This post is a little late, but its here! I’ve been flat out at work, and wasn’t entirely sure if I’d get this up, but I’m grinding through and doing it! We have another chapter from another book from Bonny G Smith! This week she is sharing with us the third book from her Tudor Chronicles, and will be of great interest to those who love Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots!
A note from the author,
In High Places is the story of the relationship between Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots. The title comes from Elizabeth’s Golden Speech of 1601: “Though God hath raised me high, this I count the glory of my crown: that I have reigned with your loves.”
In High Places – Bonny G Smith
“Thou hast dealt as wonderfully and as mercifully with me as Thou didst with Thy true and faithful servant, Daniel…whom Thou deliveredst out of the den of greedy and raging lions.” – Elizabeth, from her coronation prayer
Hatfield Palace, November 1558
It was late afternoon and already the day was drawing in. The clouds brooded and lowered dark gray, and in the distance seemed to take on an ominous shade of slate blue. It had been cool and damp since sunrise, threatening rain, but none had fallen yet. Sir Thomas Cornwallis assessed the clouds with a gimlet eye; it soon would. The roads were still muddy from past storms, and it had taken Sir Thomas and John Boxall the better part of the day to reach Hatfield Palace from London. Just as they crested the rise and the palace at last came into view, the first tentative raindrops began to fall.
Although they had been received cordially, both men remembered well
Princess Elizabeth was a Tudor; in Sir Thomas’s experience of royal service through the reigns of three Tudor monarchs, he knew that one must be wary of the unpredictable and frightening temper Her Grace was likely to possess. And above all they must be careful what they said as well as the manner in which they said it; for this girl, this woman, was almost certain to become the next Queen of England, and that in short order. Queen Mary lay dying at St. James’s Palace; indeed, at this very moment she might already be dead.
The room was so silent and still that it might have been empty; the only sounds were the crackling and snapping of the fire on the hearth and the rustle of the creamy vellum in her hands, as Elizabeth slipped the first page of the queen’s letter beneath the second.
Sir Thomas was her sister’s steward and Boxall, the Dean of Windsor, her Secretary of State; both were privy councilors. The task had fallen to them to inform Her Grace that at long last her sister had, albeit reluctantly, named her the heir to the throne of England.
Elizabeth stood with her back to the two men. After so many years of practice in keeping her own counsel, honing the skill of masking her emotions, and living by her wits, it was unlikely that her face would have betrayed anything of her feelings to them. But she still wished for a modicum of privacy in which to read her sister’s letter. The situation must be dire if Mary had finally, after all this time, agreed to explicitly name her as her successor. Such a declaration was, in the final analysis, a mere formality; still, even she must own that it was an important one. It changed nothing but it should serve to sway those who might otherwise be minded to doubt the validity of her claim or balk at her ascension accession.
She read the missive through fully three times before she turned, her countenance inscrutable, to face her sister’s men. She was glad that she had turned her back on them to read it, for the letter had angered her with its high-handedness and its list of conditions under which the queen condescended to bequeath to her that which was already her own by right of inheritance and by English law.
Another might, if only for the ability to do so, have kept the two weary men standing on their feet, even after such an arduous journey; Elizabeth had bade them sit by the fire and warm themselves. But it was not with any care for their comfort that she had done so; for now as she prepared to address them, as the queen’s representatives, she had them at a disadvantage. She now stood tall, looking down upon them seated in their chairs.
Sir Thomas drew a sharp breath when he beheld the princess’s eyes. He had never been this close to her before; he had seen her only a handful of times at court, and that only at a distance. Elizabeth had been standing in front of the hearth, her face backlit by the fire, when the two men entered the room, knelt, and offered up the queen’s letter to her. Sir Thomas had stolen a quick glimpse at the princess’s face and, when he did so, had perceived her eyes in that moment to be identical to the deep, dark pools that her mother’s had been.
He had been only twelve years old and a page at the royal court when the enchanting, captivating daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn had returned to England after almost ten years at the French court. Many had scoffed at Anne Boleyn’s ability to fascinate, but young Thomas had succumbed fully to the lady’s mysterious, undeniable charm; he had been smitten well and good with a painful case of calf love. He understood completely, as few did at the time, King Henry’s infatuation with the intriguing Mistress Boleyn. In an age when flaxen hair and eyes the color of cornflowers were the ideal of true beauty, he, like the king, had found Anne’s dark loveliness irresistible.
