Queen Elizabeth with Ambassadors (c.1560)
QUEEN ELIZABETH I
Everyone who was permitted to court had access to the Presence Chamber. This was a great hall in which the monarch would give audience and where all entertaining and general socializing took place. Access to other parts of the palace depended on status and personal relations with the Queen. Security was very tight. With so many people daily visiting court there was always the danger that an assassin could target the Queen. Elizabeth was thus well guarded and access to her privy chambers was strictly controlled by her Gentleman Usher. The Queen had two private rooms, the Privy Chamber and the Bedchamber, although she was rarely, if ever, alone in either. Not only were her six maids of honour often present, but there were also ladies of the bedchamber, ladies and grooms of the Privy Chamber, aswell as the Gentleman Usher. The Queen would also entertain government officials or Ambassadors here.
Elizabeth tended to spend most of her day in the Privy Chamber, but also had a privy garden and she loved to take brisk walks in the great outdoors, accompanied by her maids of honour. The palaces also housed a great library and Elizabeth was an avid reader. She was fluent in Latin and Greek and loved to read and translate the works of classical authors and was also very interested in history. Dinner was usually served around noon and courtiers would generally eat together in the Presence Chamber, although some would have food delivered to them privately in their quarters. Elizabeth tended to take her meals in her Privy Chamber and ate only in the Presence Chamber on special occasions. Not only was she spared public scrutiny, but she could eat her meals without too much ceremony, and get on with the business of the day. Her ladies would bring several plates of food to her Privy chambers, food which had been ceremoniously checked for poison, and after taking what she wanted, the food would be shared amongst her ladies.
Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex
Courtly Tournament (1595)
Supper at Court was served at between five and six in the evening and afterwards entertainment would be provided in the Presence Chamber, such as a play, a masque, a ball, or a musical concert. Sometimes the Queen would attend or she would stay in her privy rooms and continue reading and signing state papers. Most of the palaces had a hunting park where the Queen and her courtiers could hunt deer. This was one of the Queen's favourite pastimes. Bear baits and dog baits were also held at court, together with less violent sports such as hawking. Tennis was another courtly pastime, as was jousting, and major jousting tournaments were held. This was a dangerous sport that resulted in the death of Henry II of France, but the danger was part of the thrill and the romance.
There was a lot of ceremony surrounding the Queen. For example, as she moved around the palace, guards would line her route and a fanfare would announce her arrival. The Queen's head was always theoretically meant to be higher than everyone elses, although in practice this may have been hard to observe without all the tall men of her court permanently kneeling. No one was supposed to turn their back on the monarch, which often meant walking backwards if leaving the Queen's presence. All courtiers were also expected to present the Queen with a New Year's gift, and in return the Queen would present them with a gilt plate to the value of their status. Later, it became customary to present her with a gift on her birthday and accession day also.