I recently came across a passage from Hentzner’s Travels, which captures in great detail a moment in time at Elizabeth’s court, toward the end of her reign. I have selected an excerpt, below, to share with you. While there are no portraits of Elizabeth as “old”-she had a fear of being perceived as such, and a monarch must never let her people think she was infirm or unfit to rule- this passage gives us the most accurate description of Elizabeth as a young mind, trapped in an elderly woman’s body. Presence was everything, and even at 65 with black teeth, she is still both beautiful and powerful.
|Portrait Miniature of Queen Elizabeth I from 1590, by Nicholas Hilliard. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain. |
"In the same hall were the archbishop of Canterbury, the bishop of London, a great number of counselors of state, officers of the crown, and gentlemen, who waited the Queen’s coming out; which she did from her own apartment when it was time to go to prayers, attended in the following manner: First went gentlemen, barons, earls, knights of the Garter, all richly dressed and bare-headed; next came the chancellor, bearing the seals in a red-silk purse, between two: one of which carried the royal scepter, the other the sword of state, in a red scabbard, studded with golden Fleurs de Lis, the point upwards: next came 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 ears two pearls, with very rich drops; she wore false hair, and that red; upon her head she had a small crown…Her bosom was uncovered, as all the English ladies have it till they marry; and she had on a necklace of exceeding fine jewels; her hands were very small, her fingers long, and her stature neither tall nor low; her air was stately, her manner of speaking mild and obliging. That day she was dressed in white silk, bordered with pearls of the size of beans, and over it a mantle of black silk, shot with silver threads; her train was very long, the end of it borne by a marchioness; instead of a chain, she had an oblong collar of gold and jewels. As she went along in all this state and magnificence, she spoke very graciously, first to one, then to another, whether foreign ministers, or those who attended for different reasons, in English, French and Italian.”
~From Hentzner’s Travels, 1598
As you probably noticed, Elizabeth's dark, small eyes are mentioned, a trait she inherited from her mother. Her aquiline nose and wigs are also recorded. She would have been happy to know that her long fingers were being appreciated, as she was incredibly vain about them!
|The Lord Chamberlain of England bears the Sword of State in front of Queen Elizabeth I. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.|
The sword mentioned by Hentzner being carried in front of the Queen in a red scabbard is the Sword of State, or bearings sword. We have one at the museum where I work; it possibly belonged in the retinue of Henry IV or Henry V of England. It is an impressive weapon, meant to symbolize martial power and majesty, standing over 5ft tall! One will always be taken seriously with a bearing sword carried in front of them!