But as his first love’s daughter faced them, this time the fire reflected in her eyes and he almost gasped aloud. For Elizabeth’s eyes were not brown at all but truly golden, with tiny copper-colored flecks in them. It lent them a unique allure. Sir Thomas stole a sideways glance at John Boxall only to discover that that gentleman had not had the temerity to meet the princess’s formidable gaze; his eyes were fixed firmly upon the floor.
Even as these thoughts swept through his mind, Elizabeth drew breath to speak. She was still holding the pages of her sister’s letter in a delicate, porcelain-white hand with fingers that were longer and slimmer than any he had ever beheld. The silence was becoming uncomfortable when finally Elizabeth spoke.
“I am very sorry to hear of the queen, my sister’s, illness,” she said, and her voice sounded to Sir Thomas’s ears as velvet might feel on the skin. “But there is no reason why I should thank Her Grace for her intention, here stated in these pages,” she tapped the letter with an impatient finger, “of bestowing upon me the crown of this realm. For Her Grace has not the power to give me that which is already mine, my lords. The throne of my father is my own by hereditary right and by Act of Parliament; I cannot lawfully be deprived of it. That I shall ascend the throne of England when my sister no longer rules this land is a foregone conclusion, my lords, and one reached long since by all but Her Grace.”
Neither man spoke; indeed, for some curious reason, they seemed to be in silent accord as to their trepidation to even look up at her, let alone meet the princess’s steely gaze. After an appreciable silence during which it became evident that neither man would respond, she went on.
“Furthermore, my lords, as to the conditions,” and she spoke the word infused with an unmistakable scorn, “under which Her Grace will consent to bestow upon me that which is mine by right, I say this. You may tell the queen for me that regarding the payment of her debts and the care of her servants, I shall accede to these requests as far as it lies within my power to do so. But as to making no changes to the Council, I think myself as much at liberty to choose my own councilors as Her Grace ever was. Regarding religious practice in England, I promise only this; that I shall not change it if the Catholic faith can be proved and upheld by the word of God. For such shall be the sole foundation and rule of religion whilst I am queen of this realm.”
It galled her that Mary should even think to make her accession to the throne of England conditional upon anything. But the queen’s demands, just like her power, would soon be irrelevant. As her sister soon would be! And if the state of her illness was so dire as to inspire Mary to finally and formally name her bastard, lying, deceitful, heretical sister as the next Queen of England, she who was the daughter of Anne Boleyn, the Great Whore, then she must indeed be very near to death. Yes, she knew her sister’s opinion of her, and she no longer cared.
Sir Thomas could sense the emotion emanating from Elizabeth, even through her extraordinary restraint; it was every bit as scorching as the flames blazing in the grate. He had once visited Italy with his father when he was a lad, and had been mightily impressed with a volcano that he had seen there, smoldering and just waiting to explode with heaven only knew what deadly force. The princess brought this to mind as she stood there, seemingly calm but with her golden eyes blazing.
But it was quite slowly and deliberately that she turned and walked back to the hearth. The flames there burnt hotly and leapt up with a roar as the wind rose outside. The storm that had been brewing all day was finally upon them; heat lightning illuminated the room momentarily. Casually, almost incidentally, Elizabeth bent and laid Mary’s letter onto the flaming logs. She stepped back from the intense heat of the fire and the three of them watched in silence as the creamy vellum glowed first red, then black, then gray, then became only ashes. The ashes curled, as if with a life of their own; they were lighter than air and suddenly the ashes rose of their own accord and ascended up the chimney.
The queen’s letter disappeared as if it had never existed.
* * *
Elizabeth stood at the turret window gazing out over the expanse of garden to the woods beyond. From her vantage point she could just see the curve of the road leading to the palace gates. The trees were stripped bare from the recent storms; all except the beeches, which would hold their copper-colored leaves until the spring. The sun shone brightly and the sky was an intense blue. The white clouds appeared luminous and wispy against its vastness as they scudded by on business of their own.
