Sunday, November 18, 2012

Elizabethan Fact of the Day: Queen Elizabeth's Former Jailor Grovels for Forgiveness

Directly before and immediately after Elizabeth Tudor's accession to the throne of England on November 17th, 1559, well-wishers and fortune seekers came to court the new Queen; everyone aspired to earn a place in her household or her government. Sir Henry Bedingfield, the man whom Queen Mary I had appointed as Elizabeth's jailor in the Tower of London and at Woodstock from 1554-55, hurried to present himself to Elizabeth I to ask for her forgiveness. Bedingfield had been a particularly cruel and calculating keeper (though this has been contested by Marian apologists), and Elizabeth had come to believe that Bedingfield had been ordered by her own sister to find a way to quietly dispose of her. 

A portrait of Queen Mary I by Hans Eworth, 1554. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

There were other alleged Marian plots to murder Elizabeth; it was suspected that both Stephen Gardiner, Mary's Lord Chancellor, and the Spanish ambassador, Simon Renard, had sent assassins to kill Elizabeth. The plots were thwarted only because Bedingfield had instituted a strict policy that no one be allowed to visit the Princess Elizabeth without him being present. Bedingfield transported Elizabeth to Woodstock, and then to court, in June of 1555.

A 16th century portrait of Bishop Stephen Gardiner, who served as Queen Mary's Lord Chancellor. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Several years later, it was Elizabeth who had the upper-hand over Sir Henry Bedingfield; she dismissed her grovelling former jailor, saying, "If we have any prisoner whom we would have sharply and straightly kept, we will send for you!"

A detail of a 16th century portrait of Sir Henry Bedingfield. Picture acquired through Image public domain.

Bedingfield lived out the rest of his days away from court politics in Norfolk, but occasionally he resurfaced in the records as a Catholic recusant.