A game of 2 halves this week; the major themes of Elizabeth’s reign and then the Funeral of Mary and Elizabeth’s coronation . Ooh, and the appointment of Cecil as the Queen’s Secretary.
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Now after the last couple of episodes I felt there was unfinished business. I’d gone for a rather crude dramatic approach by jumping ahead from Mary’s death to Elizabeth’s pre coronation procession, on the facile and even reprehensible grounds that its fun. And even the historiography I’d presented was only partially baked, since I would like now to give you some advance warning of the major themes in Elizabeth’s reign, and some different interpretations folks have had, so you can then keep a notebook by your side to decide which of the arguments you think makes most sense. If it makes it any better, try to think of the previous episodes as a massive party where everyone left at 4 in the morning; and this episode is the morning after, with all the plates and balloons and streamers to be taken down, and all the jelly and ice cream to be dug out of the carpet. By the end, everything will be neatly put away.
Let us first complete the story of the story as it were, the historiography. Elizabeth’s reign has a few themes which run like threads throughout, so let us deal with a few of these. Then we might start with the angle that’s become the most popular recently, the impact of gender. Let us return briefly to 1066 and All that just for a moment if you will forgive me, where there is a revealing gender confusion in the Elizabeth essay question too
In what ways was Elizabeth a Bad Man but a Good Queen.
The whole question of how gender affected politics and Elizabeth’s life is of course one of the most fascinating and enduring of the reign. First there’s a question of how being a woman affected contemporary views of Elizabeth’s right to rule and popularity. This is a conversation which it is almost impossible to start without bringing up John Knox. Knox obviously kicked off the reign on a conciliatory note with his variously numbered blasts on a trumpet of unspecified type against his monstrous regiment of women, which was written to cook the respective geese of the Catholic Mary’s, QoS and No 1. It was actually published as protestant Elizabeth reached the throne in England, which was something of an unfortunate piece of timing for Knox, but hey ho, our Knoxie was not one for retreat. You might say that Knox was, of course Scottish and you might also note that he was reasonably extreme; but John Knox had become for a while part of the English clergy; and Elizabeth was well aware of his views and suitably contemptuous of them. And as more recent historians have then begun to point out that Knox was not alone in his views about women, and that the patriarchy more generally was unhappy; it crops up in some court cases for example such as a clerk in Kent who declared that
The Quene is not worthie to beare rule or be supreame hed of the Churche’
And Elizabeth of course was to famously take the title of Governor of the Church as opposed to Supreme Head partly as a concession to such objections. In anther court case, a man in Essex described Elizabeth as ‘but a woman and ruled by noblemen’, so, just making a broad assumption that of course Elizabeth was doing what she was told. However, others have taken the view that although her gender affected her reign people like Knox were seen by protestant secular lords as slightly embarrassing extremists; and our clerk of Kent in the example was treated rather leniently suggesting such outbursts were rare and not much to be worried about. They argue that by and large Elizabeth’s right to rule was accepted relatively easily by the majority of the nation, and jurists argued in favour of the right of women to rule.
However, even historians inclined to minimise the resistance to the idea of a queen would agree that just as it had for Mary, it made the question of her marriage extremely fraught, and a matter of high politics from the very moment she became queen. From a very basic view it affected politics, since there could be no male Privy Chamber as there had been under Henry VIII. Also, after spending the last, what, 9 years podcasting about monarchs who have been exclusively male, suddenly just like that 3 buses come along at the same time in the British Isles with Mary’s Tudor and of Scots and Elizabeth. It has proved impossible for historians not to fall into compare and contrast mode, and who can blame them? Traditionally the stereotypes have been Mary Tudor the rather incapable and traditional wife who chose dutiful marriage with disastrous consequences. The flamboyant MQoS who chose love and romance, chose badly and suffered the consequences. And then Elizabeth, the sharp, cold, political payer who chose a life alone in return for political power.
These narratives have been sharply revised more recently. As listeners will know, Mary Tudor’s administrative capability has been much restored and the importance of her stand in establishing the rights of Queens to be the equal of Kings also emphasised – of which Elizabeth was the immediate beneficiary, and it’s been shown how far Mary Tudor restricted Philip of Spain’s political influence. More recent approaches to MQoS have stressed that her choice of Darnley was perfectly politically justifiable; and that her disastrous marriage with Bothwell may have been rape and coercion – a general theme pointing out just how far Mary was betrayed by the men around her.
