Thursday, November 17, 2011

On this Day in Elizabethan History: The Death of Queen Mary I of England

The head of the funeral effigy of Queen Mary I of England. In the effigy collection at Westminster Abbey. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

On this day in Elizabethan History, Queen Mary I died at the age of 42 with no issue. The tragedy of the many years of Mary I's ill health and phantom pregnancies was juxtaposed by the joy Elizabeth undoubtedly felt when she was declared the new queen. 

A side-by-side 17th century engraving of Mary I and Elizabeth I, courtesy of Inor19 on Flickr. Image public domain.

History tells us that when Elizabeth received the ring of her deceased sister, a symbol of her accession, she quoted scripture, declaring, "This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in out eyes". While some have said this statement was apocryphal, I do not doubt that Elizabeth said something of this nature when she realized that the danger had passed and she now had the opportunity to fulfill her destiny and serve her country.

"This oak tree was planted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on the 22nd July 1985, on the site of the original oak tree under which Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I heard of her succession to the throne." Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Elizabeth survived to inherit the throne through a combination of intelligence, charisma, bravery, a keen understanding of politics, loyal supporters, and even to a certain extent the intervention of Mary's husband, Philip of Spain.

Elizabeth's coronation would take place on January 15th 1559; This glorious event was the very beginning of an iconic reign that would stabilize England and begin it on its path to the empire it would become in the 18th and 19th century.

Queen Elizabeth I's Coronation Portrait. The National Portrait Galley estimates this painting was created c. 1600, after an earlier version. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Among her many accomplishments, Elizabeth revitalized England's navy, though she would keep no standing army. Her moderate religious stance was revolutionary, and kept England from the religious wars and other conflicts that would devastate the kingdoms of the continent, and claim thousands of lives. Elizabeth would welcome and support religious refugees, nurture England's tradesmen and women, and as a result, the economy improved so that 16th century England could operate almost independently, more so than ever before. It should come as no surprise that there was also a rise in the lower and middle classes as a result. And Queen Elizabeth famously supported the arts, theatre, literature and pageantry, bringing her country into the Golden Age.

Every year from the 1570's onward, Elizabeth's Accession Day, or Queen's Day, was celebrated with an opulent tilt and other festivities in her honor. The English nobility was already at court in November for the beginning of the Christmas season, so the Tournament was held with all the pomp and circumstance it required.

Usually the Accession Day celebrations had a theme: Arthurian, Pastoral, or even the Classical Gods and Goddesses. The Queen's special champions in the tilt were Sir Henry Lee, commissioner of the famous Ditchley portrait, and George Clifford, the 3rd Earl of Cumberland, whose tournament armor now resides at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

George Clifford, Earl of Cumberland's stunning armor for the Tournament. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of Todd Hoogerland. Image public domain.
A German visitor to England, Lupold von Wedel, wrote that at 12 o'clock, on September 17th:

"...the queen and her ladies placed themselves at the windows in a long room at [Whitehall] palace, near Westminster, opposite the barrier where the tournament was to be held...Many thousand spectators, men, women and girls got places...

During the whole time of the tournament all those who wished to fight entered the list by pairs, the trumpets being blown at the time and other musical instruments.The combatants had their servants clad in different colours, they, however, did not enter the barrier, but arranged themselves on both sides. Some of the servants were disguised like savages, or like Irishmen, with their hair hanging down to the girdle like women, others had hoses equipped like elephants, some carriages were drawn by men,others appeared to move by themselves; altogether the carriages were very odd in appearance.Some had their horses with them and mounted in full armour directly from the carriage. There were some who showed very good horsemanship and were also in fine attire.The manner of the combat each had settled before entering the lists. The costs amounted to several thousand pounds each.

When a gentleman with his servants approached the barrier, on horseback or in a carriage, he stopped at the foot of the staircase leading to the queen's room, while one of his servant's in pompous attire of a special pattern mounted the steps and addressed the queen in well-composed verses or with a ludicrous speech, making her and her ladies laugh. When the speech was ended he in the name of his lord offered to the queen a costly present..."

von Wedel went on to record the excitement of the joust in his observations of this clearly spectacular event.