The road was usually all but deserted and the sound of hooves on gravel normally elicited an excited query as to who had come to visit Hatfield. But in the week since the queen had named her heir to the throne, there had been a steady exodus out of London. The Great North Road that had been built centuries before by the Romans was now thronged with courtiers anxious to ingratiate themselves with the woman who would soon be their new queen. For there was no doubt now that Mary’s time was no longer to be measured in weeks, but in days; perhaps even in hours.
“Just look at them, Cecil,” cried Elizabeth, the disgust evident in her voice. “My sister is not even dead yet, let alone cold in her grave, and yet they come here to grovel at my feet! Vultures! I shall see none of them.” While she was excited by the thought that, God willing, she would soon be queen, the idea that one’s faithful and loving subjects could be so fickle horrified her. In that moment she finally understood her sister’s reluctance to name any person as her successor. Me too, one day? She could not help but think it, and the idea shocked her.
Sir William Cecil sat in one of the comfortable chairs close to the hearth. In front of him on the table lay a dish of damsons, their deep purple color blushed with the look of frost that such fruit always has. Beside the damsons was a dish of red apples and another of walnuts. A loud crack drew the princess’s attention from the window.
“That is perhaps wise, Your Grace,” Sir William replied. “Until the queen…” But he dare not utter the words, even in private.
Elizabeth swooped down and took from his hands the walnut Cecil had just freed from its shell. “Where is Parry putting them all?” she asked, examining the perfect shape of the nutmeat.
Cecil sighed. “The palace is full to bursting. We shall soon have to turn them away to find lodgings in the village. Or pitch tents in the garden. The weather is raw for that!”
Elizabeth’s golden eyes flashed and she threw back her long red hair with an imperious hand. “Serve them right!” she said. “They should have stayed where they were until summoned. The capriciousness of the men and women of the court is enough to addle one’s wits.”
Cecil chose another walnut and considered the best place to crack it. He sighed. “I fear me that they cannot help themselves, Your Grace. Such people are always drawn to power.”
“Humph,” she said. She considered capturing another walnut from Cecil’s hands and then plucked a damson from the dish instead. She had to admit, if only to herself, that she was somewhat gratified by this premature demonstration of loyalty by her courtiers. It showed a confidence in her that she was, admittedly, far from feeling at that moment.
“But will the power be mine, Cecil? Think you that the Catholics will accept me without a fight?” She had lived as a practicing Catholic for the past five years; there had been no choice but to conform outwardly. But Mary had been loud in her suspicions about the veracity of her sister’s conversion. The queen had been openly skeptical and invited others to express their doubts as well. But the Reformers were convinced that she was one of them and were expecting her, as soon as her hand touched the scepter, to reverse all of her sister’s religious policies.
In very truth, the exact nature of her own religion was a mystery to everyone, not least of all to herself. She had been raised in the church of her father’s day, a church that could best be described as Catholic without the pope. The preciseness and the opulent pageantry of the Catholic faith appealed to her innate sense of order, of drama and spectacle. But her own private beliefs were somewhere between the two extremes of popery and the Protestantism that her brother Edward had espoused during his short reign. And there was one thing she knew for certain; to murder people in the name of God for their religious beliefs was a deed that was beyond her, and she, when she finally attained the power of the throne of England, would have none of it. What God would want to witness the painful death of any of His flock, especially as Holy Writ was so clear on the matter of forgiveness? She must not appear to be indecisive; but mayhap it would be wise to wait to see which way the cat jumped once Mary…but even as much as she longed for the crown, she knew that she should not think of her sister’s death, not even to herself.
“It is indeed ironic, Your Grace,” observed Cecil, that those who are even at this moment prepared to uphold your rights to the throne of England are mostly Catholic themselves.”
It was true; for weeks she had been sending her men to solicit promises from the garrisons on the Scots border, men who were seasoned soldiers and battle-ready, to defend her throne if needs be. Apparently the Catholics of the north felt that even a Protestant queen who was English was better than a Catholic queen who was Scottish; especially a Scottish queen whose husband was the dauphin of France! It seemed that most English Catholics shrank from the idea of Mary of Scotland as their sovereign; the ancient rivalries between England, Scotland and France were seemingly stronger even than their desire for a Catholic queen.
