Book Review: “A Column of Fire” by Ken Follett

9780451477996_p0_v1_s550x406After the death of Henry VIII and Edward VI, there was an explosion of religious intolerance, not just in England, but in Europe as a whole. Many believe that it was Mary I “Bloody Mary” who really started this trend, however, the fires of hatred between Protestants and Catholics extended further into the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I of England. We often focus on the monarchs and their inner circles during this time and how the religious persecutions affected the decisions that they made. That tells only part of the story, but how did this religious fighting between Protestants and Catholics affect the normal person? What were their lives like? Ken Follett explores this topic in his third book in his historical fiction series, the  Kingsbridge Series, “A Column of Fire”.

Every historical fiction book needs a great opening to engage the reader and Ken Follett delivers with his prologue:

We hanged him in front of Kingsbridge Cathedral. It is the usual place for executions. After all, if you can’t kill a man in front of God’s face you probably shouldn’t kill him at all. The sheriff brought him up from the dungeon below the guildhall, hands tied behind his back. He walked upright, his pale face defiant, fearless. The crowd jeered at him and cursed him. He seemed not to see them. But he saw me. Our eyes met, and in that momentary exchange of looks, there was a lifetime. I was responsible for his death, and he knew it. I had been hunting him for decades. He was a bomber who would have killed half the rulers of our country, including most of the royal family, all in one act of bloodthirsty savagery- if I had not stopped him. I have spent my life tracking such would-be murderers, and a lot of them have been executed- not just hanged but drawn and quartered, the more terrible death reserved for the worst offenders. Yes, I have done this many times: watched a man die knowing that I, more than anyone else, had brought him to his just but dreadful punishment. I did it for my country, which is dear to me; for my sovereign, whom I serve; and for something else, a principle, the belief that a person has the right to make up his own mind about God. He was the last of many men I sent to hell, but he made me think of the first…”(Follett, prologue).

This story follows the lives of several different people and their families, but the main story focuses on a man named Ned Willard. After he can’t marry the girl he loves, Margery Fitzgerald,  and his family is crushed by bad investments, he decides to work for a young Elizabeth Tudor, who would later become Elizabeth I. His works will lead him all over England and Europe to help thwart plots to kill Elizabeth and replace her with a Catholic ruler. One of his biggest opponents is the elusive Jean Langlais, a man who works in the shadows, yet he is closer than Ned thinks.

What Follett does so well is that he incorporates people from other countries into this story. Sylvie Palot from France, the young Protestant bookseller, who is not afraid to sell Bibles to those who wish to own a Bible. Pierre Aumande, the man who will do anything in order to gain power. Alison McKay, the fictitious best friend of Mary Queen of Scots, who would do anything for her queen. Ebrima Dabo, a slave who will do anything to be free. Barney Willard, Ned’s brother, who wants nothing in life, except to sail the high seas looking for adventure.

Follett’s cast of original characters adds a depth to an already tumultuous time in European history. Follett is able to blend the fictitious characters with real historical figures and actual events like the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, the death of Mary Queen of Scots, and the Spanish Armada.

This is my first book by Ken Follett and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. There were so many twists and turns in this story that I was not expecting that I really could not stop reading this book. I found it rather engaging and exciting. I found it interesting that Follett decided to end the book during the reign of James I and that he called King Philip II of Spain by his other less common Spanish name Felipe. These are more stylistic choices instead of historical choices.

Overall as a historical fiction book about the religious persecution in the Elizabethan era, I found this book dynamic and thrilling. Although this is the third book in a series, I believe it can stand on its own.  After reading this book, I really want to go back and read the first two books of the series. If you want a great historical fiction book that you can easily get lost in, I enthusiastically recommend you read “A Column of Fire” by Ken Follett.

Biography: William Shakespeare

800px-Shakespeare(Baptized April 26, 1564- Died April 23, 1616)
Son of John Shakespeare and Mary Arden.
Married to Anne Hathaway.
Father of Susanna Hall, Hamnet Shakespeare, and Judith Quiney.
William Shakespeare was a poet and playwright. He is regarded as one of the greatest writers of all of English History and one of the greatest dramatists of all time.

