From the age of about seven, I knew with absolute certainty that I loved history. I was never overly excited or passionate in the classroom itself, but I was completely enthralled with learning about people in the past, their lives and deaths.
My first (and lifelong) fascination was with Elizabeth I. To this day, I can vividly remember the pages of the horrible history book I read dedicated to her life. I remember where I was sat in my primary school; just outside my year 3 classroom, during a rainy lunchtime, and how it felt to read about this incredible woman, the first real queen of England (or so I thought – sorry Mary!!). Now to many of you, a love of Elizabeth I, and the Tudors as a whole, is probably the most trivial, overly hyped up topic in the entire history of England. And to all of you I say: quite frankly I don’t care. Elizabeth, as a woman, and a character within history, has become so important to me that I will defend my love for her until my last breath.
The reason I am writing this, why I am bothering to contribute another blog post to the hundreds of thousands out there on Elizabeth, is because the Elizabeth I adore, my favourite version of Elizabeth, is not the popular image of her which I’m sure fills the public’s mind. It is not the Virgin Queen, it is not Gloriana on her way to defeat the Armada, it is not Good Queen Bess who hurried in the Golden Age and restored peace in England. The Elizabeth that speaks to me most – the version that makes me feel an alliance, a camaraderie with this untouchable character in history – is the scared, vulnerable young girl, fighting to stay alive whilst her siblings and their advisors constantly sought ways to undermine and destroy her. The Lady Elizabeth, the pre-crown Virgin Queen.
During both her sibling’s reigns, Elizabeth had to overcome a series of scandals, plots and secret dealings that all could have effectively ended her life. Despite being placed back into the line of succession and essentially being named an heir-apparent, Elizabeth was in constant danger. Quite frankly it is a miracle she survived. The reason she did was because she was able to undermine, manipulate and win over the leading powers in the land. Elizabeth was sneaky, ruthless, power hungry and driven. She was, like her mother, enchanting in a way that slightly unnerved people, and yet they were drawn to her, adored her and protected her.
“She was, like her mother, enchanting in a way that slightly unnerved people, and yet they were drawn to her, adored her and protected her.”
The Seymour Scandal (the alleged affair between Thomas Seymour then 41 and Elizabeth then 16) during Edward’s reign was the first example we as historians have into the cunning strategies that Elizabeth could implement. Sir Robert Tyrwhit, who was placed in charge of her interrogation, was driven mad by her stubbornness and refusal to give anything of the affair away. Famously even after being informed of Thomas Seymour’s death, Elizabeth remained stoic and simply said “This day died a man of much wit and little judgement”. Whatever Elizabeth and Seymour’s relationship may have been, Elizabeth was smart enough, at the age of 16, to keep her cool and remain quiet on the matter, essentially securing herself as the victim not the villain.
Throughout the remainder of Edward’s reign Elizabeth moved under the radar, maintaining an air of modesty and virginity, in order to keep up appearances for the world at large. I sometimes think about how scared that young girl must have been; she was on the cusp of an immense and dangerous scandal and she managed to preserve her innocence, but now she had to keep it up.
The depth and dangers of Mary’s reign for Elizabeth are too extensive to list in this post, Elizabeth probably spent the 5.5 years before her accession in a constant state of paranoia and fear. She had to contend with plots against her, for her and including her, and somehow she managed to keep her head above the water and survive. The Virgin Queen we all remember lived out her reign surrounded by guards, loyal servants and nobles who need her favour to survive, the Lady Elizabeth that I most admire had to fight tooth and nail to get to that point.
There need’s to be more written on this Elizabeth, I truly believe that it is the early years of her life that map out the entirety of her reign. She observed countless advisors, nobles and monarchs make mistakes and fail spectacularly at their job, she was able to learn from everyone before her. She became better, smarter and more powerful than everyone before her simply because she had the luxury of coming last, of living through those horrendous days, of surviving the lowest of the lows.
Everything about Elizabeth’s legacy is wrapped up in that scared young woman fighting to survive against everything that England and the court throws at her, she is phenomenal. It may sound strange but as a young woman myself I have an affinity to this version of Elizabeth, she inspires me, makes me stronger and above all shows me that even in the worst circumstances, you can survive and grow to be so much better.
“I have an affinity to this version of Elizabeth, she inspires me, makes me stronger and above all shows me that even in the worst circumstances, you can survive and grow to be so much better.”