Elizabeth went back to the window and stood looking out once more, nibbling a cuticle. “That is all well and good, but what of Philip of Spain? My sister’s husband is King of England, crowned or not, until the queen draws her last breath.”
Sir William glanced uneasily about the empty room. “The walls have ears, Your Grace.”
Elizabeth turned from the window. “Yes, you are right. But how much longer can she…” Another stern look from Cecil silenced her. She trusted him completely, and valued his advice; and she knew that the admonishment was well-deserved.
“But then what of Philip?” She began to pace the room, her hands on her hips. Cecil noted that her behavior when restless was an interesting amalgam of her father’s old stance when in a temper and Mary’s habit of rapid movement when agitated. “I spurned His Grace’s oh-so-kind offer of military assistance should I find myself in the position of having to fight for my crown, as did my sister. We want no Spanish armies here! But think you that he would come uninvited? Would he invade?”
Sir William considered. “I think not,” he said slowly. “Although His Grace has gone to great pains to try to keep England within the Hapsburg fold all these many months, methinks that the king will realize that he has enough on his hands with his own domains. Gaining a kingdom through marriage is a vastly different enterprise than taking one by force and trying to hold it therewith. And besides…it is my considered opinion that the people of England love Your Grace and are looking forward to the day when they may call you queen.”
Elizabeth’s eyes flashed. “I said as much to Count de Feria,” she said. “He liked that not! He…and my dear brother-in-law! …believe that my accession shall be due to His Grace’s good offices! I set them straight on that, I do assure you! It put de Feria’s nose out of joint well and good. But Cecil, what of my cousin Reginald? He is Archbishop of Canterbury. If he were to oppose me, would Catholic England follow him? He is Plantagenet; if my sister had married him instead of Philip of Spain, and their union was mooted more than once, it would be he who should be looking forward to ruling England in my sister’s stead, and not I.”
Cecil held the dish of red apples up to Elizabeth as she passed him by; she was as restless as a lioness and would not stay still. She grabbed one at random and began tossing it from hand to hand as she strode the length of the room. Sir William carefully selected his own red orb, polished it on his sleeve until it shone in the firelight, and began to peel it with his knife. “That is, of course, a concern, Your Grace. But forget not that the cardinal is accused of heresy by the pope and is under summons to Rome to answer the charges.”
“True,” replied Elizabeth. “But the Catholic landed nobles here in England want interference from Rome no more than do the Reformers. It is the sticking point that may just save us. My worry is not associated so much with Reginald’s office as it is with my concern that His Eminence will not want to see all his efforts go for naught. He and my sister have done much in the past five years to try to restore England to the Catholic faith. Surely he must fear my intentions in that regard.”
“The cardinal is very ill, I hear.” Sir William did not look up from peeling his apple; he had almost the entire skin off in one piece. Despite the vast gulf that lay between them because of their religious beliefs, he and Reginald Pole were great friends. It was with regret that he thought of losing such a good friend, but to a Reformer such as himself, it was hard to rue the loss of such a high-placed, staunch Catholic as the cardinal.
Elizabeth stopped. “I have heard that, too.” Would it be too much to hope for, that Reginald Pole should follow her sister to the grave without delay? She had only met her cousin for the first time at Mary’s accession; he had been exiled to the Continent for refusing to recognize her father’s marriage to her mother, Queen Anne Boleyn. That was surely reason enough to hate him, but he had also caused two of her servants to be burnt, and for that she would never forgive him.
The crown was within her grasp; she could feel it in her very bones. But there were so many things that could go wrong; too many to name. And worrying about them all profited nothing. Prepare for the eventualities, yes…that was only wise. But above all, she must place her trust in God. And in Cecil’s good judgment! For neither had ever failed her yet.
Palace of Whitehall, November 1558
Sleep was a hard come by commodity when one suffered from the new ague. Even when on the mend, one would wake from a deep slumber with a jerk and a start for no reason at all. One would then lie for hours in such case, caught in that twilight world between hazy wakefulness and true healing rest.
