Saturday, November 17, 2012

On This Day in Elizabethan History: The Accession of Elizabeth Tudor to the Throne

On this day in Elizabethan history in 1558, Queen Mary I died and Elizabeth Tudor was declared the new Queen of England. The last of the Tudor dynasty, Queen Elizabeth I would also become the most successful Tudor monarch. Her coronation would take place on January 15th, 1559.

A coronation portrait miniature of Queen Elizabeth I, possibly by Levina Teerlinc. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Accession Day, also called Coronation Day or Queen's Day, is the anniversary of Elizabeth I's accession to the throne in 1558. Historically, the day was always celebrated by the ringing of bells and the lighting of bonfires. People celebrated in the streets for the continued health of their Queen and the prosperity of their country, England. 

Starting in 1570, after the suppression of the Northern Rebellion, the Accession Day celebrations became more elaborate, now including tournaments held before thousands of spectators at the Westminster tilt-yard. These royally-sponsored tournaments were attended by both the noble and the lower classes; the tournaments promoted a feeling of unity and nationalism.

A miniature portrait of by Nicholas Hilliard of George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland. The Earl of Cumberland was one of Queen Elizabeth I's tournament champions; Clifford is shown wearing the Queen's favor, an elaborate glove, in his hat. National Maritime Museum, London.

After 1585, when tensions with Spain were reaching a fever-pitch, the Accession tournament became a patriotic expression of a free Protestant country. Interestingly, Queen Elizabeth I's successor, James I, continued the November 17th Accession Day celebrations during his reign. Elizabeth I's Accession Day was observed well into the 18th century, a testament to her legacy and its impact on England's national identity.