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

Elizabeth—How the Imprisoned Princess Became a Queen

Then our streets were unpaved, our houses were thatched, sir,

Our windows were latticed, our doors only latched, sir,

Yet so few were the rogues that would plunder or rob, sir,

That the hangman was starved for want of a job, sir.

Oh, the golden days of good Queen Bess!

Then our ladies with large ruffs tied under their neck fast

Would gobble up a pound of beefsteaks for their breakfast;

With a close quilled-up coif, their noddles just did fit

And were trussed up as tight as a rabbit on a spit!

Oh, the golden days of good Queen Bess!

Then jerkin and doublet, and yellow worsted hose

With a large pair of whiskers was the dress of our beaus,

Strong beer they preferred to clarets and to hocks,

No poultry they prized like the wing of an ox.

Oh, the golden days of good Queen Bess!

Good neighbourhood, too, there was plenty as beef,

And the poor from the rich never wanted relief,

While merry went the mill-clack, the shuttle, and the plough,

And honest men could live by the sweat of their brow.

Oh, the golden days of good Queen Bess!

Then all great men were good and all good men were great,

And the props of the nation were the pillars of the state,

For the sovereign and the subject one interest supported,

And our powerful alliance was by all other nations courted.

Oh, the golden days of good Queen Bess!

I N the grounds of Hatfield the oak may still be seen under which Elizabeth was sitting when messengers came to tell her that Mary was dead and that she was Queen.

The Princess listened, looking up through the bare branches to the dull November sky, then falling upon her knees, she exclaimed in Latin words, "It is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes!"

Afterwards Elizabeth put these words upon the gold coins which were used during her reign. Upon the silver coins she put another Latin sentence which means, "I have chosen God for my helper."

As soon as Elizabeth knew that she was chosen to be Queen, she left Hatfield and went in state to the Tower of London, for, at that time, the Tower was used as a royal palace as well as a prison. But this time she did not go as a prisoner. This time she did not enter by the Traitors' Gate. She went as a Queen, free and happy, guarded indeed, but guarded with love and honour.

As the Queen passed through the gates, she paused. "Some," she said, "have fallen from being Princes in this land to be prisoners in this place; I am raised from being prisoner in this place to be Prince in this land. That was the work of God's justice; this a work of His mercy. So must I be myself to God thankful, and to man merciful."

There were great rejoicings when Elizabeth was crowned, bonfires blazed and joy-bells rang. Yet the land and the people were in a sad and miserable state, and it needed all Elizabeth's wisdom and the wisdom of the great men who surrounded her to bring back happiness and peace to the country.

Elizabeth began her reign at a very difficult time. The quarrels between the old and new religions and the cruelties of Mary had divided the people into two parties. Each party hoped that the new Queen would favour them. But Elizabeth did not mean to make any of her subjects suffer death because of what they felt it right to believe. During her reign people were neither tortured nor killed in the name of religion.

Elizabeth was clever, but she liked to think that she was beautiful too. She loved fine clothes and she dressed in the most splendid silks and satins and jewels. Her courtiers told her that she was the most beautiful lady on earth. This was not true. Elizabeth was not really very beautiful, but she was vain and liked to hear people say that she was lovely. And her people loved her so much that very likely they really thought that she was beautiful.

Whenever it was known that the Queen would pass through the streets, the people would gather to see her. They would stand for hours waiting until she came. When she at last appeared, they would wave their hats and shout, "God save your Majesty! God save your Majesty!"

Then the Queen would stop and, looking round on them, would say, "God bless you all, my good people." The people would again cry, "God save your Majesty!" and the Queen would smile and reply, "You may well have a greater Prince, but you will never have a more loving Prince."

Then when she had gone again the people would go to their homes talking of what a splendid Queen she was, and of how they would die for Good Queen Bess, as they loved to call her.

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