Gateway to the Classics: Our Island Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Island Story by  H. E. Marshall

Mary I.—How the Princess Elizabeth Became a Prisoner

Q UEEN MARY thought that her sister, the Princess Elizabeth, had a part in the plot to put her from the throne, so, as soon as it began, she sent some gentlemen with soldiers to take her prisoner.

These gentlemen arrived late in the evening at the house where the Princess was living.

"Tell the Princess," they said to her lady-in-waiting who met them, "that we must see her at once. We come from court with a message from the Queen."

The Princess was ill and in bed, but the lady took the message to her.

"Go back to the gentlemen," said the Princess, "say to them that I welcome them, but as it is so late, I trust that they will wait to speak with me until the morning."

"No, we must see the Princess at once," replied the gentlemen when they received this answer, and without waiting for more, they followed the lady into Princess Elizabeth's bedroom.

She was very much surprised, and angry too, when she saw them. "Is there so much haste that you cannot wait until morning?" she asked.

"We are sorry to see you so ill," replied the gentlemen, somewhat ashamed of themselves.

"And I am not glad to see you here at this time of night," returned the Princess.

"There is no help for it," said the gentlemen. "We are sent by the Queen, and her message is that you must come to her at once."

"Certainly, I shall be very pleased to obey," replied Elizabeth, "but you can see for yourselves that I am not well enough to come at present."

"We are very sorry," replied the gentlemen, "but you must come. Our orders are to bring you dead or alive."

This made the Princess very sad, for she now felt sure that she had reason to be afraid of her sister, the Queen. She tried very hard to make the gentlemen go away, but they would not. At last, after a great deal of talking, she agreed to go with them next morning.

When the time came Princess Elizabeth was so ill that she fainted several times as she was being led out of the house. All her servants, crying bitterly, gathered to say good-bye to her. They loved their mistress very much, and they did not know what was going to happen.

When Elizabeth arrived at court, she was not allowed to see the Queen, but was shut up in her room, and kept a prisoner there for a fortnight. Gentlemen of the court came and talked to her, trying to make her confess that she had helped in the rebellion against the Queen. But she said always that she knew nothing of it, and had ever been true to her sister. Then one day they told her that she was to be taken to the Tower.

The Princess became very much afraid. She knew what a dreadful place the Tower was—what fearful things happened there, and how few people who once went in ever came out alive. She begged and prayed not to be taken there.

"I am true to the Queen," she said, "in thought, word and deed. It is not right that she should shut me up in that sad place."

But the lords replied, "There is no help for it. The Queen commands and you must obey."

So a boat was brought and the Princess was rowed down the Thames to the Tower. It was a dreary morning. Sky and river were grey, and the rain fell fast. As the boat went slowly on, the Princess sat silent and sorrowful, deep in thought. At last the boat stopped. The lords stepped out, and the Princess, awakened from her sad thoughts, looked up. But when she saw that the boat had stopped at the gate of the Tower called the Traitors' Gate, she sat still.

"Lady, will you land?" said one of the lords.

"No," answered Elizabeth, "I am no traitor."

"Lady, it is raining," said another of the lords, as he tried to put his cloak round her to shelter her. But the Princess dashed it back with her hand. Then rising, she stepped on shore, saying as she did so, "Here landeth, being a prisoner, as true a subject as ever stood upon these steps."

When the Princess reached the courtyard, she would go no farther, but sat there upon a stone. Not all the entreaties of the lords could move her. Through the cold and wet of the dreary morning she sat in that grim courtyard.

"Lady, you will do well to come in out of the rain," said the Governor of the Tower. "You are but uncomfortable there."

"Better to sit here than in a worse place," replied the Princess, "for I know not where you will lead me."

Then one of her own servants, kneeling beside her, burst into tears.

"Why do you weep for me?" said Elizabeth. "You should rather comfort me and not weep." But she rose and went sadly into the Tower. Then the doors were locked and barred. The Princess was a prisoner at last.

A close prisoner Elizabeth was kept. Very few of her own servants were allowed to be with her. But one of the servants of the Tower had a little son about four years old. He used to come to see the Princess and bring her flowers, and they soon became great friends. But when Elizabeth's enemies heard of this, they thought that she would try to send messages to her friends by this little boy. So, one day, they caught him and promised to give him apples and figs if he would tell them what the Princess said to him, and what messages she sent to her friends.

But although the boy was so young, he understood that these men must be the enemies of the Princess, and he would not tell them anything, if indeed he had anything to tell. They talked for a long time, but could learn nothing from him. "Please, my lord," said the little boy at last, "will you now give me the apples and figs you promised?"

"No, indeed," replied the gentleman, "but you shall have a whipping if you talk to the Princess any more."

"I shall bring my lady more flowers," replied the little boy boldly.

But his father was told that he must not allow his son to run about the Tower any longer, and next day the Princess missed her little friend. But presently she saw him peeping through a hole in the door, and when he saw that no one was near he called to her, "Lady, I can bring you no more flowers."

Then the Princess smiled sadly but said nothing. She knew that unkind people had taken even this one little friend from her.

The Princess lived in constant fear of her life. After a time she was removed from the Tower, and was sent from prison to prison. It was no wonder that one day, hearing a milkmaid singing gayly, Elizabeth said she, too, would rather be a milkmaid and free, than a great Princess and a prisoner.

At last she was allowed to go to Hatfield, a house near St. Albans, which now belongs to the Marquis of Salisbury. There, carefully watched and guarded, she lived until Mary died.

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