As far as Elizabeth is concerned then, the traditional approach has a hint of hysteria; it’s the story of a woman disappointed, wanting desperately to be married but thwarted by the demands of power and politics. The stories of Elizabeth’s determination to have her household populated by unmarried women; and raging against some who did get married – a sign apparently of a burning with jealousy. And of course, the perennial question of the nature of her relationship with Dudley. More recently again it’s been pointed out there are plenty of reasons why Elizabeth would have wanted unmarred ladies of the household – for purposes of loyalty and political neutrality, not having a husband int eh background egging them on towards some political action or influence. For historians such as Christopher Haigh and Susan Doran, Elizabeth seriously considered marriage to Dudley, and only in 1561 with the death of Dudley’s wife Amy did she finally turn away; as with her famous quote in 1565 to Dudley that
“I will have but one mistress here and no master.”
Thereafter, they figure Elizabeth used the possibility of marriage purely for diplomatic gain. For Doran, indeed, she remained permanently unsure. David Loades identifies the incident with Thomas Seymour as critical, when the young Elizabeth seemingly came close to being used by an ambitious and unscrupulous man; he suggests that she learned the lesson that for her, marriage would always come with a risk and at a price.
There is also plenty of debate then about how Elizabeth does or does not actively use her sexuality as part of political influencing and propaganda. One of Elizabeth’s courtiers was the slightly sad Christopher Hatton – slightly sad because he desperately tried to get the queen to come and visit him and built a lovely place to entice her. There’s something about female spiders eating their lovers isn’t there – I forget, I am sure I read it when roaming over Corfu with Gerald Durrell in My Family and other Animals. Anyway the idea was that as a courtier you enticed the queen to visit your sumptuous residence and it brought enormous honour, even though it left you financially destitute and you’d be cleaning up the poo produced by the court for months. Anyway, Hatton tried and tried, and built the lovely Kirby hall which I have been to and about which I must post on Facebook, but he failed, nd practically ruined his finances in the process anyway. Anyway, I am digressing am I not. Christopher Hatton, courtier, said that
‘the Queen did fish for men’s souls, and had so sweet a bait, that no one could escape her network,’
Historians have seen Elizabeth as consciously using gender by manipulating various traditionally gendered roles, of nurse, mother, and as Hatton was suggesting, lover. More dramatically, they have also pointed out that she consciously went as far as she could to adopt roles which were traditionally male. Although the taboo against her leading an army, or even an advance paratroop regiment was a bridge too far, she did the next best thing in the most famous of her speeches at Tilbury and during the Spanish Armada. It’s also suggested that the adoption of this traditionally male role also made it impossible for Elizabeth to accept the subservient role of a Tudor marriage.
Finally, as queen and given the double standards of the day, her gender opened her to accusations and rumours of immorality, a road travelled enthusiastically but ultimately to nowhere by catholic writers. Eventually and super famously emerged the image of the Virgin Queen, from the 1570s when motifs began to regularly appear in her images such as rose, phoenix and pelican pansy, star and pearl which were associated with the Virgin Mary. For some this was a deliberate, noting that the Queen commissioned many of the paintings of her herself, and those commissioned by her courters would need to be approved by her. However in the case of Elizabeth over her 45 year reign there were simply too many for the Tudor state to control, and Susan Doran concludes the image was more accidental than planned.
Ok that’s a lot about sex. Other themes then. As observed last week, Historian John Guy and many others have admired Elizabeth’s political skills. For some, this was a matter of encouraging and controlling factional politics – ‘she ruled much by faction’ wrote Robert Naunton, and William Camden and later her biographer Neale also took the view that Elizabeth was successful in balancing factions and creating a stable court. For Christopher Haigh this had negative impacts – a hot house atmosphere as factions jostled for position and even childish behaviour such as Essex storming off from court in 1597. A superfluity of flouncing you might say. However, you might take a completely different view and argue as does David Loades that actually Elizabeth’s court, though stuffed to the rafters like any European court, was remarkably faction free. Dudley and Cecil for example two key players, agree on some matters of policy and compete on others; that there is nothing on the scale of the divisions of Henry VIII’s court.
