Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Elizabethan Fact of the Day: Trinity College

In January of 1592, Elizabeth I founded Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, which continues to thrive to this day. Some of the greatest literary minds attended and/or graduated from Trinity College, and I myself was lucky enough to visit the illustrious campus several summers ago. I enjoyed a tour of the college's campus, and also, of course, viewing the Book of Kells, which culminated with a visit to Trinity's rare book library. I have never had so many goosebumps as when I walked into the multi-tiered library of ancient and early modern books!

Presently, there is a white tower in the center of the common area, (or a "quad" as we call it here in America-I think "common area" sounds more distinguished, don't you?) and as the legend goes, if a virgin walks under the tower, the bell in its belfry will ring!

Trinity College Tower

I never heard the bell ring when I was there, which either means that there were no virgins present, or that the legend was false-one will never know! In any case, I am certain that if Queen Elizabeth I were to walk under that tower, the bell would ring out loud and clear!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

On This Day in Elizabethan History: The Coronation of Elizabeth I at Westminster Abbey

On this day in Elizabethan history in 1559, Elizabeth Tudor was crowned Queen Elizabeth I of England at Westminster Abbey.
The Western facade of Westminster Abbey. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

 To celebrate one of the most significant days in Queen Elizabeth's life, I thought I would share with you what transpired in the busy weeks between Elizabeth learning at Hatfield that her sister had died, and that glorious ceremony in Westminster Abbey. Elizabeth had to do a lot of preparation before she could enjoy her coronation!

Even though Elizabeth Tudor officially succeeded to the throne on November 17th, 1558, the preparations for a royal coronation understandably took a considerable amount of time. While a ceremony was being organized for January 15th, a date that astrologer Master John Dee had determined would bring good luck to the new queen and her reign, Elizabeth made good use of her time. Immediately following her sister’s death, Elizabeth had been flooded with visitors from all corners of the realm and abroad, paying her tribute and hoping to gain positions in her new regime. Elizabeth’s ability to read people and their true intentions, a skill honed in her tumultuous childhood, served her well; She was able to discern who was genuine toward her and who was merely looking to profit. 

The Old Palace at Hatfield. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of Pam Fry. Image public domain.

On November 20th, The Privy Council and members of the peerage gathered at Hatfield to hear Elizabeth’s first public speech, and to discover whom she would appoint to her government. One of first positions to be filled was Secretary of State; this position was bestowed upon the wise William Cecil, who had given Elizabeth good council in the past few years, when she had been in grave danger. The familiarity these two shared gave them a shorthand, which was to be essential for developing the productive government Elizabeth is now so famous for. She publicly addressed Cecil, saying,

            “I give you this charge that you shall be of my Privy Council and content to take pains for me and my realm. This judgment I have made of you: that you will not be corrupted with any manner of gifts, and that you will be faithful to the state; and that without respect of my private will, you will give me that council which you think best, and if you shall know anything necessary to be declared to me of secrecy, you shall show it to myself only. And assure yourself, I will not fail to keep taciturnity therein.”

            While these expectations were stated first to Cecil, it was understood that Elizabeth expected all of her ministers to adhere to the same code of honor, and, for the most part, they complied. Elizabeth would soon earn the genuine respect and admiration of her council; unlike her father, King Henry VIII, she would suffer no sycophancy.

William Cecil, First Baron Burghly, Lord High Treasurer of England c. 1570. Bodleian Library, Oxford. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

On that same day, the lawyer Sir Nicholas Bacon was sworn in as Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal, and Sir Nicholas Throckmorton was made Chamberlain of the Exchequer. Sir Francis Knollys, related to the queen by his marriage to her cousin, Katherine Carey, was made Vice Chamberlain of the Household, and also a Privy Councilor. And William Parr, the brother of the late Queen Katherine Parr, Elizabeth’s beloved stepmother, was restored as Marquess of Northampton. Parr has suffered during Queen Mary’s reign, but Elizabeth held him in high esteem. While Parr would prove a good subject of the Queen, his personal life would be wrought with controversy.
A sketch by Hans Holbein of William Parr, Marquess of Northampton. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

            Seated on her dais, under the canopy of state, Elizabeth addressed those assembled around her:
            “The law of nature moves me to sorrow for my sister. The burthen that us fallen upon me maketh me amazed; and yet, considering that I am God’s creature, ordained to obey His appointment, I will yield thereto, desiring from the bottom of my heart that I may have assistance of His grace to be the minister of His heavenly will in this office now committed to me. And as I am but one body, so I shall require you all, my lords, to be assistant to me, that I with my ruling, and you all with your service, may make a good account to Almighty God, and leave some comfort to our posterity on Earth. I mean to direct all mine actions by good advice and counsel. My meaning is to require of you all nothing more but faithful hearts, and of my good will you shall have no doubt, using yourselves as good and loving subjects.”
            Elizabeth may not have been officially crowned yet, but life had prepared her for this moment, and she was already conducting herself as queen.

