Gateway to the Classics: The World's Story: England by Eva March Tappan
The World's Story: England by  Eva March Tappan

The Great Queen as a Little Child


QUEEN ELIZABETH first saw the light at Greenwich Palace, the favorite abode of her royal parents, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Her birth is thus quaintly but prettily recorded by the contemporary historian, Hall: "On the 7th day of September, being Sunday, between three and four o'clock in the afternoon, the queen was delivered of a faire ladye, on which day the Duke of Norfolk came home to the christening."

The apartment in which she was born was hung with tapestry representing the history of holy virgins, and was from that circumstance called the Chamber of the Virgins. When the queen, her mother, who had eagerly anticipated a son, was told that she had given birth to a daughter, she endeavored, with ready tact, to attach adventitious importance to her infant, by saying to the ladies in attendance: "They may now, with reason, call this room the Chamber of Virgins, for a virgin is now born in it on the vigil of that auspicious day on which the Church commemorates the nativity of the Virgin Mary."

Heywood, though a zealous eulogist of the Protestant principles of Elizabeth, intimates that she was under the especial patronage of the Blessed Virgin from the hour of her birth, and for that cause devoted to a maiden life. "The Lady Elizabeth," says he, "was born on the eve of the Virgin's nativity, and died on the eve of the Virgin's annunciation. Even that she is now in heaven with all those blessed virgins that had oil in their lamps."

Notwithstanding the bitter disappointment felt by King Henry at the sex of the infant, a solemn Te Deunz was sung in honor of her birth, and the preparations for her christening were made with no less magnificence than if his hopes had been gratified by the birth of a male heir to the crown.

The solemnization of that sacred rite was appointed to take place on Wednesday, l0th of September, the fourth day after the birth of the infant princess. On that day the lord mayor, with the aldermen and council of the city of London, dined together at one o'clock, and then, in obedience to their summons, took boat in their chains and robes, and rowed to Greenwich, where many lords, knights, and gentlemen, were assembled to witness the royal ceremonial.

All the walls between Greenwich Palace and the convent of the Grey Friars were hung with arras and the way strewn with green rushes. The church was likewise hung with arras. Gentlemen with aprons and towels about their necks guarded the font, which stood in the middle of the church. It was of silver and raised to the height of three steps, and over it was a square canopy of crimson satin fringed with gold—about it, a space railed in, covered with red say. Between the choir and chancel, a closet with a fire had been prepared lest the infant should take cold in being disrobed for the font. When all these things were ready, the child was brought into the hall of the palace, and the procession set out to the neighboring church of the Grey Friars; of which building no vestige now remains at Greenwich.

The procession began with the lowest rank, the citizens two and two led the way, then gentlemen, esquires, and chaplains, a gradation of precedence, rather decidedly marked, of the three first ranks, whose distinction is by no means definite in the present times; after them the aldermen, and the lord mayor by himself, then the privy council in robes, then the peers and prelates followed by the Earl of Essex, who bore the gilt covered basins; then the Marquis of Exeter, with the taper of virgin wax; next the Marquis of Dorset, bearing the salt, and the Lady Mary of Norfolk (the betrothed of the young Duke of Richmond) carrying the chrisom, which was very rich with pearls and gems; lastly came the royal infant, in the arms of her great-grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, under a stately canopy which was supported by the uncle of the babe, George Boleyn Lord Rochford, the Lords William and Thomas Howard, the maternal kindred of the mother, and Lord Hussey, a newly made lord of the Boleyn blood. The babe was wrapped in a mantle of purple velvet, with a train of regal length, furred with ermine, which was duly supported by the Countess of Kent, assisted by the Earl of Wiltshire, the grandfather of the little princess, and the Earl of Derby. On the right of the infant, marched its great-uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, with his marshal's staff,—on the other, the Duke of Suffolk. The Bishop of London, who performed the ceremony, received the infant at the church door of the Grey Friars, assisted by a grand company of bishops and mitered abbots; and, with all the rites of the Church of Rome, this future great Protestant queen received the name of her grandmother, Elizabeth of York. Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, was her godfather, and the Duchess of Norfolk and Marchioness of Dorset her godmothers. After Elizabeth had received her name, Garter King-at-arms cried aloud: "God, of His Infinite goodness, send a prosperous life and long, to the high and mighty princess of England, Elizabeth!"

