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Elizabeth and Mary, Elizabeth Through the Ages, This Day in Elizabethan History

November 17, 1558: The Queen is Dead, Long Live the Queen

On November 17, 1558, Mary Tudor, By the Grace of God, Queen of England, Spain, France, Jerusalem, both the Sicilies and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, Archduchess of Austria, Duchess of Burgundy, Milan and Brabant, and Countess of Habsburg, Flanders and Tyrol, died. Upon her death, her half-sister, Elizabeth Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, became Queen. Below are reactions to the new Queen’s accession.

Ditchley portrait of Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I (legend, reportedly said after learning she was then queen):

A Dominum factum est illud, et est mirabile in oculis notris.” In English, “It is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”

(From Psalm 118:23).

Elizabeth to the English Commissioners

Informs them of the death of Queen Mary on the 17th inst., which she would have signified to them ere this time, but that she has been forced to continue hitherto here in the country, distant from her city of London. Has been occupied in giving order in those things that were thought meetest to be first considered for the good order and inward stay of this her realm. They are to continue to treat as herefore with the French for peace, according to the commission and instructions forwarded herewith.

Has despatched Lord Cobham to the King of Spain, as well to declare to him the death of Queen Mary, as also to give him to understand the good will and affection that she, the writer, has towards the continuance of the old and good amity and neighbourhood that hitherto has been between King Henry VIII., King Edward, and her late sister and the House of Burgundy and the Low Countries.

(November 23, 1558, Calendar of State Papers, Foreign, Elizabeth)

Papal diary, December, 1558:

“The French in view of the Queen of England’s death grew luke-warm about the peace and hopeful of detaching that kingdom from King Philip or uniting it with that of Scotland, and (among other means to that end) were instant with the Pope that he should declare Queen Elizabeth illegitimate, and, as it were, of incestuous birth, and consequently incapable of succeeding to the throne, whereby they pretended that the crown would belong to the Queen of Scotland.”

(Calendar of State Papers Relating to English Affairs in the Vatican Archives)