            In the days ahead, Elizabeth rewarded those servants who had lovingly cared for her as a child and adolescent, and promoted her maternal relatives. Kat Ashley was made Mistress of Robes, (this would be a daunting job, considering that Elizabeth would own over 3,000 dresses by the time she died!) as well as being given the prestigious post of First Lady of the Bedchamber. This put Mistress Ashley in charge of the Queen's maids of honor, delegating their tasks and cultivating their moral character. Kat’s husband John Ashley was made Master of the Jewel House, and Thomas Parry, Elizabeth’s former treasurer, was knighted and made Comptroller of the Household. Blanche Parry, Elizabeth’s former cradle-rocker, was promoted to Keeper of the Queen’s Books.

Detail from a portrait in the collection of Lord Hastings, purported to be of Katherine Champernowne-Ashley. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

A sketch by Hans Holbein of Sir Thomas Parry, c. 1538-40. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

            Lettice Knollys, daughter of Francis and Katherine (Carey) Knollys, joined Queen Elizabeth's household. This is the same Lettice who would one day become infamous for her secret marriage to Elizabeth’s beloved, the Earl of Leicester. And Henry Carey, a beloved cousin,  (and brother to Katherine Carey-Knollys) was raised to the peerage as Baron Hunsdon.

Portrait of Henry Carey, First Baron Hunsdon c. 1561-63. By Steven van Herwijck. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

            Soon thereafter, Elizabeth and her retinue of over 1000 departed from Hatfield to London. Throngs of people lined the roads, cheering for their new queen. After being received into the city, Elizabeth, as was customary, took up residence in the royal apartments at the Tower of London, in preparation for her coronation. Clad all in purple, the color of royalty, Elizabeth stopped frequently during her progress to the Tower to greet both the commoners and well-to-do alike. In fact, many contemporaries were startled at how often she was “…stately stooping to the meanest sort.” 

The coronation procession of Elizabeth I, circa 1559. From a document in the College of Arms. Image public domain.

     Elizabeth was already demonstrating what was to be a lifelong fondness for the “true English”-the common people. The low-born had raised her when her own father had rejected her, preserved her in trying times, and invested in her their hopes and dreams for the future of the kingdom, after they had experienced so much strife; Elizabeth would reward them for their love ever-after. On the annual progresses she would come to enjoy as queen, Elizabeth would frequently stop to interact with the country folk, particularly children. 

            Sir John Hayward wrote of the triumphant Elizabeth:

            “If ever any person had either the gift or the style to win the hearts of the people, it was this queen. All her faculties were in motion, and every motion seemed a well-guided action; her eye was set upon one, her ear listened to another, her judgment ran upon a third, to a fourth she addressed her speech; her spirit seemed to be everywhere. Some she pitied, others she commended, some she thanked, at others she pleasantly and wittily jested, condemning no person, neglecting no office, and distributing her smiles, looks and graces so artfully that thereupon the people again redoubled the testimony of their joys, and afterwards, raising everything to the highest strain filled the ears of all men with the immoderate extolling of their prince.”

The Coronation Portrait of Elizabeth I. The National Portrait Gallery dates the painting c.1600, though it is probably a copy after an earlier painting that has since been lost.Image public domain through Creative Commons licensing, NPG, London.

            At noon on January 15th, 1559 Elizabeth was crowned in Westminster Abbey. Elizabeth truly believed that God had preserved her through all the dangers of her young life in order to reach this moment. What relief, and what joy she must have felt as Owen Oglethorpe, the Bishop of Carlisle, anointed her as God’s representative on Earth. She understood that hard work lay ahead, but she knew that she was up to the task. After a 44 year reign, Good Queen Bess would be laid to rest in 1603 in the same place where she had started her journey as queen.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Orphans, Stepchildren and Step-parents in Tudor and Elizabethan England

The revolving door of King Henry VIII’s wives and mistresses is, of course, the exception, rather than the rule of Tudor family life. But one, if not multiple step-parents, and inherited stepchildren were relatively common in the 16th century for a variety of reasons. Many children lost one or both parent’s to illness, some of which we can now determine were probably influenza, smallpox, typhus, malaria, dysentery, bubonic plague, scurvy and syphilis.

