Queen Elizabeth I Quote
Queen Mary I and Elizabeth

Mary and Elizabeth enter London

Queen Elizabeth I

Early Years

Heir to the Throne

After successfully defeating Northumberland's attempt to prevent her from succeeding to the throne, Mary triumphantly made her way to London. Elizabeth was given the privilege of riding with the new queen, and the two daughters of the much revered, if much feared, Henry VIII were welcomed by cheering crowds.

Mary's accession had thus begun well for Elizabeth. However, the irreconcilable differences between the two women, primarily their differing faiths, soon caused problems. Mary was suspicious of her younger half-sister, and was reluctant to acknowledge her as heir to the throne. Indeed, it was not until her final illness that she did accept Elizabeth as the heir. Now that she was Queen, Mary set about restoring the Catholic faith in England. She also negotiated to marry Prince Philip, the son of the Emperor Charles, who she did eventually marry at Winchester in 1554. The marriage was immensely unpopular in England. Spain was the greatest power in Europe, and it was feared that England too would fall under its dominance.

Mary I and Philip II

Mary and Philip

Wiki Commons

In opposition to the planned marriage, Thomas Wyatt, a gentleman from Kent, raised a rebellion against it. Beyond the intention of getting the Queen to renounce the marriage, the plans of the conspirators remain vague. When they were captured for questioning, it emerged that one of their plans was to have Elizabeth marry Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon, to ensure a native born succession to the throne. Thus, Elizabeth again found herself implemented in a dangerous political plot, that some considered had the far more sinister intention of placing her on the throne, rather than just securing her marriage. Given Elizabeth's dislike of marriage, and her distaste for rebellion, it is extremely unlikely that she was a party to their schemes, or if she knew of their plans, approved of them, but the very use of her name by the conspirators, and the existence of circumstantial evidence that suggested that Elizabeth may well have had knowledge of the intended revolt, were enough to put her under suspicion. Elizabeth denied any knowledge of Wyatt's plans, but the Queen's close advisor, Simon Renard, was hostile to the Protestant heir to the throne, and pushed Mary and her Councillors to bring her to trial.

Elizabeth was not put on trial, but she was taken as a prisoner to the Tower of London. The thought of going to the place from where so many had never returned, including her own mother, terrified her, and she desperately declared her innocence in the hope of not going. But to no avail. On Sunday, 18 of March 1554, she was taken by boat to the Royal Fortress. At first, Elizabeth refused to enter, declaring emphatically that she was innocent, and a loyal subject of the Queen, but she did eventually go in. She was imprisoned in the Bell Tower. Some of her familiar servants were imprisoned with her, including Kat Ashley.

Elizabeth stood in great danger. Her very existence was considered a threat to the Queen, and to the Spanish marriage, and the Queen's advisors urged her execution. Mary was reluctant to shed blood, but she had succumb to pressure to execute the Lady Jane Grey against her will, and powerful persuasion could have led her to sign her sister's death warrant. But the lack of evidence against Elizabeth, Wyatt's declaration of her innocence as he went to his death on the block, and Elizabeth's increasing popularity in the country, worked in her favour, and she was soon released from the Tower. She was not given her freedom, however, and was taken as a prisoner to the manor of Woodstock, near Oxfordshire. On her way there, the crowds greeted her with warm cheers and gifts, demonstrations of their support in this difficult time.

Elizabeth was kept a virtual prisoner at Woodstock for a year. The manor was dilapidated so Elizabeth had to be lodged in the Gatehouse. There was little room for her servants, and Thomas Parry, who was responsible for her financial accounts, had to lodge in the nearby town. Elizabeth was guarded by Sir Henry Bedingfield's hundred men, and watched closely. She was prevented from seeing Kat Ashley, everyone who visited her had to be accounted for, and she was not allowed to communicate with anyone without supervision. Bedingfield was perhaps overly strict with his young charge, but his vigilance was as much for Elizabeth's benefit as for the Queen's. Elizabeth's life was sort by ardent supporters of the Queen, and hidden away in obscurity, Elizabeth may well have been the successful victim of an assassin. Although Bedingfield's constraints irritated her, Elizabeth certainly appears to have appreciated his efforts, affectionately calling him her "gaoler", and when she became Queen bore him no ill will, and teased him that if she should need to keep someone closely confined, she would summon him.

Queen Elizabeth I Prisoner

Captive Princess

Following her marriage to Philip, Mary soon believed herself to be pregnant. This was welcome news to her supporters, but alarmed Protestants. If Mary bore a healthy child, then the hope of restoring the Protestant faith in England looked lost for good. The news of Mary's pregnancy also concerned Elizabeth. It seemed now that her chance of becoming Queen was further away than ever, and she reputedly even considered escaping from England to France to avoid a life of imprisonment. However, as the months passed, it became clear that Mary was not pregnant at all. Mary was now increasingly unhappy, and increasingly unpopular. Her policy of burning Protestants at the stake was hated, as was her involving England in a war with France in which Calais, England's last foothold in France, was lost.

At her husband's bequest, Mary reluctantly accepted Elizabeth as heir to the throne. After Elizabeth, and passing over the Suffolk line, the most powerful claimant to the throne was Mary, Queen of Scots, granddaughter of Henry VIII's eldest sister, Margaret. Mary had not long married the French heir to the throne, Francois, and the French and Spanish were enemies. Thus, even though Elizabeth was a Protestant, it was in Philip's best interest to secure her accession to the throne to avoid the French obtaining it.

Elizabeth was at her childhood home of Hatfield when Mary died on the 17 of November, 1558. She was reputedly eating an apple underneath an Oak tree in the great park when the news of her accession to the throne reached her. Elizabeth was now just twenty five years old, and Queen of England. For the first time in her life, her destiny lay in her own hands, and Elizabeth knelt on the ground and whispered in Latin what she truly must have felt: "This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes".






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