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.