A similar argument took place about the role of parliament in the Elizabethan polity, which traditionally through her reign was a reasonably collaborative relationship, with evolutionary development of parliament’s importance, a general trend of course under the Tudors as we have heard. But then along came Neale and he did some very exciting work which seemed to suggest a high degree of organisation – not by a conservative grouping, but a radical protestant group of about 100 MPs led by a group of activists, returned Marian exiles; Neale dubbed them the Puritan Choir, which I have to say is as good a piece of marketing copy as you are likely to see. The trouble is that Neale’s groundbreaking work was based on the records of a rather extreme puritan; and as happens in the academic process of course, later generations of historians had a look at this tasty concoction and decided to see if they could take it down, and they rather queued up to do so – Elton, Loach, Jones – and the consensus view now is that actually what we are seeing is the silent majority thing or the empty vessels make more noise thing – actually there was no Puritan Choir, it’s just that a few activists were very vocal. Instead, the consensus has rather returned to something close to the traditional view – that the outstanding feature of the relationship between Queen and parliament was cooperation.
Finally then. although we could go on for ever, let us talk of religion, afterall it wouldn’t be a Tudor podcast without religion rearing it’s ugly head. Soo…Elizabeth’s religious settlement and the progress of the reformation and all that. Well, there’s the issue of Elizabeth’s own religious views for starters which we’ll need to cover fairly soon; she’s been described as broadly agnostic, pursing Protestantism largely because it made sense politically, diplomatically and emotionally, and she made sure to keep some of the ceremonial of the old tradition; nobody in their right minds describes her as a religious zealot, but some do emphasise her commitment as being much more devout that the term agnostic would imply – though all agree that Elizabeth liked more ceremony than the hotter type of protestant would approve of. There is a discussion to be had about the depth of protestant belief; it used to be claimed that the English resided into a sort of folk Catholicism by the likes of Scarisbrick and Haigh; whereas now it’s the depth and success of the reformation under the Elizabethan church that is emphasised; that this is the period when preachers and evangelicals were able to do the grassroots work that embedded protestant practice in the lives and hearts of the English. On the other hand, there is a very live and present battle about radical protestantism. So the view has generally been that the Elizabethan church was constantly being pushed to greater reform by Presbyterians and Puritans, the hotter sort as it were. Patrick Collinson has made it one of his life’s work though to argue that this is merely the froth from a few public figures; that the reality on the ground is that England became overwhelmingly a church of the Book of Common Prayer, and that Presbyterians were a minority, and that their organisation was broken by 1590. And that it was Catholicism that was the major threat and seen to be the major threat.
Interesting that I should mention that of course because what of Catholicism? One of the big stories was the attempt to support and revive Catholicism as it dwindled to become essentially a religion of the well-heeled. John Bossy’s view was that the seminary priests who flooded into England were critical in saving Roman Catholicism from extinction; and that they created a ‘new’ Roman Catholic community which owed much to continental influences. Along came Christopher Haigh, who made a career of saying pshaw as far as I can see, and he rewrote that particular rubric; his argument was that these priests concentrated only on the low hanging fruit, gentlemen and nobility in the south and south east of England. In which they were reasonably ineffective anyway, so that Roman Catholicism becomes a rump gentry community with few new influences, restricted to the traditional heartlands in the north of England. Which is a little harsh given what these people gave up and the courage they showed; Doran leavens the bread a little – after all, new religions from Catholicism in 7th century England to England, German and Scotland in the 16th centuries have been implemented by persuading the magistracy or nobility first. But apart from that she basically agrees; but also points to the great dilemma and polarisation among the Catholics, which similar to the protestants under Mary, about whether or not to outwardly conform.
Now there are many other crucial topics we shall be covering in more detail; the history of Elizabethan England and Ireland in particular, is one that every English child should be taught, along with the rest of it of course, don’t say I haven’t warned you; so why did the Tudors step over the line between accommodation with the Old English Elite in Ireland, and conquest which had been a question for so long? Foreign policy is another of course, how far Elizabeth was keen or otherwise to act as an international champion – traditionally she’s thought not to have been keen, but maybe it’s possible to argue otherwise. But we’ll see when we get there – that’s it for historiography for the minute.
