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She was called many things: Princess, Bastard, Gloriana, Good Queen Bess, and the Virgin Queen. We add to our Tudor series this chat about the extraordinary life and reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
Queen Elizabeth I in her coronation robes
So long was our talk, that we have broken Elizabeth’s story up into two episodes. This first one will cover her life until she is crowned, and the next until her death and beyond.
Some of you are thinking, “Wait, Chicks, didn’t you talk about Elizabeth before?”
Yes, we did, but only her life as it related to others: her parents, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, her stepmothers including Catherine of Aragon, cousin Lady Jane Gray and her half sister- Queen Mary I. If you have not listened to those episodes, you might like to and gain a fuller view of how her life intertwined into those stories.
Henry VIII was married for 24 years to one wife, Queen Catherine of Aragon. This marriage produced only one child- Elizabeth’s half sister, Mary. Henry, desperate for a son to carry on his bloodline, pulled some serious political and religious chess moves to divorce Catherine and marry Anne Boleyn who was- at the time of their secret wedding- pregnant with Elizabeth. She was born on September 7, 1533.
So, okay, Hank wanted a boy. But Anne could get pregnant, let’s try again.
When Elizabeth was two years old, her father figured out a way to get a male heir: be rid of Anne on trumped up charges and marry someone else.
Hey, it was a plan. And it worked…maybe not so well for Anne or Elizabeth but they were never Henry’s primary priority. Wife #3, Stepmother #1- Jane Seymour had the good fortune to give birth to a male heir, Prince Edward- and then she died of complications from childbirth. Okay, maybe that wasn’t entirely good fortune- but Henry is on to his next wife…and his next until Stepmom #4-Katherine Parr, who is the only one of the six to add “widow” to her title. Henry VIII died.
A young Elizabeth by William Scrots
We do go into all the details of Elizabeth’s upbringing in the episode. She was raised to live at court, and she did have moments of happiness in her childhood. She was bright, inquisitive, educated and well liked from a very early age. She also was pretty much ignored by her father except for a modest to small allowance during his life.
In his death, she became third in line for the throne and was a very valuable commodity. This was realized by her then stepfather-ish, Thomas Seymour. Oh, we had a great deal of fun at ol’ Tom’s benefit. He doesn’t make it very long into the story- he is executed for charges that were not trumped up. As Elizabeth herself said, “Today died a man of much wit and very little judgement.”
First to rule after her father: King Edward, her half brother. Elizabeth and Edward were fairly close in age and raised togetherish (as much as the royal dysfunction allowed). Edward died about 6 years after becoming King- he was only 16.
For a very brief time, Lady Jane Gray was put up as his replacement (oh, that was a doozie of a story- we cover it in the Lady Jane Gray minicast) and Elizabeth’s older half-sister Mary needed Elizabeth to help her get her to her rightful place. After Queen Mary succeeded in getting crowned, she had very little use and a big dose of mistrust for Elizabeth. After a term in the Tower, Elizabeth is sent off to life at Hatfield House for the majority of Mary’s reign (of terror, we are talking Bloody Mary here. Okay, if you want the real details, go listen to the Queen Mary I podcast).
The Tower of London from the River Thames…not Elizabeth’s favorite residence.
Hatfield House. She spent a great deal of time here as a child and during Mary’s reign.
Finally, at the age of 25 after her mother died at the hands of her father, her father handed her over to others to raise her, many men attempted to win her hand in marriage Elizabeth is handed the crown and becomes Queen Elizabeth.
Did you catch the part where we said that Elizabeth was smart and cunning and well liked? These are all traits that help her as soon as she gets that crown on her gingerhead. She reinstates her father’s Act of Supremacy which puts her at the head of the church- but she makes some significant changes. She gives nods to Roman Catholicism, gives a generous hand to Protestantism and creates a religious environment that allows people to breath and only ticks off the extremists.
