Elizabeth (right) with her family
Queen Elizabeth I
After the disgrace and execution of her mother, Elizabeth's life was never to be quite the same again. She was probably far too young to be greatly effected by her mother's sudden extinction, but her lifestyle changed considerably. The marriage of her father to her mother was annulled, and she was made a royal bastard. Later, she was stripped of her title of Princess, as her sister had previously been, to become simply, the Lady Elizabeth. Elizabeth was a very bright child, and this change in her name did not escape her. She exclaimed "how haps it governor, yesterday my Lady Princess, today but my Lady Elizabeth?" Within days of Anne's death, Henry had married again, this time to Jane Seymour, a young woman who had been a maid of honour to Anne, just as Anne had been a maid of honour to Catherine. Although Elizabeth still had her own household, her governess found that the young child's needs were being neglected, and she felt obliged to write to the king asking him to ensure that Elizabeth was provided with all the clothes she needed, as the ones she had were too small.
Jane Seymour died a few days after giving birth to Henry's longed for son, Prince Edward. The King was devastated at her loss and gave her a royal burial at the Chapel of St. George in Windsor Castle. Like Elizabeth, Edward too had to grow up motherless, and from an early age, the two children formed a close bond. Although Elizabeth was getting along well with her half sister, Mary, the sisters were never close. They were of different religions, Elizabeth a Protestant, Mary a Catholic; of very different ages, Mary being seventeen years older; of different family connections, and they had very different personalities. Edward and Elizabeth, however, were closer in age, of the same religion, and both shared a passion for learning. They were both given a very impressive education.
From an early age they were taught Latin, Greek, Spanish, French, as well as all the other requirements of a classical humanist
education; history philosophy, mathematics. When Elizabeth was four years old, Lady Bryan was replaced as governess by a young
woman called Katherine Champernowne. Katherine was a sweet, motherly, well educated lady, who came to love her young charge dearly.
She became an important figure in Elizabeth's life, to all extent and purposes her mother figure, and Elizabeth affectionately came to
call her "Kat". Kat later married Elizabeth's cousin, John Ashley (or Asteley), which tied her even closer to the young royal.
As well as Kat Ashley, Elizabeth's immediate household also included a Welsh woman named Blanche Parry, and Thomas Parry (possibly Blanche's brother). Blanche remained a close friend and confident of the Queen throughout her long life, and was given an elaborate tomb by Elizabeth when she died in the late 1580's. Blanche also taught Elizabeth some of her native Welsh language. Elizabeth was a gifted student and her talent was appreciated by those who had the privilege to teach her. Roger Asham, a well known scholar of the day responsible for tutoring other talented students, regarded Elizabeth as his brightest star. Besides reading and writing, Elizabeth also spent her time learning to play musical instruments, which she came to do with a degree of proficiency, and also learnt needlework and art.
Henry's marriage to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, was quickly annulled as neither she or Henry found each other agreeable. Although Anne remained in England as the King's "dear sister", she probably had little to do with Elizabeth. However, Henry's fifth wife, Catherine Howard, had a much more lasting impact upon her. Catherine was Elizabeth's cousin on her mother's side, and the young Queen took a great interest in her new little step-daughter, often having her with her, and playing with her. When she first dined in public, she gave Elizabeth the place of honour opposite her. To the young Elizabeth, who so far had spent her life in the shadows of the court, overlooked as insignificant, this must have been a momentous occasion.
But this happy state of affairs was not destined to continue. It was discovered that Catherine had committed adultery, and just like Elizabeth's mother before her, she was taken to the Tower of London, condemned to death, and executed on Tower Green. This must have been a very painful and confusing episode for Elizabeth, who was still only eight years old. The extent of it's impact upon her cannot be measured, but it is significant that Robert Dudley, her childhood friend and confident when she later became Queen, said many years later that when she was eight years old, Elizabeth told him that she would never marry. In eight short years she had lost her mother and had had three stepmothers, two of whom were now dead. Also, no doubt, she had heard tales of the fate of her sister's mother, Catherine of Aragon, and it is not surprising that these combined events impressed in her a certain fear of what happened to women who married.
But life with Henry's sixth wife, Katherine Parr, proved to be rather tranquil for Elizabeth. Katherine was a motherly lady who did her utmost to give the royal children a family home. She liked to have the children around her, and did much to reconcile Elizabeth and Mary to their father. But life was certainly not idyllic. During a stay at the royal court Elizabeth managed to offend her father profoundly, for which she was banished from the Palace. What exactly this offence was remains unknown, perhaps a remark or question about her mother or Katherine Howard, or perhaps a remark on religion or another of Henry's policies that a child would not think inappropriate. Henry's reaction was alarming, but with Katherine Parr's intervention, the episode blew over, and Elizabeth was allowed back to court. By this stage, Henry was far from well. He had a great ulcer on his leg that troubled him immensely and his enormous weight hindered his mobility considerably. It was becoming clear to all around him that his days were numbered. He died on 28 January 1547.
Elizabeth was with her brother, Edward, at the royal Palace of Enfield (London) when they were told of their father's death. She and her brother cried bitterly, holding each other close. Both children knew their lives were about to change considerably, and their tears may well have been from fear for the future, as well as grief for the death of their magnificent, if at times, tyrannical father. Both were now orphans. Elizabeth was thirteen years of age, and Edward was King of England at the age of only nine.