Then a flourish of trumpets sounded, and the royal child was borne to the altar, the gospel was read over her, and she was confirmed by Cranmer, who, with the other sponsors, presented the christening gifts. He gave. her a standing cup of gold, the Duchess of Norfolk a cup of gold fretted with pearls, being completely unconscious of the chemical antipathy between the acidity of wine and the misplaced pearls. The Marchioness of Dorset gave three gilt bowls, pounced, with a cover; and the Marchioness of Exeter three standing bowls, graven and gilt, with covers. Then were brought in wafers, comfits, and hypocras, in such abundance that the company had as much as could be desired.

The homeward procession was lighted on its way to the palace with five hundred staff torches, which were carried by the yeomen of the guard and the king's servants, but the infant herself was surrounded by gentlemen bearing wax flambeaux. The procession returned in the same order that it went out, save that four noble gentlemen carried the sponsors' gifts before the child, with trumpets flourishing all the way preceding them, till they came to the door of the queen's chamber. The king commanded the Duke of Norfolk to thank the lord mayor and citizens heartily in his name for their attendance, and after they had powerfully refreshed themselves in the royal cellar, they betook themselves to their barges.

The queen was desirous of nourishing her infant daughter from her own bosom, but Henry, with his characteristic selfishness, forbade it, lest the frequent presence of the little princess in the chamber of her royal mother should be attended with inconvenience to himself. He appointed for Elizabeth's nurse the wife of a gentleman named Hokart, whom he afterwards ennobled; and he invested the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk with the office of state governess to the newborn babe, giving her for a residence the fair mansion and all the rich furniture, which he had bestowed on Anne Boleyn when he created her Marchioness of Pembroke, with a salary of six thousand crowns.

The Lady Margaret Bryan, whose husband, Sir Thomas Bryan, was a kinsman of Queen Anne Boleyn, was preferred to the office of governess in ordinary to Elizabeth, as she had formerly been to the Princess Mary: she was called "the lady mistress."

Elizabeth passed the first two months of her life at Greenwich Palace, with the queen her mother, and during that period she was frequently taken for an airing to Eltham, for the benefit of her health. On the 2d of December, she was the subject of the following order in council:—

"The King's Highness hath appointed that the Lady Princess Elizabeth (almost three months old) shall be taken from hence  towards Hatfield upon Wednesday next week; that on Wednesday night she is to lie and repose at the house of the Earl of Rutland at Enfield, and the next day to be conveyed to Hatfield, and there to remain with such household as the King's Highness has established for the same."

Hertford Castle was first named, but scratched through and changed to Hatfield.

A few weeks afterwards she became, in virtue of the act of Parliament which settled the succession, in default of heirs male to Henry VIII, on the female issue of that monarch by Anne Boleyn, the heiress-presumptive to the throne, and her disinherited sister, the Princess Mary, was compelled to yield precedency to her.

Soon after this change in the prospects of the unconscious babe, she was removed to the palace of the Bishop of Winchester, at Chelsea, on whom the charge of herself and her extensive nursery appointments were thrust. When she was thirteen months old, she was weaned, and the preliminaries for this important business were arranged between the officers of her household and the cabinet ministers of her august sire, with as much solemnity as if the fate of empires had been involved in the matter. The following passages are extracted from a letter from Sir William Powlet to Cromwell, on this subject:—

"The king's grace, well considering the letter directed to you from my Lady Brian and other my lady princess' officers, his grace, with the assent of the queen's grace, hath fully determined the weaning of my lady princess to be done with all diligence."