LEAVE GAP HERE
So now we need to go back to the start, and we can spend the rest of the episode seeing Elizabeth properly crowned and all that. So back to early November 1558, and I would like to remind you of a couple of life lessons that hopefully your parents passed down to you through the generations – that life can be unkind, and that life was never meant to be fair. As Mary lay in her terminal illness, the sound of creaking floorboards can be heard. It comes from the feet of the courtiers who had buzzed around Mary’s court in worship mode for so long, flattering and complimenting, in the hope of reward or to deliver some genuine service. It comes from the feet of courtiers sneaking stealthily away, now that Mary seemed to be a busted flush, hit the road and make their way to Hatfield House, north of London. There resided the Princess Elizabeth, standing on the edge of the crumbling cliff overhanging the valley of Queenship, and they came to pay her court. As the Spanish Count Feria caustically remarked ‘everyone wanted to be first to get out’. Including Feria, as it ‘appens.
They found one seat there already supporting buttocks parked comfortably in the Princess’s service, those of a reasonably young man Well 38 years old so actually he’s pushing it a bit, hardly a spring chicken, but more importantly the owner of said buttocks was William Cecil. I have been careful to tell William’s story as we go along so that you are aware of him; in case you are not aware, gentle listener, the Cecil-Elizabeth relationship is one of those immortal duos – Wolsey and Henry VIII, Gladstone and Disraeli, Eric and Ernie, Boycott and Amiss, fish and chips, bangers and mash, you know what I am saying. We’ve seen Cecil lock horns with the redoubtable Stephen Gardiner, become the right hand man of the leading political figure of the time, Edward Seymour; we’ve seen him supporting Jane Grey, but very cleverly making a declaration that he was forced into it, not my fault, guv’, saving him from any Marian axes. During Mary’s reign Cecil did not disappear, but he took the Nicodemite route, outwardly conforming – while bankrolling a clandestine protestant printer, working for some of Elizabeth’s estates, and he’d become a good friend of Cardinal Pole too. So, surprisingly close to the centre of power for a man who was an utterly convinced protestant, and determined to do everything to see his faith survive in a hostile world.
But on the day Mary died, 17th November 1558, Cecil had been working effectively as Elizabeth’s secretary already, though not formally appointed til the 20th. It is relatively easy to see why Elizabeth chose Cecil as her secretary. Now I don’t know if you have seen the 1998 film Elizabeth, the first one with Cate Blanchett, but Cecil appears in that with his later title of Burghley. And he’s an avuncular, slightly bumbling sort of figure. In reality, Cecil was not avuncular, and most categorically was not at home to Mr Bumble. Cecil had a mind like a pineapple slicer, and a frightening capacity for hard work. Just go and look at one of the pictures of him – though probably not the one where he’s on a mule holding a flower, it’s difficult to look dignified on a mule. Although I don’t actually know – there he is on his mule, which is a presumably a classic humble brag here-I-am-this-great-and-super-powerful-person-and-look-I’m-just-riding-a-mule, and actually look at his eyes and ouch! Hard as nails. This is a man who would most definitely send emails after hours. And expect an answer. The Elizabeth – Cecil duopoly was without doubt based on trust and respect, though not always agreement. Here are some of the words Elizabeth added to the Councillors oath for Cecil when he signed on the dotted line
This judgement I have of you, that you will not be corrupted with any manner of gift, and that you will be faithful to the state, and that without respect of my private will you will give me that counsel that you think best
This is a judgement that Cecil will do a fair job if living up to; though you kind of have to interpret the phrase corruption in the early modern idiom. Cecil would relentlessly return his tax assessment at £133 6s 8d, whereas in fact his income was in the region of a whopping £4,000 per annum; I suppose he would argue he’d earned it and that he’d had to fork out plenty of his own money in the service of the crown, but anyway with the exception of a few side routes, Cecil fulfilled his role about as loyally and diligently as anybody could be expected to do, and is one of the great architects of the English state. It is his 500th birthday on the 13th September 2020, just so you know.