William Shakespeare was born to John Shakespeare and his wife Mary Arden in Stratford-upon-Avon. We do not know his exact birth date, but many believe that he was born on St. George’s day, which is April 23rd because he was baptized on April 26, 1564. His father John Shakespeare was an alderman and a successful glover while his mother, Mary Arden, was the daughter of a successful landowning farmer. We believe that William Shakespeare went to King’s New School, which was a free chartered grammar school that was located in Stratford. It is here where Shakespeare learned Latin and his passion for the theatre. Since he was a commoner, there is no record of him ever going to university, which was a luxury that was reserved for upper-class families.

At the age of 18, William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, who at the time was 26 years old. The marriage licence was issued on November 27, 1582. At the time of their marriage, Anne was already pregnant with their first child, Susanna, who was baptized on May 26, 1583. Two years later, William and Anne welcomed twins Hamnet (son) and Judith (daughter), in 1585. They were baptized on February 2, 1585. Unfortunately, Hamnet would tragically die at the age of 11 from an unknown cause and he was buried on August 11, 1596.

After the birth of his twins in 1585, there are not many historical records about Shakespeare’s life until 1592. These years are known as “Shakespeare’s Lost Years” and many stories have emerged about what he supposedly had done during this time. One of the stories states that Shakespeare was in Stratford to avoid persecution for deer poaching. Another claims that he was a schoolmaster for some time. The problem with these stories is that there is no evidence to support them. We do not know what Shakespeare was doing during these years.

Shakespeare’s plays started to appear in London theaters in 1592, but we do not know when his writing career actually began. He was well known just enough for him to be attacked in newspapers. After 1594, Shakespeare’s plays were performed only by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a company owned by a group of players, including Shakespeare, that soon became the leading playing company in London. After the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, the company was awarded a royal patent by the new King James I, and changed its name to the King’s Men.

In 1599, Shakespeare and others purchased some land near the river Thames and created the Globe Theatre and in 1608, the group was able to take over the Blackfriars indoor theatre. Shakespeare was able to become a very wealthy man and was able to own property in both London and Stratford, but he preferred to live in London. In 1594, the first known quartos of Shakespeare’s plays were published, solidifying his reputation and by 1598, his name became the selling point in new productions. He gained a reputation of not only being a talented actor but a playwright as well.

In 1609, London suffered from the bubonic plague and in 1610, Shakespeare decided to retire from public life, which was extremely unusual. This, however, did not mean that he was not busy. Shakespeare is known to have collaborated with other playwrights like John Fletcher. William Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616 and was buried at the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford.

In total, Shakespeare is known to have written at least 38 plays and over 150 poems, both long and short. If you would like to read more about his works, The Folger Shakespeare Library is a fantastic place to start: https://www.folger.edu/shakespeares-works

Sources:
https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/explore-shakespeare/shakespedia/?gclid=CjwKCAjwxILdBRBqEiwAHL2R84IxV7c3RHGPLkDwe8371g3ZF-p8i_7t0Xp314sNrSi3lF04CxIfShoCeuMQAvD_BwE
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare
https://www.williamshakespeare.net/
https://www.folger.edu/shakespeares-works

Biography: Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox

margaret-douglas-countess-lennox(Born October 8, 1515- Died March 7, 1578)
Daughter of Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus and Margaret Tudor
Married to Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox
Mother of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley and Charles Stuart, 1st Earl of Lennox

Margaret Douglas was the daughter of the dowager Queen of Scotland Margaret Tudor. She incurred her uncle Henry VIII’s wrath twice; the first time was for her unauthorised engagement to Lord Thomas Howard and the second was in 1540 for an affair with Thomas Howard’s nephew Sir Charles Howard, the brother of Henry’s wife Katherine Howard. Her son Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, was married to Mary Queen of Scots and was the father of James VI of Scotland (also known as James I of England).

Margaret Douglas was born on October 8, 1515 at Harbottle Castle in Northumberland. Her mother was Margaret Tudor, the Dowager Queen of Scotland and the sister of Henry VIII, and her father was her mother’s second husband Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus. Margaret Tudor had recently been forced to hand over the Scottish Regency to the Duke of Albany, who had arrived from France, and she was forced to flee to England. Margaret Tudor arrived in London with baby Margaret on May 3, 1516, while her husband was dealing with issues in Scotland. When Albany returned to France on June 6 , 1517, the Queen Dowager was permitted to return and was given limited access to see her son, James V, at Edinburgh Castle. During this time, she had a falling out with her husband and Angus took custody of Margaret Douglas. When Margaret was not living with her father, she stayed with her godfather Cardinal Wolsey.