A composite image of the Six Wives of Henry VIII. Image created by Inor19 on Flickr.

            In 1599 in Ealing (West London), ¼ of all children had lost at least one natural parent, if not both. Step-parents were common, particularly if the surviving spouse was still able to produce more children, or if a male heir was lacking; therefore they would have good reason to marry again. But sometimes people simply remarried again for love late in life, such as the great Elizabethan matriarch Bess of Hardwick.

Portrait of Bess of Hardwick. If you look closely on the left-hand side of the painting, the sitter was once falsely identified as "Maria Regina"-Queen Mary I! It has since been identified as Bess of Hardwick. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons Image public domain.

         Many orphaned noble children benefited from the Court of Wards, which arranged for them to be fostered by other families until they came into their majority. Smaller towns and parishes set up ward programs of a similar structure for orphans who were not of the upper classes. Lord Burghley fostered the young Edward de Vere, later the 17th Earl of Oxford, until he came into his inheritance. Wisely, Burghley married Oxford to his daughter Anne, to keep the lands and money of his Earldom in the family. Despite the children growing up together, the marriage was a complete disaster.

Detail of a portrait of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, by Marcus Gheeraerts. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons Image public domain.

Sometimes, children were fostered by family members, including when a parent was still alive. This was typical of noble families, stemming from the longstanding tradition of sending children away at the youthful age of six or seven to begin training for knighthood as a page. In England in the 16th century, if an affluent relative was in a better position to raise a child and give him or her opportunities, it was wise to send the child to that relative. This was certainly the case when Queen Anne Boleyn fostered her nephew, (and possible stepson, if his father truly was King Henry VIII) Henry Carey. Queen Anne’s sister, Mary Boleyn, was still living, but Anne was able to give little Henry the benefits of an education in the royal household, alongside other children of powerful families, dress him in fine clothes, and ensure him a future in the king’s household. Henry Carey would eventually become a close, trusted, and loyal servant of his cousin, (or half-sister? This was contemporary gossip of the time; he was even called “the queen’s brother” on more than one occasion) Queen Elizabeth.

Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon, by Steven van Herwijk. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons Image public domain.

 Whether he was a sibling or not is irrelevant, though; Elizabeth kept all her Carey and many of her less ambitious Howard relatives close to her. She was undoubtedly trying to fill the void of not knowing her mother by becoming close with her maternal family.

Henry Carey, created Baron Hunsdon by Elizabeth I

Step-families were prevalent in 16th century, as they are now, though for arguably very different reasons. There are many accounts of happily “blended” families in Elizabethan England, but also many horror stories as well. And like today, many children benefited from state/social programs, like the Court of Wards, and were brought up with great success by foster families or well-connected relatives.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

How Queen Elizabeth I Ended Debt in England

With all the debt crisis’s going on in countries around the world, including my own, it seemed fitting to address the debt crisis in England when Elizabeth came to the throne, and how she solved the problem. Enjoy!

By a combination of remaining at peace with England’s enemies (even when tensions were high), making the most of her kingdom’s natural resources, and keeping state expenses at a minimum (for example, by choosing not to fund a standing army), Queen Elizabeth I was able to replenish the treasury that had been destroyed by the previous Tudor regimes, most notably during her sister Mary’s reign. Queen Mary had used her power to make England more or less a principality of Spain, and had depleted its treasury for Philip and his military whims. Her own subjects had protested against her for her choice of husband, and the country’s coffers paid dearly for her mistake.

The marriage portrait of Mary I of England and Phillip II of Spain. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons Image public domain.

Elizabethan Crown from 1601. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons Image public domain.

            By 1574, Queen Elizabeth and her financial policy had made England debt-free! The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Walter Mildmay, had addressed parliament in 1566, praising Elizabeth’s success, saying that she had “most carefully and providently delivered the kingdom from a great and weighty debt…begun four years at least before the death of Henry VIII” (quoted in Palliser, 108)
Elizabeth I presiding over Parliament c. 1580-1600. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons Image public domain.

            In the second half of her reign, Queen Elizabeth borrowed less than half as much money as she had been forced out of necessity to do in the first. Taxes, loans, and selling property and monopolies, helped her to replenish her countries finances. While the selling of monopolies (such as a monopoly over wine imports, for example) was not always popular (because sometimes the subjects who gained the monopoly were seen as unworthy, like the Earl of Essex) Elizabeth’s practices worked, and in the case of Essex and others, when she saw her error she revoked the privilege.
Elizabethan Crown from 1602. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons Image public domain.