He proceeds to state that the little princess is to have the whole of any one of the royal residences thought best for her, and that consequently he has given orders for Langley to be put in order for her and her suite; which orders, he adds

"This messenger hath, withal, a letter from the queen's grace to my Lady Brian, and that his grace and the queen's grace doth well and be merry, and all theirs, thanks be to God.—From Sarum, Oct. 9th."

Scarcely was this nursery affair of state accomplished, before Henry exerted his paternal care in seeking to provide the royal weanling with a suitable consort, by entering into a negotiation with Francis I of France for a union between this infant princess and the Duke of Angouleme, the third son of that monarch. Henry proposed that the young duke should be educated in England, and stipulated that he should hold the Duchy of Angouleme, independently of the French crown, in the event of his coming to the crown of England through his marriage with Elizabeth.

The project of educating the young French prince, who was selected for the husband of the presumptive heiress of England, according to the manners and customs of the realm of which she might hereafter become the sovereign, was a sagacious idea, but Henry clogged the matrimonial treaty with conditions which it was out of the power of the King of France to ratify, and it proved abortive. . . .

By the sentence which Cranmer had passed on the marriage of her parents and her own birth, Elizabeth was branded with the stigma of illegitimacy; and that she was for a time exposed to the sort of neglect and contempt which is too often the lot of children to whom that reproach applies, is evidenced by the following letter from Lady Bryan to Cromwell, imploring for a supply of necessary raiment for the innocent babe who had been so cruelly involved in her mother's fall:—"MY LORD,—

"After my most bounden duty I recommend me to your good lordship, beseeching you to be good lord to me, now in the greatest need that ever was; for it hath pleased God to take from me hem  [them] that was my greatest comfort in this world to my great heaviness. Jesu have mercy on her soul! and now I am succourless, and as a redles  [without redress] creature, but only from the great trust which I ha;re in the king's grace and your good lordship, for now in you I put all my whole trust of comfort in this world, beseeching you to . . . me that I may do so. My lord, when your lordship was last here, it pleased you to say that I should not mistrust the king's grace nor your lordship. Which word was more comfort to me than I can write, as God knoweth. And now it boldeth [emboldens] me to show you my poor mind. My lord, when my Lady Mary's grace was born, it pleased the king's grace to appoint me lady-mistress and made me a baroness, and so I have been governess to the children his Grace have had since.

"Now it is so, my Lady Elizabeth is put from that degree she was afore, and what degree she is at [of] now, I know not but by hearsay. Therefore I know not how to order her, nor myself, nor none of hers that I have the rule of—that is her women and grooms, beseeching you to be good lord to my lady, and to all hers, and that she may have some raiment."

Here Strype has interpolated a query for mourning. There is nothing of the kind implied in the original. If Strype had consulted any female on the articles enumerated, he would have found that few, indeed, of them were requisite for mourning. The list shows the utter destitution the young princess had been suffered to fall into in regard to clothes, either by the neglect of her mother, or because Anne Boleyn's power of aiding her child had been circumscribed long before her fall. Let any lady used to the nursery read over the list of the poor child's wants, represented by her faithful governess, and consider that a twelvemonth must have elapsed since she had a new supply:—

"She," continues Lady Bryan, "hath neither gown, nor kirtle [slip], nor petticoat, nor no manner of linen—nor forsmocks [day chemises], nor kerchiefs, nor rails [night-dresses], nor body-stichets [corsets], nor handkerchiefs, nor sleeves, nor mufflers [mobcaps], nor biggens [night-caps]. All these her grace must take. I have driven off as long as I can, that by my troth I can drive it off no longer. Beseeching you, my lord, that ye will see that her grace may have that which is needful for her, as my trust is that ye will do. Beseeching ye, mine own good lord, that I may know from you, by writing, how I shall order myself, and what is the king's grace's pleasure and yours; and that I shall do in everything? And whatsomever it shall please the king's grace or your lordship to command me at all times, I shall fulfil it to the best of my power.

