Parliament for the last time in 1601, in what is known as her Golden Speech, she told the assembled Houses of Parliament; "And though God has raised me high, this do I account the glory of my crown, that I have reigned with your loves."
The Queen, now sixty-nine, was in good health and spirits and her faculties remained sharp until the end. In the March of 1603 she began to feel unwell and melancholy engulfed her, causing insomnia, she knew she was going to die and refused food, nor would she go to bed. The Queen dreamt she saw her "body thin and fearful dancing in a light of fire", perhaps she recalled her fears during the burnings of her sister's reign.
She was said to have nominated Mary, Queen of Scot's son, James VI, King of Scotland, as her successor. Finally she lost the power of speech. The greatest of the Tudors died in the early hours of 24th March 1603, aged 69, at Richmond Palace. It was the end of an era.
Elizabeth was buried with her half-sister, Mary I, at Westminster Abbey, deeply antagonistic to each other in life they were to lie together eternally in death. James I later erected a fine effigy over Elizabeth's tomb (pictured left), the Latin inscription at its base translates 'Partners both in throne and grave, here rest we two sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, in the hope of one resurrection.'
Bess of Hardwick, the formidable Elizabethan Countess of Shrewsbury.
Mary Queen of Scots and Tutbury Castle- article on Tutbury Castle and the Scottish Queen's imprisonment there.