Thursday, November 1, 2012

Elizabethan Fact of the Day: Queen Elizabeth is Insulted by Count de Feria

When Queen Mary I lay dying, her husband, Philip II of Spain, had no intention of losing England for Catholic Europe, so he began entertaining the idea of persuading Elizabeth Tudor to marry him. Philip had long understood the importance of keeping Elizabeth alive, in the likely event that his sickly wife died before him. In fact, Philip deserves some credit for softening his wife's resolve against her sister. Mary could refuse Philip nothing, even when it pertained to Elizabeth, so when Mary was contemplating executing her sister, Philip interceded on her behalf, and Mary obliged. Had Mary been aware of her husband's ulterior motives, she may not have been so compliant.

A cameo profile portrait of King Philip II and Queen Mary I. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Philip could never have predicted that the younger daughter of Henry VIII would not be as charmed by him as the elder had. Where Mary had fallen passionately in love with the idea of Philip before their wedding day, Elizabeth had had the benefit of observing Philip up close, and had been able to develop an informed opinion. In addition to being an emotionally distant husband to an icredibly doting wife, Philip had brought the inquisition to England, which had caused the English people great suffering. He and Mary had also used and abused England's treasury and resources to fund foreign wars. Elizabeth had witnessed nothing to recommend King Philip II of Spain to her.

A woodcut of the burning of Latimer and Ridley, from Foxe's Booke of Martyrs. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Historical evidence suggests that long before her ascension to the throne in 1558, Elizabeth had already made the conscience decision to never become subservient to any man. King Philip had no experience with women like Elizabeth, though few at this time did. Over-estimating his powers of persuasion with the heir apparent, he sent the Count de Feria to give his congratulations to his sister-in-law on her impending reign, and to express his hopes for a continued Anglo-Hapsburg alliance.

A portrait detail of King Philip II, circa 1555. After Titian. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

When Elizabeth was entertaining well-wishers and fortune-seekers at Hatfield, de Feria was granted an audience on Philip's behalf. Boldly, de Feria told Elizabeth that she owed the attainment of her throne to Philip II, and that she was therefore indebted to him. Elizabeth did not take this inference lightly; very bluntly, Elizabeth told de Feria that it was only to God and her people that she owed her crown. The Count de Feria observed,

“She is much attached to the people… and is very confident that they are all on her side; which is indeed true”. (Neale, 54)

The Count, later Duke de Feria, (who happened to be married to Mary I's dear friend and lady-in-waiting, Jane Dormer), did not hold Queen Elizabeth in high esteem; his cultural background held expectations for women which were in direct conflict with the women in England who had been educated in the humanist philosophy. Both King Philip and de Feria dissaproved of the idea of a woman operating in politics without a man to "guide" her. Perhaps de Feria's thinly veiled contempt for women in authority betrayed him when he was in Elizabeth Tudor's company, as he operated with very little tact. 

The Gripsholm Portrait, most likely of Queen Elizabeth I, circa 1563. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

In one of de Feria's first reports of Queen Elizabeth to King Philip, he described her as,

", without prudence. She is a very vain and clever woman. She must have been thoroughly schooled in the manner in which her father conducted his affairs. She is determined to be governed by no one."

How accurate de Feria's assessment would prove to be, as Queen Elizabeth I would competently rule alone for over 40 years.


Neale, J.E. Queen Elizabeth I. Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers, 2001. Print.