The traditional story is that when the news came to Elizabeth on 17th November with a full delegation of Mary’s councillors, she took a deep breath and reached for a psalm, as you do, I suspect there is a psalm for all seasons, and proclaimed:
This is the lord’s doing and is marvellous in our eye
This may or may not be true, but either way what the nervous councillors kneeling in front of their new queen really wanted to know was whether or not they had a job. Not just any old job of course since being on the royal council was a key to power fame and fortune. At some point, either right there or a few days later, Elizabeth gave them the benefits of a speech in which she promised
I mean to direct all mine actions by good advice and council
One of the folks listening made the mistake of assuming that meant nobility. It didn’t. it would most definitely mean the kind of professional servants Cecil represented a well. Anyway, essentially Elizabeth identified a specific group of councillors among them quite quickly, those whose presence on the Council had been down to a very personal relationship with Mary, some who had been with her since Framlingham days. For them, Elizabeth had pretty words – and the rough end of the pineapple.
I am not going to list all of the Privy Councillors then chosen to serve instead of being in receipt of the Pineapple slice, for this would be dull, but William Howard of Effingham is worth a mench just because his son makes it into every single English child’s exercise book I reckon, as supreme commander of the fleet facing the armada. And Nicholas Bacon became Lord Keeper of the Seal, and that’s significant; Bacon was a close associate of Cecil, his brother in law; but not always in agreement, and tending to be more conservative than Cecil. He was the last to be appointed as it happens; it seems to have been a bit like the way everyone picked football teams when I was a lad, with the captains picking the best first leaving the worst to last, which was you know, not brilliant for the ego but seriously good for the soul. I speak from personal experience. Anyway, Bacon’s dad had been a sheep Reeve, and the nobility might have been a bit sniffy about that but he was a sound lawyer, so he was in. Apart from that we’ll meet more of them along the way, but for the moment a couple of things. Firstly there are 19 of them, which is substantially fewer than under Mary and is part of a rubric of Elizabethan efficiency and Marian general administrative rubbishness – much revised now, since of course, Mary’s Council had a core group no more than 30. Secondly, there remained on the Council some of Mary’s advisers, but clerics and Catholics were basically history, ex councillors; there were 6 of the great noble families, the rest might be described as bureaucrats like Cecil. And 10 of the Council might be described religiously as Henrician conservatives, and 9 as the kind of people Feria would have described as heretics – protestants.
If you cast you mind back to Henry’s time again, you will remember that there was great play between the Privy Chamber, the people physically close to the king in his private chambers, and the Chamber, the public offices; the Privy Chamber had real political influence. As with Mary, the fact that Elizabeth was a woman changed all that. There would be almost no men in her Privy Chamber – just one gentleman and one Groom. But there were a number of women of course – 4 ladies of the bedchamber; 7 or 8 gentlewomen and three chamberers; and then there were 7 ‘ladies extraordinary’ as they were called, women who attended the queen but were not part of the paid staff. This is an important area for visualising Elizabeth’s daily life and understanding her attitude to the ladies around her in the privy chamber; this was her refuge, away from public business, and there was little formal connection between chamber , Council and Privy Chamber – William Cecil, since he controlled the privy purse, was the main link.
I don’t think it’s entirely clear who exactly all these people were, but unsurprisingly, Cat Ashley was one, as you would expect; there was Catherine Knollys, nee Carey, daughter of Mary Boleyn, so there’s a blast from the past for you. Catherine knollys and Francis her hub I believe lived not a million miles away from where I do and I think has a memorial in Rotherfield Greys church which I keep meaning to go and see. But never do, and now it’s lockdown so I cannot.
The holders of Household offices were all looked at of course as well – and I am going to mention that Robert Dudley, friend and possibly maybe perhaps lover of Elizabeth was made Master of the Horse. We will come back to Dudders. Obviously.
By the time Elizabeth finally upped sticks and went to London, her procession was over 1,000 strong, but her entry was not as formal as the one we heard about last time though sand and gravel were put down in the streets. She avoided Westminster and took up residence in the Tower.
There were two major events, then to be dealt with – Mary’s funeral, and Elizabeth’s coronation. The former was a very grand occasion at Westminster Abbey of course, and finally the traditional if slightly heartless cry went up ‘The queen is dead; long live the queen’, a sort of official ‘sorry for your loss. Move on’ thing.. Meanwhile people in the church surreptitiously cut pieces off the banners as a momento. But the show stealer was the good Bish John White, Bishop of Winchester, who took aim at thre new queen, and who’s sermon included the phrase ‘for a living dog is better than a dead lion’. A little air was sucked out of the Abbey as several hundred people sucked in their breath at the same time and tried hard not to look at Elizabeth. People started putting on space helmets when White praised the new Queen flor wondering
‘How can I, a woman, be Head of the Church, who by scripture am forbidden to speak in the church?’