When Wolsey died in 1530, Lady Margaret was invited to the royal Palace of Beaulieu, where she resided in the household of Princess Mary. Because of her nearness to the English crown, Lady Margaret Douglas was brought up chiefly at the English court in close association with Mary, her first cousin, the future Queen Mary I, who remained her lifelong friend. Margaret would later become first lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn and Lady-of-Honour to Princess Elizabeth. Yet, when Margaret became secretly betrothed to Sir Thomas Howard, Anne Boleyn’s uncle and Norfolk’s youngest brother, Henry VIII, in July 1536, placed them both in the Tower. Margaret did fall ill while in the Tower. Margaret was released on October 29, 1537, but Sir Thomas died in the Tower on October 31, 1537.

In 1539, Margaret was part of the group of people who was supposed to meet Anne of Cleves at Greenwich Palace and join her household, but Henry changed his mind and met Anne of Cleves at Rochester instead. In 1540, Margaret was again in disgrace with the King when she had an affair with Lord Thomas Howard’s half-nephew Sir Charles Howard. He was the son of Thomas’ elder half-brother Lord Edmund Howard, and a brother of Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Katherine Howard. Her mother, Margaret Tudor, died at Methven Castle on October 18, 1541 from palsy. Margaret would be one of the few witnesses to King Henry VIII’s last marriage to Katherine Parr, in 1543; Margaret was a close friend to Katherine Parr and would become one of her chief ladies.

In 1544, Lady Margaret married a Scottish exile named Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox, who would later became regent of Scotland. Their children were Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley and Charles Stuart. When Mary I became queen in 1553, Margaret returned to court and was given rooms in Westminster Palace. Margaret would be one of the chief mourners at Mary’s funeral in 1558 and when Elizabeth I became queen, Margaret moved to Yorkshire, where her home at Temple Newsam became a center for Roman Catholic intrigue.

Margaret succeeded in marrying her elder son, Lord Darnley, to his first cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, thus uniting their claims to the English throne. Queen Elizabeth I disapproved of this marriage and had Margaret sent to the Tower of London in 1566. After the murder of Margaret’s son Darnley in 1567, Margaret was released from prison and she was the first to denounce her daughter-in-law, but was eventually later reconciled with her. Her husband assumed the government of Scotland as regent, but was assassinated in 1571. Margaret would never marry again.

In 1574, she again aroused Queen Elizabeth’s anger by marrying her younger son Charles to Elizabeth Cavendish, the daughter of Sir William Cavendish and Bess of Hardwick and the stepdaughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury. She was again sent to the Tower, unlike the Countess of Shrewsbury, but was pardoned after her son Charles’ death in 1576. Margaret would take care of Charles’ daughter Arbella Stuart until her own death on March 7, 1578.

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Douglas
http://www.maryqueenofscots.net/people/lady-margaret-douglas-countess-lennox/
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Margaret-Douglas-Countess-of-Lennox

Biography: Lettice Knollys

Lettice_Knollys1(Born November 8, 1543- Died December 25, 1634)
Daughter of Sir Francis Knollys and Catherine Carey.
Married to Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, and Christopher Blount.
Mother of Penelope Rich, Dorothy Percy, Countess of Northumberland, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, Walter Devereux, Francis Devereux, and Robert Dudley, Lord Denbigh.
Lettice Knollys was one of Elizabeth I’s favorites at court, but when she married Elizabeth’s favorite Robert Dudley, she was banished from court.

Lettice Knollys was born on November 8, 1543 at Rotherfield Greys, Oxfordshire to Sir Francis Knollys and Catherine Carey. Sir Francis Knollys was a member of Parliament and Master of the Horse under King Edward VI. Her mother, Catherine Carey, was the daughter of Mary Boleyn, which made Lettice Knollys and Elizabeth I first cousins once removed. The Knollys were Protestants and in 1556, during the reign of Mary I, they fled with five of their children to Frankfurt, Germany. We do not know if Lettice was in Germany with her family or if she spent the years her family was in exile with her cousin Elizabeth. Lettice’s family returned to England in January 1559, after the death of Mary I and the accession of Elizabeth I. Sir Francis Knollys was appointed Vice-Chamberlain of the Royal Household, Catherine was made a senior Lady of the Bedchamber, and Lettice was made a Maid of the Privy Chamber.