            Queen Elizabeth’s solving of the debt crisis in England is just one of the many jewels in her crown of achievement. 

Palliser, D.M. The Age of Elizabeth: England Under the Later Tudor's. Print.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Industry in Elizabethan England

          The 1540’s onward saw a great rise in home-made products for England. By the time Elizabeth’s reign ended, England was more autonomous than it had ever been before. 

As I often tell people at the museum where I work, King Henry VIII’s vested interest in the development of innovative arms and armor, to compete with continental Europe, greatly contributed to the increase in at-home armor production in the 16th century.

This suit was commissioned by Henry VIII. Hans Holbein the Younger, in cooperation with The Royal Workshops of Greenwich, produced this gilded suit. This is one of only two suits made for Henry VIII that feature a ventral plate, which is a piece worn strapped to the chest under the breastplate of the cuirass, to lessen the weight on the wearer's shoulders. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of Claire Houck. Image public domain.
            In addition to armor and gun-smithing, England had a growth in glass blowing, mining, and the establishment of early textile companies. Many families in 16th century England were now fortunate enough to boast several trades. It was becoming common for the man of the house to be a master craftsman, or perhaps a merchant or business owner, while his wife, who would be able to read, write, book-keep, and do the buying and purchasing, would help him to run his business. Their eldest son, and perhaps another child, if they were lucky, would be apprenticed and train for years to master his own trade.

            Elizabethan London had its own specialized luxury crafts which rarely existed elsewhere in the country, like jewelry making, printing and clock making. Still, most towns with a substantial population, and other major cities, like York, could support more than a few specialists.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

England as Religious Haven, and its Influence on Economic Growth

     Foreigners with special skills, and those who were masters at their trades had been encouraged by the monarchy to settle in England since the Middle Ages. For instance, Queen Phillipa of Hainault notably sponsored Flemish weavers and wool merchants to take up residence in her adopted country. Foreign tradesmen sometimes assimilated well into their new communities, but other times they were seen as a threat by the native English and their businesses were boycotted in hopes that they would suffer financially and leave the country.

A detail from a 14th century illustration of Philippa of Hainault at her coronation. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons Image public domain.
     Tudor and Elizabethan England brought new reasons for immigrants from the Continent to settle in England, and also for Englishmen to flee persecution from their own government. This was all due to a succession of regime changes that affected religious tolerance. It all started with Henry VIII’s ever changing mind on matters of religion, and then the differing opinions of his three children. Depending on the given month and year, either Catholics or Protestants had reason to worry. In King Edward’s brief reign, many reformers eager to help establish a new Protestant kingdom flocked to England, only to flee again in fear during the reign of Queen Mary.
The atrocities suffered under Queen Mary's reign were still a very recent memory. This woodcut from Foxe's Book of Martyrs shows the burning of the elderly Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons Image public domain.Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons Image public domain.

     Queen Elizabeth established herself as someone who “wish(ed) not to open windows into men’s souls.” While Elizabeth herself was a Protestant, and upheld the Church of England that her father had established, her religious policy was much more moderate than either of her siblings, and England saw itself filled with both faiths again. Elizabeth’s own advisors were a mix of Catholic and Protestant, with some even leaning toward Puritanism, which Elizabeth herself was wary of. 

     From the 1560’s onward, England accepted Protestant refugee’s of the religious wars that were tearing apart Spain, Italy, France, Germany, and the Netherlands. In 1553, the French Ambassador supposed that there were 15,000 French, Dutch and German Protestants in the City of London alone. King Philip of Spain’s ambassador would report in 1560 that the Flemish Protestants in England came to a grand total of 10,000. By 1568, between 7 and 8 percent of the people dwelling in London and its surrounding borough’s were refugee’s and tradesmen from France and the Netherlands.

     One of the many tasks of the Privy Council was to find towns where these immigrant families could be settled peacefully. For instance, in 1565, the Privy Council sent 30 immigrant families to Nowich, and by 1579, they had grown to represent 1/3 of the city’s population.

     While there were periods in Elizabeth’s reign where native born citizens took issue with prosperous immigrant tradesmen, (For instance, the Flemish wool merchants mentioned in the first paragraph were extremely affluent by the 16th century, and many of their competitors petitioned against them) for the most part, these immigrants were a vital component to the diverse, robust and steadily growing economy in England, an economy that would enable England to catch up and compete with the other Continental superpowers; England’s economy in the latter half of the 16th century is undoubtedly one of Elizabeth’s greatest achievements.


Statistics taken from D.M.Palliser's The Age of Elizabeth: England Under the Later Tudor's. Print.