EARLY YEARS OF
QUEEN ELIZABETH I
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.