In the early 1560’s Lettice married her first husband Walter Devereux, Viscount Hereford. They lived at Chartley in Staffordshire, where the two eldest of their five children, Penelope and Dorothy, were born in 1563 and 1564. It is said that when Lettice was pregnant with her first son that she flirted with Robert Dudley at court, but there is no proof to support this rumor. In November 1565, Lettice gave birth to her first son Robert Devereux. In 1569, she gave birth to her son Walter Devereux and her son Francis shortly after, but Francis would die shortly after his birth.

Walter held no position at court, but following the outbreak of the Northern Rebellion in 1569, he became known for his loyal military service to Elizabeth I. Elizabeth rewarded this loyalty by making Walter Devereux the Earl of Essex in 1572. In 1573, Walter Devereux successfully convinced Elizabeth to send him to Ulster so that he could colonize it for England. He was gone for two years, leaving Lettice alone to take care of her five children. Lettice during this time visited friends at court and at Kenilworth Castle, where Robert Dudley lived. Rumors began to spread that Robert Dudley and Lettice were having an affair while her husband was away. In December 1575, Walter Devereux returned to England, but he would leave again for Ireland in July 1576. Walter died of dysentery on September 22, 1576 in Dublin, but rumors began to swirl that Robert Dudley had him poisoned so that he could marry Lettice. Walter’s death left Lettice deep in debt and she had to move in with her friends and into her family home. She tried to convince the crown to lower the debt for her son, the new earl of Essex, but Elizabeth did not agree to this agreement.

Lettice did marry again in secret, to Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester, on September 21, 1578. There were only a few witnesses to this ceremony. When Elizabeth found out about the marriage the following year, in July 1579, she was absolutely furious. Elizabeth focused all her anger on Lettice and banished her forever from court and Robert fled from court in disgrace. Lettice continued to style herself Countess of Essex for several years into her new marriage. She lived very discreetly, often with her relatives at the Knollys family home in Oxfordshire. Lettice’s son with Leicester, Robert, Lord Denbigh, was born in June 6, 1581, at Leicester House. Three years later, on July 18, 1584, Lord Denbigh tragically died. Lettice and Robert would not have any more children.

In 1585 Leicester led an English expedition to assist the rebellious Netherlands against Spain. He incurred Elizabeth’s wrath when he accepted the title of Governor-General in January 1586. At this same time the Earl was giving his wife authority to handle certain land issues during his absence, implying they had no plans to meet in Holland.

The Earl returned to England in December 1586, but was sent again to the Netherlands in the following June. Leicester eventually resigned his post in December 1587. Lettice was with him when he died unexpectedly, possibly of malaria, on 4 September 1588 at Cornbury Park, Oxfordshire. Leicester’s death left Lettice deeper in debt and she had to marry again in order to repay her two deceased husbands’ debts.

In March or April of 1589, Lettice married her third husband Sir Christopher Blount. Blount was a man who came from a lowly gentry family and he served in the Leicester household. Lettice’s son the Earl of Essex was not thrilled about her choice of husband, however Blount would prove extremely loyal to Essex. Blount was so loyal to his stepson, that he became one of the key conspirators in Essex’s rebellion in February 1601. The rebellion, which aimed to depose the Queen’s government, was a disaster ,and both Essex and Blount were imprisoned. Though Blount begged for mercy he was condemned for treason. Essex was executed in February 1601 and Blount was executed on March 18, 1601.

