Monday, December 5, 2011

Elizabethan Quote of the Day: Elizabeth Holds Her Own Under Interrogation in 1549

When Elizabeth Tudor was interrogated during her brother Edward VI's brief reign, concerning the longstanding unscrupulous activity of Thomas Seymour, she eventually earned the respect of her interrogator. 

A detail from a portrait of King Edward VI, Elizabeth's brother. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

I have been reading a lot of the interesting contemporary accounts of Elizabeth's first time under suspicion, at the age of fifteen, long before her stay in the Tower under the reign of her sister, Queen Mary. Elizabeth's maturity, tenacity, and wit are remarkable given her stressful, and seemingly hopeless situation whilst being daily harassed by Sir Robert Tyrwhit. Tyrwhit was instructed to obtain an admission from the young princess of her supposed (but entirely unfounded) intent to secretly marry her brother's uncle, Thomas Seymour. Interestingly, and perhaps too close for comfort, Tyrwhit was related by marriage to Elizabeth's recently deceased stepmother, Queen Katherine Parr, through one of her husbands, before she married Henry VIII.

Portrait miniature of Thomas Seymour c.1545, from the workshop of Hans Holbein. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

While Tyrwhit was frustrated by Elizabeth's daily refusal to yield to his intimidation, he did come to respect her bravery, and her loyalty to her servants. One such excerpt, recorded on January 23rd, 1549, illustrates this point particularly well:
"I do assure your Grace, she hath a very good wit, and nothing is gotten of her but by great policy."
Elizabeth navigated Tyrwhit's attempts at entrapment effortlessly, partly because she was entirely innocent, but also because she was trying to protect her friends, Katherine Ashley and Thomas Parry. Elizabeth was herself an expert at deciphering the double-speak of Tudor politics, so she understood implicitly all of the tricks that Tyrwhit was using to try to confuse her; For instance, the presentation of a "confession" of guilt by Mistress Ashley-Elizabeth knew that falsified confessions were a favorite tactic of Tudor jailers, and would not be fooled.

A sketch by Holbein of Sir Thomas Parry c. 1538-1540. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

When Elizabeth made a carefully written statement about the nature of her relationship with Thomas Seymour, her lack of knowledge of his treasonous plots, and her ardent defense of her servants, she also included some statements for her own peace of mind. Elizabeth, who was keenly aware of the slander that was being circulated about her, and feared the unjust damage it would do to her reputation, implored the crown (her brother and his uncle the Lord Protector, Edward Seymour) to do the proper thing and defend her against such lies. Below, please see an excerpt from this remarkable document:

"Master Tyrwhit and others have told me that there goeth rumours abroad which be greatly against my honour and honesty (which above all other things I esteem), which be these; that I am in the Tower; and with child by my Lord Admiral. My lord, these are shameful slanders, for the which, besides the great desire I have to see the King's Majesty, I shall most heartily desire your lordship that I may show myself there as I am."

Alison Plowden analyzes Elizabeth's statement, saying:

"This famous letter, polite but by any standards a masterpiece of its kind. Elizabeth has wasted no paper on protestations of innocence or outraged modesty. She had defended herself and her servants against unwarrantable accusations with courage and dignity, and more than hinted that she would expect an apology." (Plowden, 111)

In conclusion, Elizabeth would declare,

"...My conscience beareth me witness which I would not for all earthly things offend in any thing; for I have a soul to save, as well as other folks have."