Before long they were hit again by White as he thundered a warning that
‘the Wolves are coming from Geneva!’
Meaning the Protestants and Calvinists of course. The crowd probably went for quizzical rather than panicky at this one, since it was not yet clear what religious path this latest Tudor would follow. Anyway, very eventful sermon. John White gained the reward due the brave souls in Tudor days who defied the omnipotent to arms, being very soon no longer in possession of his liberty, confined to his house. The Wolves appeared to have come for him early.
Now Elizabeth was pretty much taking the line Mary had taken on her accession as far as religion was concerned. Which was to keep the powder dry until parliament could be called and produce a definitive answer. But she did make one pronouncement in December which was to confirm that the mass should be read BUT that it should be read in the English tongue using the English procession – which was written by Cranmer. Now, Mary’s Bishops had been appointed by her and had led the fight against the Protestant heretics, and they were determined that they would not have the same regrets as did AB Warham in Henry’s day that they had given in too easily and let their beloved practice be betrayed. This time round, they were on it, as wary as hawks.
So, when Elizabeth came to organise which bishop would officiate at her coronation there was an embarrassed silence. There was no ABC, since Reginald Pole was dead, so the obvious candidate was the ABY, Heath. And he flatly refused. There were some too aged and some absences and some other refusals; or there was Bishop of London Bloody Bonner and Elizabeth was having nothing to do with him. The word ‘awkward’ began to be used. At the bottom of the list of the Bishops in order of rank was Oglethorpe of Carlisle. Fortunately, just before Elizabeth fell off the bottom of the ladder, this last rung, the Bishop of Carlisle agreed. Phewee.
The day of the coronation was 15th January 1559. We’ve already heard about the excitements of the procession from the Tower to Westminster the previous day, so no need to replay that; so let me take you to Westminster Hall, where everyone gathered and then walked to the Abbey on blue carpet. I say everyone, Feria was not there, in the full and certain knowledge that there would be hideous impieties on display in the church. The Bishops were there – quite prepared to take the oath of loyalty to their monarch, in a secular sense as it were.
Elizabeth was wearing crimson parliament robes and her hair down, sign of the unmarried woman, and then up to the cross of the Abbey she walked were everyone could see her. And in most respects actually Feria would have been perfectly comfortable – no great innovations were made. The people were asked 4 times if they accepted Elizabeth as their queen and everyone cried out ‘Ooh go on then’. Obviously, they didn’t, they cried out Yea! Yea! And on they went with the service. In the normal way.
There were just a couple of wrinkles that are worth mentioning. The first is that it was traditional when the new monarch arrived on the throne to offer a blanket pardon, and this was read out and then a text prepared. However it did not pass notice that Elizabeth had excluded anyone who might have been involved in any sort of naughtiness or planning for naughtiness against her person. That sent a shiver down the collective spine of the Marian establishment, and a marked tendency to look nervously over one shoulder. They needn’t have worried as it happens but still, scary.
The other was the elevation of the host during the mass, which might seem as a reasonably non contentious thing, but of course was absolutely not the done thing protestant wise; the elevation of the host was the public face of transubstantiation. It seems there may have been something of a tussle there with Oglethrpe and that Elizabeth had told him she didn’t want any of that elevation thing. Well he elevated. And Elizabeth withdrew to a side chapel until he’d completed the service.
That was that then. Everyone was all smiles again and the queen left the church, grinning from ear to ear, and thanking the people that pressed up to offer their best wishes. We get another glimpse of the Elizabeth of the previous day’s procession, all warmth and personality while Il Schifanoya stood by with his arms folded huffily reporting back that once again the queen had
Exceeded the bounds of gravity and decorum
Well, I doubt Elizabeth or the people greeting her gave a tinker’s curse to be honest. A new act was in town.
 Borman, Tracy. The Private Lives of the Tudors: Uncovering the Secrets of Britain’s Greatest Dynasty
 Loades, D: Elizabeth I, 2003, p 128
 Marshall, Peter. Heretics and Believers: A History of the English Reformation (Kindle Locations 9691-9692). Yale University Press.