On February 11, 1466, Elizabeth of York was born to King Edward IV and his wife, Elizabeth Woodville, at the Palace of Westminster. Thirty-seven years later, Elizabeth would die in the residence of the Tower of London as the consort of King Henry VII. Within that time span, she would be the daughter, sister, niece and wife of four English kings, while six years after her death, she would become the mother of one when Henry VIII ascended the throne.
Today, on January 15, in 1559, Elizabeth I was crowned queen of England at Westminster Abbey in London. To commemorate the event, History Today has re-published an article from A.L. Rowse first released in May 1953 in honor of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. It’s worth a read.
The coronation of Elizabeth I, at the age of 25, was pivotal in the history of England. Not only was her reign one of the country’s most successful, but it also oversaw the segue of England from the uncertain days of the early Reformation to the religious sentiment that the Stuarts oversaw in the 17th century. Coming on the heels of the reign of her half-sister, Mary I, which had made martyrs of an estimated 300 Protestants and brought England back into the fold of the Catholic Church, religious sensitivity was at an all-time high and those of the Reformed faith were eager to do away with Catholicism altogether.
But Elizabeth’s crowning was also a personal victory, which could easily have gone sideways any number of times, from when she was declared illegitimate by her father at the age of two-and-a-half to when Mary I imprisoned her in the Tower of London for her supposed participation in Wyatt’s Rebellion of 1554. At various points in her formative years, it seemed that Elizabeth had everything working against her – her mother, Anne Boleyn, had been publicly hated, divorced and executed; she spent several years labeled the bastard daughter of Henry VIII; and even when she was included back into the line of succession, she came after her younger brother, the future Edward VI, and Mary I, both of whom it could be reasonably expected would marry and produce heirs.
On this day, January 7, in 1536, Katherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII, died at Kimbolton Castle in Cambridgeshire. Her body was buried in the nearby Peterborough Castle with all the honors accorded to a Dowager Princess of Wales, as the widow of long-dead Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, and, markedly, not as a queen consort.
In the last days of December 1535, Katherine wrote her will and one last letter to Henry VIII that read:
My most dear lord, king and husband,
The hour of my death now drawing on, the tender love I owe you forceth me, my case being such, to commend myself to you, and to put you in remembrance with a few words of the health and safeguard of your soul which you ought to prefer before all worldly matters, and before the care and pampering of your body, for the which you have cast me into many calamities and yourself into many troubles. For my part, I pardon you everything, and I wish to devoutly pray God that He will pardon you also. For the rest, I commend unto you our daughter Mary, beseeching you to be a good father unto her, as I have heretofore desired. I entreat you also, on behalf of my maids, to give them marriage portions, which is not much, they being but three. For all my other servants I solicit the wages due them, and a year more, lest they be unprovided for. Lastly, I make this vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things.
Katharine the Quene.
News of her death reached Henry VIII and the royal court the next day. According to certain chroniclers, Henry and his second wife donned yellow, which was viewed by some as a disrespectful sign of celebration, and by others as a respectful nod to yellow as a traditional color of mourning. Regardless, on the day of Katherine’s funeral, Anne suffered a miscarriage and four months later she would be arrested, charged with treason, divorced and beheaded on Tower Hill.