When Elizabeth I died in 1603, King James I decided to cancel all of the debts that Lettice owned through her husbands and restore her grandson, the third Earl of Essex, to his father’s title and estate. Also in 1603, Ambrose Dudley, the son of Robert Dudley and Douglas Sheffield, claimed that he was the legitimate son of his parents and thus the heir to the earldoms of Warwick and Leicester. If successful, this claim would not only have implied that Lettice Knollys’ union with Leicester had been bigamous, but would also have nullified her jointure rights. In February 1604, Lettice filed a complaint against Dudley in the Star Chamber, accusing him of defamation. The other side was unable to cite clear evidence and the King’s chief minister, Robert Cecil, thought it unwise to rake up the existing property settlement, so the outcome was in favour of Lettice. Lettice would die at the age of 91 on December 25, 1634. She was buried next to Robert Dudley at St Mary’s Church, Warwick.

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lettice_Knollys
http://tudortimes.co.uk/guest-articles/lettices-men
http://www.berkshirehistory.com/bios/lknollys.html

Biography: Bess of Hardwick

Bess-of-HardwickAlso known as Elizabeth Cavendish and Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury
(Born around 1527- Died February 13, 1608)
Daughter of John Hardwick of Derbyshire and Elizabeth Leeke.
Married to Robert Barley (or Barlow), Sir William Cavendish, Sir William St. Loe, and George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury.
Mother of Frances Cavendish, Temperance Cavendish, Henry Cavendish, William Cavendish, 1st Earl of Devonshire, Charles Cavendish, Elizabeth Cavendish, Mary Cavendish, and Lucrece Cavendish.

Bess of Hardwick is one of the best known Elizabethans. She was the second wealthiest woman in England, the grandmother to a claimant to the throne, known for building the most spacious and modern stately home in England, and was a former jailer to Mary Queen of Scots. She rose from the yeomen gentry to one of the people inside Elizabeth I’s inner circle.

Bess of Hardwick was born around 1527 to John Hardwick of Derbyshire and his wife Elizabeth Leeke. The Hardwicks did not hold prestigious offices and the highest office that they ever achieved was esquire. John Hardwick died at the age of 40 and Bess’s mother remarried. When Bess was twelve years old, it is said that she went to live with the Zouche family at Condor Castle in Derbyshire, where it is believed she learned how to be a Lady in Waiting. There are also rumors this is where she met her first husband Robert Barley (or Barlow); they married in 1543 but Robert died a year later in December 1544. We do not know if they in fact lived together because they were so young. There was an issue about the dowry that Bess should have received; Bess took the matter to court and it took several years to finally give Bess her portion of the Barley(Barlow) estates and inheritance.

After her first husband’s death, Bess had moved to live as a serving gentlewoman with the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk, parents of Lady Jane Grey, at Bradgate Park, Leicestershire, where she befriended Duchess, Frances Brandon, niece of Henry VIII. It was at Bradgate Park where Bess met her second husband Sir William Cavendish, who was twice the age of Bess. They married on August 20, 1547 and they had eight children: Frances Cavendish, Temperance Cavendish, Henry Cavendish, William Cavendish, 1st Earl of Devonshire, Charles Cavendish, Elizabeth Cavendish, Mary Cavendish, and Lucrece Cavendish. William’s fortune had been made following the Dissolution of the Monasteries and possibly acting on Bess’s advice, Sir William sold his lands in the south of England and bought the Chatsworth estates in her home county of Derbyshire. When Sir William Cavendish died on October 25, 1557 after ten years of marriage, Bess became a widow for a second time and she was now deep in debt.

Bess had to marry again to take care of the debts from Sir William Cavendish so in 1559, she married Sir William St. Loe and became Lady St. Loe. He was Captain of the Guard to Queen Elizabeth I and Chief Butler of England. Bess was made a Lady of the Private Chamber to Elizabeth I as a wedding present. Sir William St. Loe owned a lot of large estates and when he died of mysterious circumstances in either 1564 or 1565, his brother tried to gain possession of all of the St. Loe inheritance. Bess had to take care of her 6 kids, plus St. Loe’s two daughters, who were at this point grown women, so she took her case to court and won. Bess became the second wealthiest woman in England after Elizabeth I with the possession of the St. Loe inheritance.

Bess did not remarry until 1568 to her last husband George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury and she became Countess of Shrewsbury. In order to combine the families even further, , two of his children were married to two of hers in a double ceremony in February 1568: Bess’s daughter Mary Cavendish was given in marriage to Shrewsbury’s eldest son Gilbert; while Bess’s son, Sir Henry Cavendish married Shrewsbury’s daughter Lady Grace Talbot.