She appoints advisers who not only can be trusted by her but will tell it to her like it is. They are are smart and respect her although she is (think like it’s 1560) a woman. These advisers agree on one key item: Elizabeth must marry.
We banter about playing Tudor Suitors for awhile, outlining the relationships with the men most likely to walk off with the final Tudor Rose.
There were some who she simply played for political reasons (Prince Phillip of Spain? Mary’s Sloppy Seconds? We don’t think so), and some who really had a shot including her “Frog” and “Bonny Sweet Robin”. As always there is far more information in the podcast than in these notes, but the result is the same: none would ever win her hand.
That’s where this episode ends- but oh, it is not the end of Elizabeth’s story, not by a long shot.
TIME TRAVEL WITH THE HISTORY CHICKS
In Part Two we referenced two sources for more detailed information on the Irish Rebellion as well as the relationship between Ireland and the Tudors in general. If you are looking for more information on this aspect of Elizabeth’s life we recommend you start with this BBC post, Turning Ireland English but Steven Ellis as well as his book, Ireland in the Age of the Tudors.
Ah, the great Who’s the best Elizabeth Debate- we pick our favorites during the episode and here are the top contenders (but not the only ones- this is a story that has been made and remade- and many versions are excellent, just remember that they are mostly historical fiction not necessarily a documentary, and all will be well.)
Glenda Jackson, 1971 540 minute long BBC version
Cate Blanchett, 1998/ 2005 theatrical release versions
Helen Mirren 2005 HBO miniseries
We had the opportunity to be a part of several min-biographies for the Biography Channel. Here is one on Elizabeth that you might enjoy.
If you happen to be in the UK, missing Elizabeth I places would be the trick, not finding them- there are quite a few. Like, Hatfield House and the Tower of London, and The Globe Theater.
Books: Okay here is the deal. Elizabeth I is QUITE a popular literary subject, there are a lot of books about her out there and most of them are really informative. We’ve read so many that listing them all would bore you. You really can’t go wrong with anything written by David Starkey or Alison Weir.
In Public and in Private; Elizabeth and Her World by Susan Watkins (Book Beckett highly recommended)
For kids- while not Tudor centered, Anne Boleyn is profiled in this first of a series by Author/Illustrator Lisa Graves (Our friend, the History Witch who we can’t talk about enough because she is pretty fabulous) HistoryWitch.com
The Tudor Tutor has a list of source material she uses (as well as A LOT of information that you might enjoy spending time with).
Since we are sharing websites, here are the ones that we talked about: (excellent for kids) Tudorhistory.org , (sistersite to Anne Boleyn files) Elizabeth Files , and Being Bess, another really terrific site, On the Tudor Trail (this link will take you to a post on Hatfield house)
So, you’re visual. Here is a link to a particularly terrific documentary- The Virgin Queen David Starkey (We told you you really can’t go wrong with Starkey)
And after that highbrow educatin’ you earned yourself a nice Horrible Histories bender.
Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England – follow this video (and book) along as historian Ian Mortimer shows what life is like for the non-regal set during this era.
This American Life Fiasco Episode!
Pottage recipe from the Elizabethan era, just like Beckett promised. (And a really interesting site for people who like to eat their way through history!)
Keen eared listeners might remember a very clever letter that we read a few seasons ago from long-time friend, Tom. He is currently living in Scotland, and offers this interesting addition to the legacy portion of Elizabeth’s story. (We didn’t talk about this during the episode, but link it nonetheless because Tom is a very loyal listener and History Nerd of the highest caliber.) Operation Highlander
And because we like to make Doctor Who references as much as we like to make Harry Potter references…the 1st Doctor visited her, the 10th visited TWICE: once with companion Martha in the Shakespeare Code…and then there was much jubilation when this happened on the 5oth Anniversary special:
End song: “Leaf in the Tree”, by Frozen Ocean Wave
As always, music comes courtesy of Music Alley. Visit them at Music.mevio.com