Wednesday, November 18, 2015

1558: Queen Elizabeth I Confronts Her Former Jailer

Portrait of Sir Henry Bedingfield. Picture via Image public domain.

After Elizabeth Tudor's accession in 1558, Sir Henry Bedingfield, the man whom Mary I had appointed as Elizabeth's jailer at the Tower of London and at Woodstock from 1554-55, hurried to present himself to the new queen to ask for her forgiveness, and hopefully secure himself a place in the new government. Bedingfield had been a particularly cruel and calculating keeper, and Elizabeth had come to believe that Bedingfield was under orders from her half-sister Mary to find a quiet way to murder her. Bedingfield was not the only potential threat, however; it was suspected that both Stephen Gardiner, Mary's Lord Chancellor (and an unsavory character if there ever was one) and Simon Renard, the Spanish Ambassador, had sent assassins to kill Elizabeth, but had only been thwarted because Bedingfield had strict orders that no one was allowed to visit the Princess without him present. It was Bedingfield who transported Elizabeth to Woodstock and then to court in June of 1555.

A portrait of Simon Renard de Bermont (1513-1573), Spanish Ambassador. By Antonis Mor. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Upon coming face-to-face with Bedingfield once again in 1558, this time with the tables turned and Elizabeth being in the position of power, the new queen dismissed the groveling Bedingfield by saying, "If we have any prisoner whom we would have sharply and straightly kept, we will send for you!" This delivery is a prime example of Queen Elizabeth's wit and her temper, but it also shows her mercy. Queen Elizabeth could have exacted revenge on the men who wronged her during the reign of her sister (in contrast, Mary I was more than vengeful of those who had served Anne Boleyn faithfully when she came to the throne), but instead, the records show that she instead gave some of them sound tongue lashings, cut them out of positions of influence, and chose more moderate people for important government and church positions. This made her exceptional among the Tudor monarchs.

A portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, aged about 26 (a variant of The Clopton Portrait, of which there are several). This portrait was found in a home attic - if only we were all lucky enough to find such a treasure under our roof! Picture via The Telegraph. Image public domain.

Bedingfield, for his part, seems to have gotten the message that he was no longer welcome at court, and chose to live out of the way in Norfolk, although he occasionally resurfaces in the records as a recusant, refusing to attend Church services due to his Catholic beliefs.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

On This Day in Elizabethan History: What Happened to the Original Queen Elizabeth I Oak Tree at Hatfield House?

The tree planted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1985 in the exact spot where the original oak tree was under which Queen Elizabeth I learned she was Queen of England in 1558 at Hatfield House. Picture by A.Jensen/BeingBess.

On November 17th, 1558, the fervently Catholic Queen Mary I died after a tumultuous and bloody reign. Her half-sister Elizabeth, though a Protestant, was named her successor, and learned of this news at her childhood home of Hatfield House. Elizabeth, who was fond of long walks and horse rides, was out under one of the large oak trees on the expansive Hatfield property when Mary's men from London came riding in to find her, and it was there that they notified her that she was now Queen of England. Under the oak tree, Elizabeth is recorded as saying, "this is the doing of the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes."

Unfortunately, this specific oak tree, like many of the other heritage trees at Hatfield House, has since fallen down. After all, it has been hundreds of years! But a new oak tree was planted in its exact place to commemorate the historic spot by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1985, and a plaque erected, as well. When I finally visited Hatfield this year, on my third trip to England, I sought out the oak tree, and, after getting lost once or twice looking for it, I asked for help from a friendly staff person (as it turns out, I was far off course). The oak is quite a ways from the palace, and you can see how Elizabeth would have found peace sitting out under it with her ladies. Standing in the spot where Elizabeth learned she was queen, after so many years of struggling through adversity, and surviving extreme danger at the hands of her own family members, was very emotional for me. And, of course, I repeated those famous words under the oak tree, "this is the doing of the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes."

The author standing in the spot where Elizabeth Tudor learned she was Queen of England in 1558. Picture by L.Jensen/©BeingBess.

Upon reaching the palace again, I asked a staff person if he thought Elizabeth rode out to the forest or walked, given the distance. He was of the opinion that it was part of her regular walk. That made me feel quite unaccomplished in my personal exercise routine! I also asked if he knew what had happened to the original tree that had fallen; it had always seemed strange to me that know one had bothered to save it, especially since care had been taken to mark the place where it had stood for hundreds of years. And here is one of the most wonderful things I learned at Hatfield: he actually told me that Hatfield House possesses the preserved trunk of the original oak, and that they are in the process of figuring out how to best display it for posterity! I was overjoyed to learn that it had not been lost to history, and excited at the thought that upon a future visit, I could view the original oak in person! And of course, I couldn't wait to share the good news with all of my BeingBess readers!

The plaque erected with the replacement oak tree planted in 1985 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at Hatfield House. Picture by A.Jensen/BeingBess.

The anniversary of November 17th, 1558, was marked every year of Elizabeth I's reign with Accession Day celebrations, which included pageants and tournaments. You can learn more about Elizabeth I becoming queen, and read a first-hand account of one of the Accession Day jousts by German spectator Lupold von Wedel in our original BeingBess article.

Happy Accession Day, Queen Elizabeth I!