Elizabeth & Mary

(Elizabeth at the age of 13)

Mary took an interest in the well being of Elizabeth upon her return to court. Mary loved children and was asked to be a godmother to many through out her life. While Henry lavished attention on his son he neglected Elizabeth. The money needed to clothe and feed her and her household was lacking many a time and on some of these occasions Mary stepped in. She sent her gifts of cloth and pocket money. They spent the holidays together and Mary sent for Edward's minstrels to play for them. She wrote to Henry, "My sister Elizabeth is in good health and, thanks be to our Lord, such a child toward as I doubt not your highness shall have cause to rejoice of in time coming." Elizabeth also sent Mary gifts of hosiery or small pieces of jewelry. They rode together and played at cards and Mary taught Elizabeth how to play the lute and virginals. In the inventory books of Mary's jewelry there are her handwritten notes next to pieces that she gave to "my Lady Elizabeth's grace."

After Henry's death Elizabeth went to live with Dowager Queen Catherine and her new husband Lord Thomas Seymour at their house in Chelsea. It was supposed that Elizabeth, now joined by Lady Jane Grey, would continue her education under Catherine's tutelage as she had at court. Instead the household became notorious for the brazen flirting that Thomas Seymour inflicted on the fourteen year old Elizabeth. He stole kisses from her, hugged her and would wake her by coming into her bedroom and pretending he was going to leap on her. Her governess was shocked and worried for the girl's reputation. The end of these dangerous liaisons came when Catherine walked in to find Elizabeth in Seymour's arms. Elizabeth began to avoid Seymour and even if she felt attracted to him she made sure she was not caught alone with him again. Before Catherine Parr died in childbirth, Elizabeth was moved to the estate of Chestnut. After Catherine's death Seymour tried to arrange for himself a marriage with Mary or Elizabeth. Neither of them would contemplate such a match. The Seymour episode was damaging to Elizabeth and she was disgraced in her brother's eyes. Seymour was executed for treason, one of the charges being his plan to marry Elizabeth. Elizabeth worked hard to rebuild her reputation and became a model of virtue, being only interested in her education. She openly embraced the Protestant religion, and began dressing very simply in black and white with little jewelry. (Such a contrast to her later life as queen!).                                                                    

By Edward's death the sisters had not seen each other for five years. As Elizabeth entered adulthood she and Mary had less and less in common. Elizabeth considered Mary's love of display a symbol of the papists and Mary saw Elizabeth as a icon of the new religion. Mary, at first, was magnanimous on her accession and asked Elizabeth to ride with her into the capital. When they entered the city Mary did not realize that the cheering crowds were not just cheering her but also that Elizabeth was her heir. Elizabeth attended the coronation, riding in the coach with Anne of Cleves. For the first few weeks Mary flattered Elizabeth by letting her have place of honor at her side and holding her by the hand when they appeared in public together. Ultimately, though, Mary found it hard to trust the adult Elizabeth - a self confident young woman who carefully played the obedient sister.                   (Mary in her twenties by Holbein)

On word that Mary was to marry Philip of Spain there was fear that the identity of England would be submerged with that of Spain and the other countries that Philip ruled. There was also the fear that he would exploit England's resources for his own ends. Sir Thomas Wyatt, the son of the Tudor poet who had been in love with Anne Boleyn, was one of the ringleaders and wrote letters to Elizabeth. It is hard to know exactly what her role in the rebellion was but she certainly never put anything in writing. On March 18, 1554 Elizabeth was arrested and sent to the Tower on the charge of complicity in Wyatt's rebellion. She was imprisoned for two months. Wyatt was questioned but never admitted that Elizabeth played any part in the rebellion and when he was executed on April 11 he stated from the scaffold that Elizabeth was innocent. After all the investigations were concluded, Elizabeth was not put on trial for treason as no evidence could be found. Elizabeth wrote, with a diamond from her jewels, on the window, "much suspected of me, nothing proved can be, quote Elizabeth, prisoner." Some of Mary's council still argued for the execution of Elizabeth. If she remained alive she would always be a threat. But Elizabeth was very popular with the people and in that sense more of a threat dead than alive. Mary let her return to Woodstock but under house arrest. 

                  (Victorian vision of the entry into London of Mary & Elizabeth,1553)  

On the insistence of Philip, Elizabeth returned to Court in April 1555. He insisted Mary should treat her as an affectionate sister and as her heir. It was in his best interests that the next queen should be his ally. He did not want Mary Queen of Scots as the next heir, because, although Catholic, she was married to the French Dauphin and the French were the enemies of Spain.                           

Elizabeth had been going through the motions of a Catholic conversion and going to mass while at Court and not opposing Mary's policy. But Mary was suspicious and knew she was a secret Protestant It seemed too convenient how Elizabeth had stomach aches half way through mass and had to leave. Philip ordered Mary to give Elizabeth her jewels and other signs to show she accepted Elizabeth as heir. This was not a choice that Mary would have made on her own but by 1558 Mary was gravely ill and by November she had made her will and accepted Elizabeth as heir.   

Elizabeth learned two valuable lessons from Mary's reign. One was the great problems that the question of marriage could raise for a maiden queen. It was obvious that England looked unkindly to the rule of a foreign monarch, but even if she married within the land she would still be guided and directed by her husband, something that the independent Elizabeth abhorred. Second was how the opposing forces of the country would rally around the designated heir. Because of this Elizabeth refused to acknowledge her heir until the very end.     

Elizabeth was at Hatfield when the news of Mary's death reached her. A fitting place to end their relationship - at the site where it began.

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