The Archbishop of York had just dropped back into a blessed state of unconsciousness when he thought he heard someone calling his name. The sound seemed as if it were coming from a great distance; perhaps he was dreaming. That must be it. He ignored the ever-increasing urgency in the voice and sought to escape back into the warm, still world of oblivion that was sleep.
“I am sorry, Your Eminence, but I cannot rouse him,” said the deacon who attended the archbishop. “His Grace has been very ill of late and has only just begun to recover.”
Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London, wrung his hands in exasperation. “He must be awakened. Bishops and archbishops are ten to the penny in London. But there is only one Lord Chancellor! Let me try.”
Bonner approached the tumbled bed where lay the spent figure of Nicholas Heath; Archbishop of York he may be, but he was also Lord Chancellor of England. Bonner reached out a beefy hand and shook the archbishop’s shoulder. “Alas and alack! Disaster! Woe be unto us! For the evil hour is come! Awake, Good Nicholas, and hear of the calamity of the death of thy sovereign lady!”
Nicholas stirred; Bishop Bonner held a lantern and the deacon, who was standing behind him, gripped a candelabrum with three tapers in it. Combined, the light they threw onto him seemed as bright as the sun. So someone had been calling his name. Up and up, from the depths to which his mind had burrowed, his brain emerged. Disaster…woe…calamity…? “What is amiss?” he whispered.
“The queen, our Good Lady, our sovereign lady, is dead,” cried Bonner. Queen Mary had been ill for some time; all knew her death must be imminent. But now that it was upon them, Bonner felt a panic like none he had ever before known. It was as if they had been living in a shadow world, existing in a cocoon; but now the threads had fallen away and they were exposed to the horrors of what the world would now be like without a Catholic queen to protect them and all they stood for. All would be changed now.
Nicholas rubbed his eyes and reached out a hand. Bonner, who was closest, gripped his arm and helped him to sit. Nicholas swung his legs over the side of the bed; the bottoms of his feet hit the cold stone floor and it had the effect of someone dashing water into his face. “Jesu,” he said, shielding his eyes from the light of Bonner’s lantern. “Must I be blinded as well as dragged back from the only sleep I have had in days?”
Bonner turned and thrust the lantern into the hands of the deacon and shooed him away towards the door. “What are we to do?” he wailed.
“We must have Parliament proclaim the Princess Elizabeth queen at once,” said Nicholas. “England must not be without a reigning sovereign, not even for a day.”
Bonner’s eyes went wide with incredulity. “Impossible! All know the Princess Elizabeth to be a heretic!”
Nicholas held his spinning head in his shaking hands and spoke slowly and distinctly, as if to a child. “Not impossible…imperative! We must not delay even for an hour. If we do, the French will hear of it and use England’s presumed uncertainty of purpose to press the claim of Mary of Scotland. A Frenchwoman through and through, for all she was born in Scotland of a Scots king! Her Grace of Scotland was raised at the French court, her mother is a Frenchwoman, and she is married to a Frenchman, who will one day be king of that country. Think, man! We have no choice.”
Bonner gaped helplessly at Nicholas. “But…”
“God’s death, man, do you wish to see England as the hapless battleground of the French and the Spanish?” Nicholas made as if to tear at his own beard, then set his hands on both of his knobby knees. “If the French sniff even a hint of opposition to Her Grace’s immediate accession, they will invade through Scotland. If that happens, the King of Spain will invade from the south. His Grace may have to accede to the princess taking the throne, but he has great hopes of marrying her to consolidate…and perpetuate! …his position here in England. England in the possession of the French His Grace would simply not tolerate…and the result will be a savage war for possession of our island that will mean our utter destruction.”
Still Bonner said nothing, and stared into the distance as if pole-axed.
Impatiently Nicholas said, “Surely the queen’s death cannot come as a surprise! Her Grace has been ill for weeks. And now it is ended. We are caught between the Scylla of a Spanish king and the Charybdis of a French queen. We must put our faith in old King Harry’s daughter. Suspected heretic she may be, but she loves England and the English people love her. We must throw in our lot with the princess and hope for the best.”
