Monday, March 24, 2014

The Death of Elizabeth I

On this day in Tudor history 1603, Elizabeth I, daughter of King Henry VIII and his infamous second wife Anne Boleyn, died at Richmond Palace. Elizabeth was sixty-nine years old and had been suffering from what Tudor expert David Starkey believes was severe depression. Elizabeth lost many of her closest advisers and friends over the course of three or four years and had fallen into a  "...settled and unremovable <sic> melancholy"* Elizabeth's 3rd cousin Robert Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon, visited Elizabeth in her last days and wrote of her condition saying:

"When I came to court, I found the Queen ill disposed and she kept her inner lodging; yet she, hearing of my arrival sent for me. I found her in of her withdrawing chambers sitting low upon her cushions. She called me to her, I kissed her hand, and told her it was by chiefest happiness to see her in safety and in health, which I wished might long continue. She took me by the hand, and wrung it hard and said, 'No Robin, I am not well,' and then discoursed with me of her indisposition, and that her heart had been sad and heavy for ten or twelve days and in her discourse, she fetched not so few as forty or fifty great sighs. I was grieved at the first to see her in this plight, for in all my lifetime before I never knew her fetch a sigh..."**

On the 23rd of March Elizabeth counselors gathered round her bedside to determine who she would name as her successor. Elizabeth's decision to never marry and thus produce a Tudor heir to the throne meant that at her death, the direct Tudor line died out. Elizabeth was so ill that she could not speak; her adviser, Robert Cecil, asked if she wanted James VI of Scotland to ascend the throne following her death. Elizabeth gestured with her hands to assert that it was her wish that Mary Queen of Scots' son would become the next king of England. James had the most legitimate claim to the throne (He was the grandson of Margaret Tudor) and had been communicating with both Elizabeth and Cecil in the year before her death. Elizabeth died early the next morning from an unknown cause of death. Historian GJ Meyer believes it would have been one of the following illnesses: pneumonia, streptococcus, organ failure or lead poisoning from her make-up.Elizabeth's body was prepared for burial and laid in state for several weeks. Her funeral would take place on April 28th at Westminster Abbey.
Portrait of the aging Elizabeth I by Marcus Gheeraerts c 1595
Sources: Elizabeth I by David Starkey, The Tudors: The Complete Story of England's Most Notorious Dynasty by GJ Meyer, The Life of Elizabeth I by Alison Weir.



  1. I thought she died of blood poisoning?

    1. It is possible, although an official cause of death has never been established.

  2. Cecil was still alive?

    1. Probably not the Cecil that you are thinking of; William Cecil (1st Baron Burghley) was Robert Cecil's father and both served as advisors to Elizabeth I.