"My lord, Mr. Shelton [a kinsman of Anne Boleyn] saith 'he be master of this house.' What fashion that may be I cannot tell, for I have not seen it afore. My lord, ye be so honourable yourself, and every man reporteth that your lordship loveth honour, that I trust you will see the house honourably ordered, as it ever hath been aforetime. And if it please you that I may know what your order is, and if it be not performed, I shall certify your lordship of it. For I fear me it will be hardly enough performed. But if the head [evidently Shelton] knew what honour meaneth, it will be the better ordered—if not, it will be hard to bring to pass.

"My lord, Mr. Shelton would have my Lady Elizabeth to dine and sup every day at the board of estate. Alas, my lord, it is not meet for a child of her age to keep such rule yet. I promise you, my lord, I dare not take it upon me to keep her grace in health an' she keep that rule. For there she shall see divers meats, and fruits, and wine, which it would be hard for me to restrain her grace from. Ye know, my lord, there is no place of correction there; and she is yet too young to correct greatly. I know well an' she be there, I shall neither bring her up to the king's grace's honour, nor hers, nor to her health, nor to my poor honesty. Wherefore, I shew your lordship this my desire, beseeching you, my lord, that my lady may have a mess of meat at her own lodging, with a good dish or two that is meet [fit] for her grace to eat of; and the reversion of the mess shall satisfy all her women, a gentleman usher, and a groom, which be eleven persons on her side. Sure am I it will be as great profit to the king's grace this way [viz., to the economy of the arrangement] as the other way. For if all this should be set abroad,  they must have three or four messes of meat,—whereas this one mess shall suffice them all with bread and drink, according as my Lady Mary's grace had afore, and to be ordered in all things as her grace was afore. God knoweth my lady [Elizabeth] hath great pain with her great teeth, and they come very slowly forth, which causeth me to suffer her grace to have her will more than I would. I trust to God an' her teeth were well graft, to have her grace after another fashion than she is yet, so as I trust the king's grace shall have great comfort in her grace. For she is as toward a child and as gentle of conditions, as ever I knew any in my life. Jesu preserve her grace!

"As for a day or two, at a high time [meaning a high festival], or whensoever it shall please the king's grace to have her set abroad  [shown in public], I trust so to endeavour me, that she shall so do as shall be to the king's honour and hers; and then after to take her ease again."

That is, notwithstanding the sufferings of the young Elizabeth with her teeth, if the king wishes to exhibit her for a short time in public, Lady Bryan will answer for her discreet behavior, but after the drilling requisite for such ceremonial, it will be necessary for her to revert to the unconstrained playfulness of childhood. Lady Bryan concludes with this remark:—

"I think Mr. Shelton will not be content with this He need not know it is my desire, but that it is the king's pleasure and yours that it should be so. Good my lord, have my lady's grace, and us that be her poor servants, in your remembrance; and your lordship shall have our hearty prayers by the grace of Jesu, who ever preserve your lordship with long life, and as much honour as your noble heart can desire. From Hunsdon, with the evil hand [bad writing] of her who is your daily bead-woman;

"I beseech you, mine own good lord, be not miscontent that I am so bold to write thus to your lordship. But I take God to my judge I do it of true heart, and for my discharge, beseeching you, accept my good mind. Endorsed to the right noble and my singular good lord, my Lord Privy Seal, be this delivered."