During 1568 there was a major shake-up happening in Scotland. Rebel Scottish lords rose up against Mary, Queen of Scots, imprisoned her, and forced her to abdicate in favor of her one-year-old infant son, James. In May 1568, Mary escaped captivity in Scotland, and fled south towards England, seeking the protection of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth. This not go well for Mary as she was imprisoned in May 18, 1568 at Carlisle Castle. Elizabeth did not feel that Mary was secure and in 1569, Mary was transferred into the care of the Earl and Countess of Shrewsbury. She would stay in there custody for over 15 years. Bess would become one of Mary’s companions, working with her on embroidery and textile projects. In fact, all of Mary’s work later became part of Bess’s historical collection at Hardwick Hall.

In 1574 Bess arranged a marriage between one of her daughters and the son of the Countess of Lennox. This was a significant match for Bess because the Countess of Lennox was Margaret Douglas, a member of the royal family, being the daughter of Margaret Tudor, Queen Dowager of Scotland and sister of Henry VIII, and therefore, also Queen Elizabeth’s first cousin. In this match, the bride was Bess’s daughter, Elizabeth Cavendish, and the groom was Charles Stuart, who was himself also the first cousin of Mary, Queen of Scots and was the younger brother of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley who had been married to Mary until his death.. The marriage ceremony took place without the knowledge of Shrewsbury, who, declined to accept any responsibility. Due to the Lennox family’s claim to the throne, the marriage was considered potentially treasonable, since Queen Elizabeth’s consent had not been obtained. The Countess of Lennox, went to the Tower for several months, and Bess was ordered to London to face an official inquiry, but she ignored the summons, and remained in Sheffield until the row died down. The child of the marriage was Arbella Stuart, who had a claim to the thrones of Scotland and England as the second cousin to King James VI of Scotland.

After her husband’s death in 1590, Bess became the Dowager Countess of Shrewsbury. Bess of Hardwick would on February 13, 1608 at the age of 81.

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bess_of_Hardwick
http://www.maryqueenofscots.net/people/bess-hardwick-countess-shrewsbury/
http://www.amazingwomeninhistory.com/bess-of-hardwick/

Biography: Queen Elizabeth I

220px-Elizabeth_I_in_coronation_robes(Born September 7, 1533- Died March 24, 1603)
Daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.
Sister to King Edward VI and Queen Mary I
Elizabeth was known as the “Virgin Queen” because she never married and she never had a child. Elizabeth was one of the greatest rulers in English history.

Elizabeth I was born on September 7, 1533 to Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn at Greenwich Palace. At birth, Elizabeth was declared heir presumptive to the throne of England. Her older half-sister, Mary, had lost her position as a legitimate heir when Henry annulled his marriage to Mary’s mother, Catherine of Aragon, to marry Anne, with the intent to sire a male heir and ensure the Tudor succession. However, things didn’t go as planned. Anne never was able to give birth to the desired son that Henry wanted. Anne would later be accused of adultery and treason. On May 19, 1536, Anne Boleyn was executed; Elizabeth was two years old at the time and she was declared illegitimate, just like her step-sister Mary.

Henry VIII married Jane Seymour shortly after Anne Boleyn’s execution. Jane gave birth to Elizabeth’s step-brother Edward, but died shortly afterward. Elizabeth’s father would marry three more times; Anne of Cleves who was divorced; Katherine Howard who was beheaded; and finally Katherine Parr. During this time, Elizabeth met Catherine “Kat” Ashley who was appointed Elizabeth’s governess in 1537 and remained with Elizabeth until her death in 1565. William Grindal became her tutor in 1544 and after his death in 1548, Roger Ascham became Elizabeth’s tutor. Elizabeth received a very good education and she loved to learn. Elizabeth’s life was somewhat normal at this point, but life was about to change drastically.