Bonner pulled at his thick lower lip, deep in thought. It was true that the queen had been grievous ill but he had hoped she would recover, as many others had. Fully three-quarters of the population had been struck by the strange illness known as the new ague; new because it had none of the symptoms of the recurring illnesses with which the English were familiar. It was not as unfailingly fatal as the Sweating Sickness, nor as quick a killer as the Plague; in fact, although many were stricken, the mortality rate was less than one might expect. There was every chance that the queen should recover…but she had not. And now all was lost!
“Edmund, good man, get a message to the Speaker as fast as you can. Tell Cordell to gather the Commons into the House of Lords. Thank God in His mercy that parliament is sitting! They are still sitting?” asked Nicholas. Bonner nodded. “Good. That is good.” He was fully awake now; he looked about the room. “What hour of the clock is it?”
“Just past Prime, Your Eminence. About seven of the clock,” replied the deacon.
“Thank you, Matthew,” said Nicholas. “Matthew, fetch me water with which to wash, and bring my robes. Edmund, hie you to Sir William as I have bid you and see that he gets the men ready for me; tell them that they are to gather for a solemn announcement. And send for a litter to get me to Westminster. We have not a moment to lose.”
Palace of Westminster, November 1558
When the Lord Chancellor entered the Great Hall at Westminster the noise was deafening and all was pandemonium. Nicholas could not help thinking that all the chatter was a repetition between the Lords and the Commons of the arguments that he had presented earlier to the Bishop of London. Well, then, if argumentation was called for, then argue he must. They all simply must see sense. The fate of England was at stake.
Nicholas signaled the Speaker with a nod of his head and Sir William Cordell struck the stone floor three times with his great staff. All was immediately silent; all heads turned to regard the Lord Chancellor. Nicholas stood in his full archbishop’s regalia, even to his elaborate miter. He lifted his arms and in a firm, clear voice addressed the united Houses.
“The cause of your summons hither at this time is to inform you that it hath pleased Almighty God to call to his own our sovereign lady, Queen Mary. Even as heavy and grievous as this news is to us, so too have we cause to rejoice; for in His infinite mercy God hath provided us with a true and lawful inheratrix to the crown of this mighty realm of England. I speak of Her Grace, Elizabeth, our princess, second daughter to our late sovereign, he of noble memory, King Henry, the Eighth of that name, in our line of esteemed and illustrious rulers, and sister of our late queen. Her Grace’s lawful right and title to the crown, thanks be to God, we need not doubt.”
He paused; there were no dissenters.
“You of the Commons have been elected to represent the people of this realm, and to transact for them, and on their behalf, with our illustrious House of Lords in matters of state. There could be no better way to discharge that trust and duty than by joining with the Lords of this realm of England in immediately proclaiming the next succession to the crown. Therefore with all of your consents shall we pass hence from this place into the palace and there proclaim the Princess Elizabeth queen of this realm, and that without any further debate or delay of time.”
Nicholas’s heart was in his throat; the room was silent. And then suddenly there arose such a roar that none had ever yet heard in that place, where some lively debates and arguments had in the past been known to happen.
“God save Queen Elizabeth!” was the response of the Lords and Commons alike, to their Lord Chancellor. “Long may Queen Elizabeth reign over us!” cried some, and “God save the queen!” cried others. Some men embraced and others wept openly.
The shouts and cries went on for fully three minutes until Speaker Cordell again let fly his mighty staff. At the third ringing impact of metal on stone the Parliament was dissolved. And so through the wisdom of the Lord Chancellor, Queen Elizabeth’s accession was rendered indisputable, for to be proclaimed in this manner before both Houses and with their unanimous, not to mention enthusiastic, assents, the princess was made queen by yet another Act of Parliament.
As the clock struck noon, and to the clarion call of dozens of trumpets, the men of both Houses filed out of the Great Hall and made their way into the palace. The nobles and courtiers were all assembled in the throne room to witness Lancaster Herald proclaim that England had a new queen. When all were gathered an expectant silence filled the room. It was a formality, but one that was essential; all the correct and proper rites must be performed, and so they would be, throughout the day. It was especially significant that those who had remained at court and were present at this solemn proclamation were mostly the old queen’s supporters, the others having hied to Hatfield to ingratiate themselves with Elizabeth in anticipation of Mary’s death.