This letter affords some insight into the domestic politics of the nursery palace of Hunsdon at this time. It shows that the infant Elizabeth proved a point of controversy between the two principal officials there, Margaret Lady Bryan and Mr. Shelton; both placed in authority by the recently immolated Queen Anne Boleyn, and both related to her family. Her aunt had married the head of the Shelton or Skelton family in Norfolk, and this officer at Hunsdon was probably a son of that lady, and consequently a near kinsman of the infant Elizabeth. He insisted that she should dine and sup at a state table where her infant importunity for wine, fruit, and high-seasoned food could not conveniently be restrained by her sensible governess, Lady Bryan. Shelton probably wished to keep regal state as long as possible round the descendant of the Boleyns; and, in that time of sudden change in royal destinies, had perhaps an eye to ingratiate himself with the infant, by appearing in her company twice every day, and indulging her by the gratification of her palate with mischievous dainties. Lady Bryan was likewise connected with the Boleyn family—not so near as the Sheltons, but near enough to possess interest with Queen Anne Boleyn, to whom she owed her office as governess or lady mistress, to the infant Elizabeth. There can scarcely exist a doubt that her lamentation and invocation for the soul of some person lately departed, by whose death she was left succorless, refer to the recent death of Anne Boleyn. It is evident that if Lady Bryan had not conformed to King Henry's version of the Catholic religion she would not have been in authority at Hunsdon, where she was abiding not only with her immediate charge, the Princess Elizabeth, but with the disinherited Princess Mary. Further, there may be observed a striking harmony between the expressions of this lady and those of the Princess Mary, who appealed to her father's paternal feelings in behalf of her sister the infant Elizabeth, a few weeks later, almost in the same words used by Lady Bryan in this letter. A coincidence which proves unity of purpose between the governess and the Princess Mary regarding the motherless child.

Much of the future greatness of Elizabeth may reasonably be attributed to the judicious training of her sensible and conscientious governess, combined with the salutary adversity, which deprived her of the pernicious pomp and luxury that had surrounded her cradle while she was treated as the heiress of England. The first public action of Elizabeth's life was her carrying the chrisom of her infant brother, Edward VI, at the christening solemnity of that prince. She was borne in the arms of the Earl of Hertford, brother of the queen her stepmother, when the assistants in the ceremonial approached the font; but when they left the chapel, the train of her little grace, just four years old, was supported by Lady Herbert, the sister of Catherine Parr, as, led by the hand of her elder sister, the Princess Mary, she walked with mimic dignity, in the returning procession, to the chamber of the dying queen.

At that period the royal ceremonials of Henry VIII's court were blended with circumstances of wonder and tragic excitement, and strange and passing sad, it must have been, to see the child of the murdered queen, Anne Boleyn, framing her innocent lips to lisp the name of mother to her for whose sake she had been rendered motherless, and branded with the stigma of illegitimacy. In all probability the little Elizabeth knelt to her, as well as to her cruel father, to claim a benediction in her turn, after the royal pair had proudly bestowed their blessing on the newly baptized prince, whose christening was so soon to be followed by the funeral of the queen his mother.

It was deemed an especial mark of the favor of her royal father, that Elizabeth was considered worthy of the honor of being admitted to keep company with the young prince her brother. She was four years older than he, and having been well trained and gently nurtured herself, was "better able," says Heywood, "to teach and direct him, even from the first of his speech and understanding." Cordial and entire was the affection betwixt this brother and sister, insomuch that he no sooner began to know her but he seemed to acknowledge her, and she, being of more maturity, as deeply loved him. On the second anniversary of Edward's birth, when the nobles of England presented gifts of silver and gold, and jewels, to the infant heir of the realm, the Lady Elizabeth's grace gave the simple offering of a shirt of cambric worked by her own hands. She was then six years old. Thus early was this illustrious lady instructed in the feminine accomplishment of needle-work, and directed to turn her labors in that way to a pleasing account.

From her cradle, Elizabeth was a child of the fairest promise, and possessed the art of attracting the regard of others. Wriothesley, who visited the two princesses, when they were together at Hertford Castle, December 17th, 1539, was greatly impressed with the precocious understanding of the young Elizabeth, of whom he gives the following pretty account:—

"I went then to my Lady Elizabeth's grace, and to the same made His Majesty's most hearty commendations, declaring that His Highness desired to hear of her health, and sent his blessing; she gave humble thanks, inquiring after His Majesty's welfare, and that with as great a gravity as she had been forty years old. If she be no worse educated than she now appeareth to me, she will prove of no less honour than beseemeth her father's daughter, whom the Lord long preserve."

by Agnes Strickland

 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: In the Days of Queen Elizabeth  |  Next: Sir Walter Raleigh and His Cloak
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2023   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.