Queen Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth (born 7th September 1533; reigned November 1558 till death March 1603)

One of England’s favourite and longest reigning monarchs, Elizabeth was born in Greenwich Palace, although her mother’s images adorned various parts of Hampton Court it was not long before Henry shed Anne Boleyn. He remained fond of his daughters, though not until his last wife, Catherine Parr, brought them all together was there any kind of family unison.

Elizabeth had known the separation of the English church from Rome as a result of her mother and Henry, she had known the Protestant reformation brought about by her half-brother Edward, she had known the restoration of the “true faith” by her half-sister Mary, and she had lived in fear of her own life because of the religious feuds. She had no wish to perpetuate them. The pope did not see things in the same light and Elizabeth with the help of Walsingham developed the equivalent of the first English secret service for her own protection against plots to assassinate her.

She had also to deal with threats to the country from the outside. Scotland, allied with France, proposed to put Mary Queen of Scots on her throne, Elizabeth to her chagrin had no alternative than to terminate that idea with extreme disfavour. The Spanish also had claims on England, but thanks to the weather the Armada was dispersed and their invasion aborted. To this day they will tell you in Spain that the Irish have their dark and handsome looks by virtue of descent from stranded Spanish sailors.

Although Hampton Court may not have been her favourite palace, Mary had many, it often appears in the accounts of her life. The sovereign was frequently on the move from palace to country house to palace, moving around the country to show the people their sovereign, to deal with matters of state, and to allow cleaning out and restocking of the palace that had just accommodated 500 to a 1000 persons.

In August 1559 she left the palace of Nonsuch (a creation of Henry VIII) for Hampton Court and was scandalously observed to be very familiar with the married Dudley. On August 28th the Earl of Arran secretly arrived in London, held private audience with the Queen at Hampton Court, then left for Scotland to lead the Protestant Lords in a rebellion, later however he succumbed to insanity. On 10th September the Queen was at Hampton Court, having come from Windsor.

In 1562 there was a smallpox epidemic, while at Hampton Court Elizabeth felt unwell, developed a high fever, but the royal physician found no spots or eruptions, and denied it was the smallpox – he was dismissed as a fool but no spots appeared. On 16th October the Queen slipped into unconsciousness, her doctors thought death was imminent, her courtiers were greatly concerned since the royal succession was not determined. Doctor Burcot ordered an Arab treatment, the Queen was wrapped in red flannel, laid beside the fire, given a secret potion, and recovered. She did develop pustules on the hand which was accepted as diagnostic of smallpox, confirmed by the unfortunate woman who nursed her, Mary Sidney, Dudley’s sister, who developed the most severe scarring from smallpox.

Elizabeth avoided Hampton Court after her near death from smallpox, but often returned there to celebrate the religious feasts for which large kitchens were essential, that is, Easter, Whitsun and Christmas, and found it also a suitable venue for the reception of ambassadors, using the (now demolished) cloister green court. Although she would appear late in the morning when made fully ready for company, she was not such a late riser, she would before breakfast go for a walk in her privy garden.

In November 1568, Elizabeth was at Hampton Court when the commission of enquiry concluded Mary Queen of Scots was accused of foreknowledge of the murder of her husband, Darnley. The discussions continued through to the following year, in January it was concluded nothing was proven against Mary but Elizabeth was warned against her intentions.

Elizabeth suffered panic attacks, she was in particular sensitive to smells. Because she hated kitchen odours, and the privy kitchen intended to serve royalty exclusively was beneath her apartments at Hampton Court, she ordered new kitchens to be built in 1567 (these are now in use as the visitors’ tea room).

There were constant threats on her life, usually related directly or indirectly to the issues of religion. In 1583 an insane Catholic, John Somerville, boasted he was going to shoot her, he was arrested, imprisoned in Newgate where he hung himself. The French ambassador was not altogether pleased to report after that incident, when the Queen went on procession, she was always met with large cheering crowds. Another supposed conspiracy involved Doctor Lopez, a Portuguese Jew, but the senior doctor at Saint Bartholomew’s Hospital (over whose gate stands an effigy of Henry VIII). He was the Queen’s physician but was thought to be spying on behalf of the King of Spain from whom he had received a diamond and ruby ring. This plot was brought to Elizabeth’s notice when she was at Hampton Court and she wondered if she wouldn’t be safer in Windsor. Several times she cancelled the imminent move, causing a carter to complain in her hearing, “now I see that the Queen is a woman.” Elizabeth sent him three gold coins, “to stop his mouth.” Lopez received the usual penalty for high treason; although probably innocent, he was hung, drawn and quartered, his property was forfeited to the crown, and until she died Elizabeth wore the ring the King of Spain had given him.

Perhaps Elizabeth is best remembered for her speech to the troops when awaiting the invasion by the Spanish Armada: I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a King of England too.

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