Nicholas breathed a sigh of relief as he heard the words ring out and touch the rafters:
“Elizabeth, by the grace of God queen of England, France, and Ireland…”
England was safe…for now.
Palace of Hatfield, November 1558
A thick mist had arisen just at dawn, turning the sunrise as golden as a sunset. Even though it was the fall, when the days were sunny, some heat was retained in the ground; enough to make the contrast of the cold nights produce a dreamlike haze until the sun burned it off. Elizabeth was an early riser, and very much attuned to the sun; she awakened with the dawn, regardless of the time. By the time she had attended Mass and breakfasted, the mist had disappeared to reveal a sky as blue as a harebell.
The palace was full to bursting with excited courtiers; all believed her sister’s death to be imminent. But still, the proprieties must be observed. It would be no less than treason for the heir to the throne to be seen to celebrate prematurely her accession to the throne. Escape was the only option. She took up her New Testament in Greek and made for the back door.
It felt good to be alone, her slippers wet with the dew that the mist had left behind, her destination the great oak tree upon the hill that overlooked the estate. Hatfield was the first home she could remember, and where she had been raised when not at court. Here she had fleeting memories of her mother, a shadowy image who was loving, kind, and always smelt of lavender.
A feeling of excitement mixed with a sort of dread filled her when she realized that her life was about to change forever. It would be difficult to find time then to be alone with her books. Best to enjoy such freedom now whilst she still could.
About her sister she was of two minds; part of her remembered the early years of her life when Mary, who was seventeen years her senior and also out of favor, had been as a mother to her. It was not until much later that she had been able to appreciate exactly what that meant; when she was still very young she had not known that her mother had supplanted Mary’s in her father’s affections. She had achieved that knowledge at the same time that she had been told how her mother died. The knowledge had shocked her; she had never been able to look at her father in quite the same way again.
Her father…another enigma! She recalled the days when he had made much of her, when he had held her in his enormous arms, bounced her up and down and called her his little princess. It was not until much later that she had been told that these displays of affection had been made to put a brave face on his chagrin over her not having been born a prince. It was not long after that people had ceased treating her with the respect due to a princess and heir to the throne; indeed, she was no longer addressed as Princess Elizabeth, she was now only the Lady Elizabeth. A sympathetic servant had told her why.
Any other child, made privy to such a terrible thing as the knowledge that her father had killed, murdered her mother, might have cried. She had simply been angry. She was young, but she was old enough to understand that her father was a king, and a feared one. From that time on she had admired him, she respected him in spite of everything, but love him she could not. And most humiliating of all was that he neither noticed nor seemed to care.
Her father had married again before her mother was cold in her grave, minus her lovely head; and after some time she remembered being told that she had a brother. She had cried then; why could not a brother have been born before it became necessary to murder her mother? But hard on the news that God had finally bestowed upon her father the prince, the heir for England that was of such paramount importance, came the tidings that Queen Jane was dead. Elizabeth remembered Queen Jane; another shadowy image whom she had seen only a handful of times, and who was kind, but who smelt of roses instead of lavender.
And then had come Anne of Cleves. Merry Anne! Such a sweet, caring, lovable creature! And yet for some reason she had simply been unable to grasp at the time, her father abhorred the German princess and had divorced her before the ink was dry on their marriage contract. But Anne had not been executed, or even sent home to the Continent; she had stayed in England not as queen, but as the King’s Good Sister. Elizabeth loved Anne and was glad that she stayed.
Not long after that her father had married again, and this time he once again murdered a wife. This time she was frightened to the very core of her being. It became obvious to her that marriage, at least to a man such as her father, was neither a happy state nor a safe one. She was eight years old when Katherine Howard, her cousin, had been sent to the block, and old enough to understand what was happening. She told her good friend Robert Dudley, the son of Anne of Cleves’s Master of Horse, that she would never, ever marry. And she had meant what she said despite her young age.