Henry VIII died on January 28, 1547, when Elizabeth was 13, leaving the throne to his nine year old son Edward VI. Before Henry VIII died, he reinstated his daughters to the line of succession so after Edward VI, Mary would become queen and then Elizabeth. Shortly after Henry VIII’s death, his last wife Katherine Parr married Thomas Seymour, the brother of Jane Seymour and Edward Seymour, Edward VI’s Lord Protector. Elizabeth moved in with Katherine Parr and Thomas Seymour at their home in Chelsea where, it is alleged, Thomas Seymour would act inappropriately towards Elizabeth, including bursting into her bedroom while she was barely dress, slap her on the bottom, and one time, shred Elizabeth’s dress. In May 1548, Elizabeth was dismissed from Katherine’s household; Katherine Parr died from childbirth on September 5, 1548 which allowed Thomas to pursue Elizabeth as his wife, but it failed. Thomas was accused of trying to kidnap Edward VI, charged with treason and executed on March 20, 1549. Elizabeth was interrogated during the investigation into Thomas, but she never admitted anything about the nature of their relationship.

Edward VI would die on July 6, 1553, at the age of 15. Under Henry VIII’s Act of Succession, the crown should have passed onto Mary, however Edward did not like that she was Catholic, so before he died, he issued an act that named his heir as Lady Jane Grey. Lady Jane Grey would only be queen for nine days since Mary brought an army to place her on the throne. On August 3, 1553, Mary rode into London with Elizabeth by her side. On the outside, it looked like Mary and Elizabeth had reconciled, however they were pulling farther apart.

Mary and Elizabeth kept butting heads over religion, Mary being Catholic and Elizabeth being Protestant. Mary’s popularity began to wan with her people when she announced in 1554 that she wanted to marry Philip II of Spain, a devout Catholic. That same year in January and February, a man by the name of Thomas Wyatt staged a rebellion to put Elizabeth on the throne instead of Mary, which failed. Wyatt was beheaded and Elizabeth was interrogated. She was imprisoned in the Tower of London on March 18th; she would later be transferred to Woodstock on May 22nd where she spent a year under house arrest in the custody of Sir Henry Bedingfield.

Elizabeth returned to court on April 17, 1555 to help Mary with the final stages of her pregnancy. However, months passed and it turned out that it was a false pregnancy. As Mary fell ill, Philip II started to consult with Elizabeth on how to run the country, and in October 1558, Elizabeth began to formulate her own court. On November 6, Mary recognized Elizabeth as her heir and on November 17, 1558, Mary I died and Elizabeth I succeeded to the throne.

Elizabeth I became Queen of England at the age of 25. She was crowned in an elaborate ceremony on January 15, 1559, which was cold winter day; Elizabeth would get sick shortly after her coronation, but once she recovered, she made William Cecil, later Baron Burghley, her Chief Minister. Elizabeth had two pressing matters to solve when she first became queen, resolving the matters of religious division in England and who she would marry. With the religious division, she sought to strike a balance, so that even though Protestantism became the national religion, those who wanted to hear the Roman Catholic mass were able to do so in private. Elizabeth became the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

The other issue that plagued Elizabeth during her reign was who she was going to marry. There were many candidates, foreign and English suitors, but Elizabeth would not commit herself to one man, instead she decided to remain single and considered herself the mother of the English people. The man who probably had the best chance of marrying Elizabeth was Robert Dudley. Dudley was the brother of Guilford Dudley, the husband of Lady Jane Grey. He was married to Amy Robsart, but she died of a fall in 1560 and Dudley was accused of her murder. He was created the Earl of Leicester in 1564. Dudley remarried in 1578 to one of Elizabeth’s Maid of the Privy Chamber, Lettice Knollys. This made Elizabeth angry and she banished Lettice from court. Dudley would die in 1588, shortly after the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Robert Dudley tried for over 20 years to convince Elizabeth to marry him and it resulted in a close friendship, but nothing more.

The other serious contender for the Queen’s hand was Francis, Duke of Anjou, who Elizabeth called her “frog”, heir to the French throne. But again, political considerations made the match ultimately impossible. Other suitors included King Philip II of Spain, King Eric XIV of Sweden, Archduke Charles of Austria, and Henry Duke of Anjou (the duke before Francis). Elizabeth had numerous favorites at her court including Sir Christopher Hatton, Robert Devereux earl of Essex, and Walter Raleigh, just to name a few. The problem was that Elizabeth decided not to marry nor would she declare a successor, even when she contracted smallpox in October 1562 and she thought she might die.

