THE DEATH OF
QUEEN ELIZABETH I
"It is not my desire to live or to reign longer than my life and my reign shall be for your good."
Elizabeth I to her Parliament 1601
Queen Elizabeth as Gloriana may have seemed to many to be immortal, but by the turn of the seventeenth century, she was beginning to display very real human frailty. Life as a monarch may have been glorious at times, but it was a difficult, demanding, and often very lonely task, and Elizabeth was tired both physically and emotionally. She herself said:
"To be a king and wear a crown, is a thing more glorious to them that see it, than it is pleasant to them that bear it"
Elizabeth had always known that popularity was a fickle thing, and although she said nothing, she knew that those around her were preparing for the time when her reign would be over. She was old, and the illusion that she was not, was falling away rapidly. When visiting the House of a courtier she had to have a stick to walk up the stairs, and during the opening of Parliament she almost fell under the weight of her heavy robes. Elizabeth knew that an aged queen could not long command the hearts of the young, who were waiting for the sun to rise on a new world. Also, for some years the Queen had been suffering from some form of mental instability, although at this distance in time it is impossible to diagnose what her condition was. She was no longer quite the charming, witty, graceful, monarch that she had once been. She was rather paranoid, and was increasingly bitter. She was also lonelier and lonelier as more friends passed away. She had never doubted the justice of the execution of her once favourite, Robert Devereux, but she grieved deeply at the death of the man she had loved and nurtured since childhood. Sometimes she would sit in dark rooms, weeping at his young and tragic end.
Elizabeth I with Time & Death
By the late winter of 1602/3 Elizabeth was feeling unwell. She had caught a chill after walking out in the cold winter
air, and complained of a sore throat as well as aches and pains. She lay resignedly on her cushions in her private
apartments, and could not be persuaded to leave them for the comfort of her bed. "I am not well" she declared, but
refused the administrations of her doctors. It was the opinion of her contemporaries that she would have recovered
from this illness had she fought against it, but she did not want to. She was old, she was tired, and she was
lonely. Weary of life, she was ready to slip into the world where all those she had loved had gone before her. As her condition
deteriorated, Archbishop Whitgift (her favourite of all her Archbishops of Canterbury) was called to her side, and
the Queen clung tight to his hand. When he spoke to her of getting better, she made no response, but when he spoke to
her of the joys of Heaven, she squeezed his hand contentedly. By this time she was beyond speech and could only
communicate with gestures. It was clear to all of those around that the great Queen was dying.
There was still one matter that the Queen had left unresolved, the matter that had been unresolved since the first day the young Lady Elizabeth had heard that she was now Queen of all England; the succession to the throne. However, it was generally believed that James VI, King of Scotland, was to succeed, and this question was put to the dying Queen. Elizabeth may or may not responded, but for the sake of the peaceful transition of power, it was later announced that she had gestured for the King of Scotland to succeed her.