Count de Feria to the King

I wrote on the 14th, but have learnt that the courier could not leave Dover until the 17th. On the latter day our lady the Queen died. She had been unconscious most of the time since I arrived, but always in the fear of God and love of Christianity, indeed the nation soon sees what a good Christian she was, for since it was known that she was dying they have begun to treat the images and religious persons disrespectfully. The morning before Her Majesty died the Chancellor and the rest of the Council went into her chamber, and before the women, doctors and others on duty there, they read the Queen’s will. Her Majesty was not conscious at the time. The will was read by the Missioner (Master) of the Rolls, and on arriving at a part where there were some legacies left to servants they ordered the reader to pass on without reading any of them. They tell me that this is the way the wills of the Kings of England are always fulfilled ; that is to say just as the Council likes. I think your Majesty must have a copy of the will, from what I heard when I was here last, and I have therefore said nothing to the Council about it and have made no inquiries except what people have told me. Your Majesty will send me orders if I am to move in this, and if you have a copy of the will it would be advisable to see it again, as also the marriage treaty, and although as I have written to your Majesty it is very early yet to talk about marriage the confusion and ineptitude of these people in all their affairs make it necessary for us to be the more circumspect, so as not to miss the opportunities which are presented to us, and particularly in the matter of marriage. For this and other reasons (if there be no objection) it will be well to send me a copy of the (marriage) treaty, which, though it may not be very necessary, will at least serve to post me up as to what would be touched upon, although a new treaty would be different from the last.
The new Queen and her people hold themselves free from your Majesty and will listen to any ambassadors who may come to treat of marriage. Your Majesty understands better than I how important it is that this affair should go through your hands, which as I have said will be difficult except with great negotiation and money. I therefore wish your Majesty to keep in view all the steps to be taken on your behalf, one of them being that the Emperor should not send any ambassador here to treat of this, for it would be inconvenient enough for Ferdinand to marry here even if he took the titbit from your Majesty’s hand, but very much worse if it were arranged in any other way. For the present I know for certain they will not hear the name of the duke of Savoy mentioned as they fear he will want to recover his estates with English forces and will keep them constantly at war. I am very pleased to see that the nobles are all beginning to open their eyes to the fact that it will not do to marry this woman in the country itself.
The day on which the Queen died, after the customary proclamation was made at Westminster and London, the Council decided that the Chancellor, the Admiral, the earl of Shrewsbury, the earl of Pembroke, the earl of Derby and William Howard, should go to the new Queen and perform the ordinary ceremonies, and that the remainder should stay behind, but everyone wanted to be first to get out. I sent Dasonleville to excuse me from going as I waited here according to her orders. She sent word that she was sorry she could not see him in consequence of her grief but that he was to speak to the Council, which he did, although he said more than he was instructed to say, which is his great fault. But it was all about his grief at the Queen’s death, and congratulations on the new Queen’s accession. They replied to him very civilly and affectionately. He says William Howard made him great offers of service to your Majesty. William Howard has been made Lord Chamberlain ; Lord Robert, the son of the late duke of Northumberland, Master of the Horse, and his brother Lord Ambrose, Master of Artillery, the place that Southwell held. She has given the controllership to her late cofferer, (fn. 1) a fat man whom your Majesty will have seen at Hampton Court, and the secretaryship to Cecil. I am told that those who have up to the present been sworn as members of her Council are the Chancellor, the earl of Pembroke, the earl of Derby, the earl of Shrewsbury (Xeromberi), Admiral Clinton, the earl of Bedford, William Howard, Paget, her former Controller, the cofferer she has now made her Controller and Secretary Cecil. I do not know of any more officials. The day our lady the Queen died Parliament was dissolved, and if they convoke it again forty days must pass by law. The commission held by the earl of Arundel and his colleagues in Flanders also expired, and it will be necessary to send them fresh credentials. It is said the Queen will come here during this week, and nothing can be attended to before then, not even a passport for Don Alonso de Cordova, the Regent of Aragon and others who have come from Spain. They closed the ports as soon as the Queen died, and with the change at Queen and officers things are in such a hurly-burly and confusion that futhers do not know their own children.
Your Majesty’s servants and pensioners here are already beginning to look upon themselves as dismissed without anything being said to them. I do not know what had better be done, whether to let them go thus without saying anything and pay only those we need, or to dismiss them. I think it would be better to say nothing, but to pay those we want and some fresh ones. I await commands. If the Queen does not ask for a list of those in your pay or speak of the matter. I think it will be better not to stir it up, because if she should say that we are not to pay anybody, and afterwards found out that we did so, she would naturally be offended. I again remind your Majesty that it will be well to despatch Doctor Wotton in a very good humour and offer him a pension, or refer him to me to pay him one here, as he will be one of the most powerful of them, and, I am told, he may be made archbishop of Canterbury. I am not sure of this however.
The more I think over this business, the more certain I am that everything depends upon the husband this woman may take. If he be a suitable one religious matters will go on well, and the kingdom will remain friendly to your Majesty, but if not it will all be spoilt. If she decides to marry out of the country she will at once fix her eyes on your Majesty, although some of them here are sure to pitch upon the Archduke Ferdinand. I am not sure of all this, but only conjecture. I hope your Majesty will pardon the disorder and confusion of my letters, for things here are going on in such a way that it is quite impossible to get enlightened on anything, and if I wrote everything, she and they say I should never end. Really this country is more fit to be dealt with sword in hand than by cajolery, for there are neither funds, nor soldiers, nor heads, nor forces, and yet it is overflowing with every other necessary of life.
The body of our lady the Queen is kept until its interment in the chamber outside the one she slept in, and the house is served exactly as it was before.
On the night of the day of the Queen’s decease the Cardinal also died. He was very weak and with continual fever, and his servants did not take care to conceal the death of the Queen from him. He was so afflicted by it that it hastened his end. Two days after he died the Queen sent the earl of Rutland, Throgmorton, and an uncle of Peter Carew (Pedro Caro) to embargo all his goods and take an inventory of them, as it was thought he was a very wealthy man, and if he received what they say he did, he must have been so. I have not been able to learn for certain yet. It was a mercy for God to take him and I do not think your Majesty loses much with him, according to what these people tell me, although I thought otherwise formerly.
The people are wagging their tongues a good deal about the late Queen having sent great sums of money to your Majesty, and that I have sent 200,000 ducats since I have been here. They say that it is through your Majesty that the country is in such want and that Calais was lost, and also that through your not coming to see the Queen our lady, she died of sorrow. The sorrow I feel, is that your Majesty should have allowed so much favour to be shown to this scurvy Lord Chamberlain Hastings, for it is he who is publishing these things and is the greatest enemy our country has. The Controller and Boxall make much of me, but they are all as ungrateful to your Majesty as if they had never received anything from your hands. It is true that as they are naturally much put out and nobody knows what is to become of him, they are so giddy and confused that we must not judge them too hastily. The people are more free than ever, the heretics thinking that they will be able to persecute the Catholics, but things in this respect are somewhat quieter, as on the Sunday before the Queen died the priest who preached the sermon at St. Pauls told them to pray for the Pope. They see also that the new Queen goes to mass. These people try to spread about everywhere that your Majesty will in future have no more influence here than if you had never married the late Queen and with this object they wish the Queen not to be too ready to treat with me. She is very much wedded to the people and thinks as they do, and therefore treats foreigners slightingly. For this reason, and seeing that neither she nor they have done anything yet, I have decided to go on very quietly until things settle down and I see who is to take the lead. Up to the present nothing is certain and everyone talks as his wishes lead him ; I wonder they have not sent me crazy. The whole point of it is (as I have said) the husband she chooses, and we must try by money arrangements that he shall be one agreeable to your Majesty.
They tell me the Queen left orders that she was to be buried either at Windsor or Westminster, and that the body of Queen Katharine, her mother, should also be brought thither. They have not yet decided which place it shall be, but the new Queen, wishes it to be done with all solemnity.—London, 21st November 1558.

(Calendar of State Papers, Spain (Simancas))

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