Elizabeth’s refusal to marry or name a successor led to one of the most defining conflicts of Elizabeth’s reign. Catholics viewed Elizabeth as illegitimate and had no right to the throne. To them, Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth’s cousin, had a better claim to the throne. Mary was the granddaughter of Henry VIII’s sister Margaret. Elizabeth was persuaded to send a force into Scotland to aid the Protestant rebels, and though the campaign was inept, the resulting Treaty of Edinburgh of July 1560 removed the French threat in the north.When Mary returned to Scotland in 1561 a to take up the reins of power, the country had an established Protestant church and was run by a council of Protestant nobles supported by Elizabeth. Mary refused to ratify the treaty which denied Mary the right to succeed to the English throne.

In 1563 Elizabeth proposed her own suitor, Robert Dudley, as a husband for Mary, without asking either of the two people concerned. Both proved unenthusiastic, and in 1565 Mary married Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, who carried his own claim to the English throne. The marriage was the first of a series of errors of judgement by Mary that handed the victory to the Scottish Protestants and to Elizabeth. Darnley quickly became unpopular and was murdered in February 1567 by conspirators almost certainly led by James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell. On May 15, 1567, Mary married Bothwell, arousing suspicions that she had been in on the murder of Lord Darnley. This lead to Mary’s fall from grace and she was held captive starting in July 1567.

Forced to flee her own country, having abdicated her throne in favour of her infant son, James, Mary landed in England in May 1568, seeking Elizabeth’s help in restoring her to her kingdom. Because the matter of Darnley’s death was unresolved, Elizabeth placed Mary in prison for around 20 years. Of course, this angered the Catholics who saw Mary as the figurehead of their cause, so there were plots and plans to get Mary out of prison and place her on the throne instead of Mary. The largest plot was the Babington Plot of the summer of 1586, which laid out plans for Elizabeth’s execution and Spain’s invasion of England. Since Mary knew of the plans, she was tried and found guilty of treason. Elizabeth was very reluctant to sign the death warrant, but eventually she did. Mary Queen of Scots was executed on February 8, 1587 at Fotheringhay Castle; her son James VI was declared Elizabeth’s heir to the throne.

Another huge challenge for Elizabeth was her relationship with Spain and her former brother-in-law, Philip II. With the discovery of the new world and the age of exploration in full force, piracy was becoming more popular. In 1572, Sir Francis Drake decided to plunder Spanish ships in Central and South America. In 1577, Drake was introduced to Elizabeth and she unofficially encouraged his activities against the Spanish. In December 1577, Drake travelled around the world plundering Spanish ships; he returned to England in September 1580 as a national hero and in April 1581, he was knighted.

By 1588, Elizabeth and Philip were considered enemies. Philip had spoken of invading England and dethroning Elizabeth for years, but the execution of the Queen of Scots gave him an added incentive. In July 1587, Philip received a treaty from the pope that gave his approval on the conquest of England. Now he could claim the English throne for himself and dethrone Elizabeth to restore England to Catholicism. In 1587, Drake was able to lead a successful raid against Cadiz, which delayed the Spanish Armada from invading by a year. In the summer of 1588 he sent his mighty Armada fleet against England. But by superior tactics, ship design, and sheer good fortune, the English defeated them. This was one of Elizabeth’s biggest achievements and made Elizabeth extremely popular in England.

In Ireland, there was a revolt against the English, led by Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone. In spring 1599, Elizabeth sent Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, to put the revolt down. To her frustration,he made little progress, even though he begged to go there, and returned to England in defiance of her orders. He was replaced by Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy, who took three years to defeat the rebels. Essex thought that when he returned to England, he would be treated like a hero, but he was treated with contempt. This made Essex upset and in February 1601, the earl tried to raise a rebellion in London. He intended to seize the queen but few rallied to his support, and he was beheaded on February 25, 1601.

After Essex’s death, Elizabeth’s health began to deteriorate. She would die at the age on 69 on March 24, 1603 at Richmond Palace. Elizabeth was interred in Westminster Abbey, in a tomb shared with her half-sister, Mary I.

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_I_of_England#Mary,_Queen_of_Scots
http://www.elizabethi.org/contents/biography/
https://www.biography.com/people/queen-elizabeth-i-9286133
Ashley, Michael. A Brief History of British Kings & Queens. Philadelphia, PA: Running Press, 2008.