Catherine Parr had come into her life as step-mother not long after. As with all of her father’s wives, she had offered this new queen her childish affection. That affection was returned and for a while she had enjoyed the only family life she had ever known, or was to know. But it was not long before even Catherine was put in peril of her head. Catherine was clever and had talked her way out of a trip to the block; but her danger had petrified her step-daughter and cemented even further her conviction that marriage, and men, were simply not safe.
To see proud Catherine cowed and humbled hurt her…she made a silent vow that never would she ever allow a man to do such a thing to her. But then she had broken her own vow at the very first sign of attention from an attractive male! Lord Thomas Seymour, brother to Jane, the former queen, had married the widow of the king, but had been faithless to her. And it was to her everlasting sorrow and regret that she must live with the knowledge that it was herself with whom he had connived so successfully. Her complicity with Catherine’s husband in a love affair had hurt her stepmother deeply, so intensely that she had sent Elizabeth away. And then poor Catherine had died bearing her faithless husband a daughter.
Her dalliance with Thomas Seymour had landed her in the Tower and had almost cost her head; it had indisputably cost her good reputation. She had made her first vow to remain unmarried based on vicarious knowledge; she now had first-hand experience to draw upon. The guilt, the shame, were nigh to unbearable, but worse was the very real danger into which she had placed herself. Losing her good name was unpleasant, but losing her head would have been fatal. She spent the intervening years rebuilding the respect for her name and position that between them, she and Thomas Seymour had almost destroyed.
By appearing to conform completely to King Edward’s radical and severe Protestantism she had succeeded in rehabilitating her shattered reputation. Indeed, she had had little choice; it was either conform or join Mary in her dogged insistence of continuing to practice a faith that was out of favor, and be mercilessly harangued, persecuted, and ostracized for it. It was during these difficult years that she had decided that she could not, in good conscience, subscribe wholeheartedly to either religious extreme.
That her brother had, in the end, excluded her from the succession after all her displays of faithfulness and loyalty hurt her deeply; and later, had angered her. But nothing could change the fact that she was heir to the throne, after Mary, by the terms of her father’s will and by Act of Parliament…but most important of all, by direct descent in the Tudor line.
And then to the surprise and chagrin of the Protestants, her pathetic, misguided brother had died well before his time and more importantly, before the production of a Protestant heir to the throne. Despite the feeble attempt of the Duke of Northumberland to seize the throne by marrying his son to her cousin Jane, and proclaiming her queen. Mary had prevailed; and that almost solely due to the will of the English people. The same people upon whom she now pinned all of her own hopes!
In her sister’s reign, she had once again appeared to conform outwardly. One must, after all, bend with the wind or be broken by it…
And now here she was, named heir to the crown of England by her sister, the queen, and waiting for Mary to die that she might herself ascend the throne. Under the circumstances, it was a monumental achievement. She could only hope that her Catholic subjects would support her the way the Reformers had supported her sister despite her Catholic faith. The religious question was dire, a very real, very ominous issue. Would the Catholics of England accept her as their queen? And if they did, what would happen when she did the inevitable and supported the Reformers and their Protestant faith? For there was no way around doing so; tolerate interference from any foreign power she would not; not from the pope in Rome, not from King Philip of Spain, nor from any foreign prince who may think to aspire to her hand in marriage. She and she alone must rule England. If only she should be given the chance, this time, she promised herself, she would do everything right.
The sound of voices brought her out of her reverie. Someone was coming up the hill. She stood up, stretched, and laid her bible down on the cloak upon which she had been sitting. It was well past noon and the sun had warmed the day surprisingly well for November. She walked a few steps down the hill to see who was coming. It was fully half the Council, and looking very grim. She began to breathe shallowly and her heart beat like a drum.
At the sight of her, they all stopped and knelt.
All was silence. The wind sighed through the great oak tree behind her. In the distance a hawk keened.
And then suddenly they all cried in unison, “God save the queen!”
She was expecting it; she had known it was coming. It was inevitable. And yet she could not answer. Her knees turned to butter and she sank to the ground, but kept her back straight. She could not stop gasping for breath. The sun went behind a cloud just for a moment, and then just as quickly emerged from it. It was an apt metaphor of her life.
With the golden light of heaven shining down upon her, she finally found her voice.
“This is the Lord’s doing,” she cried. “And it is marvelous in our sight!”