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Queen Elizabeth I

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THE DEATH OF

QUEEN ELIZABETH I


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

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.


Elizabeth I

The Dying Queen

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It was getting late, and those in vigilance around the Queen's bed left her to the care of her ladies. The Queen fell into a deep sleep, and died in the early hours of the 24th of March, 1603. It was a Thursday, the death day of her father, and her sister. It was the eve of the annunciation of the Virgin Mary, perhaps an apt day for the Virgin Queen to die. The Elizabethan calendar was also different to ours, as they still used the Julian calendar - the new year beginning on the 25th of March. Thus the last day of the year 1602 also saw the last hours of the last Tudor monarch. The new year would bring a new reign, that of King James I (James VI of Scotland), a new ruling dynasty (the Stuarts), and a new era in British history.

It was with sadness that the Queen's death was announced on the streets of London the following morning, and witnesses described the eerie silence of the stunned crowd. For almost 45 years they had been ruled by Elizabeth, and knew no other way of life.

As the Queen had wished, there was no post mortem. Her body was embalmed, and placed in a lead coffin. A few days later, the Queen began her last journey. She was taken by water to Whitehall, and laid in state, before being taken to Westminster Hall. There her body was to remain until the new King gave orders for her funeral.




On the 28th of April 1603, the Queen was given a magnificent funeral. Her coffin, covered in purple velvet, was drawn by four horses draped in black. An effigy of the great Queen, dressed in the robes of state with a crown on her head and a sceptre in her hands, lay on the coffin beneath a mighty canopy held by six knights. Behind the Queen came her palfrey, led by her Master of Horse. The chief mourner, the Marchioness of Northampton, led the peeresses of the realm all dressed in black, and behind them came all the important men of the realm, as well as over two hundred poor folks. The streets were full of people, all come to pay their last respects to the Queen who had ruled them so wisely and for so long as she made her way to her final resting place at Westminster Abbey. When they saw the life-like effigy of the Queen, they wept. John Stow, who attended the funeral wrote:

"Westminster was surcharged with multitudes of all sorts of people in their streets, houses, windows, leads and gutters, that came to see the obsequy, and when they beheld her statue lying upon the coffin, there was such a general sighing, groaning and weeping as the like hath not been seen or known in the memory of man, neither doth any history mention any people, time or state to make like lamentation for the death of their sovereign"

The grief of the nation was unprecedented, and was a tribute to the remarkable achievements of a remarkable woman, Queen Elizabeth I.


Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth's Grave
Westminster Abbey

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Article: How did Elizabeth I die?
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