Ten Surprises About Elizabeth Tudor

Since it is only a week until my “Elizabeth I” will be published, now is the time to tell you some things I discovered or confirmed while  writing the novel!

She was a virgin. In spite of endless wishful thinking and plays, novels, and movies to the contrary, there’s no evidence the Virgin Queen was anything but.  Had she not been what she publically claimed to be and based her image on, she would have had her power and authority and veracity stripped from her in an instant.

She was the last English monarch to be purely English. She was followed by the Scottish Stuarts, and then the German Hanoverians, and so on.  Even the present royal family had to change its name from Saxe-Cobur-Gotha to Windsor to sound less German in 1917.

She was a local monarch. She didn’t travel very far from London—she never got  as far north as York  and she never crossed over into Europe.

She didn’t hang out with Shakespeare or attend his plays at the Globe. It’s a lovely scene in “Shakespeare in Love”, but the queen did not attend the public theater.  Instead, the theater came to her.  Plays were presented at court.  She met Shakespeare and reputedly liked the character of Falstaff, but she didn’t pal around with him.

She knew she was getting old. She did keep mirrors in her rooms and wasn’t afraid to look in them.  The official portraits, though, were executed according to approved images.  They were not expected to be true likenesses, any more than the portrait of the present queen on money reflects her exact image.  Although it’s updated from time to time, it’s always younger than she is.

She admired her father and praised him often. Since he executed her mother, and ignored her for most of her life, you would expect her to hate him.  Why she didn’t is another mystery of her psychology.

She never tried to rehabilitate her mother’s reputation. Unlike King James, who quickly ordered his mother Mary Queen of Scots to be taken from her obscure grave in Peterborough and reburied in a magnificent tomb in Westminster Abbey, Elizabeth did nothing to comment, one way or the other, on Anne Boleyn and her innocence or lack of it.  She preferred to let sleeping dogs lie.

Elizabeth had hair. She wasn’t bald and she didn’t shave her head.  Her hair thinned and turned gray, but she still had a head of hair.

Elizabeth wasn’t religious. She seemed to have a spiritual sort of humility but one historian observed that when Elizabeth was most troubled, she turned to the classics rather than to the scriptures for consolation.

Elizabeth was the last Tudor. Not only did she have no children, but there were no surviving collateral cousins, legitimate or illegitimate.  She was truly the end of the line.

27 thoughts on “Ten Surprises About Elizabeth Tudor”

  1. It’s too bad she didn’t have any children, I rather like the idea of her having a successor with the Tudor genes. I guess it wasn’t meant to be though.

    Her loyalty to her father and apparent indifference toward her mother is surprising. You’d think there would have been a bit of resentment there. Perhaps she knew her mother well enough to know that maybe Henry did the right thing after all? 😉

  2. I think Elizabeth knew it was smart to leave her mother buried. Her mother’s legacy was on full of hate from the court and the common people. Elizabeth was shrewd. Whatever, her personal thoughts on a mother she probably could barely remember were her own, and I think politicaly it was smart for her to let it go.

    I have always wondered how we can ever truly prove or disprove this woman’s virgin status. In the end, I believe only she and God know. I always thought that if she was not it was because of early issues with Thomas Seymour not Dudley. I think she was to smart to trap herself with Dudley not matter how much she loved him,

  3. First book of yours I have read and really enjoyed it. Looking forward to reading the autobiography of Henry the 8th. Just wondering where you got your idea to create a relationship between Lettice and Shakespeare. Also, I’m fairly certain that the cousins get together at Hever did not take place, but you certainly do make it seem real enough.

    I live in Atlanta now although we spent five years in London ( Richmond upon Thames) where I developed my interest in all things Tudor. My two youngest spent their first years of school at The Vineyard school in Richmond and for all intents and purposes were two little English kids, accent and all.

    Please let me know if you plan to book sign or lecture in the Atlanta area.

    Good luck to you.

    Steven Rosen

  4. Elizabeth I was a wonderful book! So full of rich detail and descriptions. As a historian and fan of Tudor England, I was so pleased by this work. Truly magnificent.
    Thank you for writing it!

  5. Thanks so much, Karen. I’m glad the book lived up to your standards and expectations. A writer can’t ask for more!

  6. I just figured out how to reply on here—! Thanks for the note, and I am glad you enjoyed ELIZABETH I.

    Certainly I will let you know if I come to Atlanta. Actually I’ve never been there and would be most interested in seeing it, and meeting readers.

    I visited Richmond a couple of years ago, taking the boat from Hampton Court. It was delightful. And the old palace where Elizabeth died, even if only the gatehouse and a couple of buildings were left, was very meaningful. It must have been hard for you to leave!

    In answer to your questions:
    1. I was thinking about Shakespeare’s sonnets and the Dark Lady and all of a sudden I thought, Oh! The description fits Lettice so perfectly! Could it be—could it have been—? And once that idea had come to me, it wouldn’t go away. So that’s why I used it. Of course, it’s only my idea, not a proven historical fact.

    2. Ditto for the reunion scene in Hever Castle. I thought that Elizabeth would have been drawn back there as she got older and wanted to feel closer to her mother, and I also thought that it would be meaningful to her if she could bury the hatchet with Lettice. No one knows if she did ever reconcile with her; it isn’t in the history books. So again, that was the ‘fiction’ part of the historical novel.

    Since this was a novel focusing on Elizabeth’s later life, I know that as people get older they want to settle questions and relationships that they were content to leave hanging when they were younger. So it seemed psychologically true, at least.

  7. Thank you for a really wonderful read, one of the best I’ve read about Elizabeth.
    I am wondering though, why you left out Thomas Seymour, and Catherine Parr? I would think that that time in Elizabeth’s life, when a teenager, had a large impact on who she became as a woman

  8. Thanks, Midge. I’m glad you enjoyed the book so much. I had to leave out Thomas Seymour and Catherine Parr simply because of the vast cast of characters I had to assemble. The episode took place 40 years before the time the book opened. Since Dudley died so promptly almost as soon as the book started, and I had to do a lot of flashbacks for him, I didn’t have room for more. But I agree, the episode must have influenced her, and losing the the faith and trust of Catherine Parr, who had functioned as a surrogate mother to her, must have been crushing. First she lost her real mother, then her ‘new’ mother.

  9. Midge, thanks for those kind words about ELIZABETH. The reason I left out Thomas Seymour and Catherine Parr was because the episode happened 40 years before the book opened. I had such a vast cast of characters I had to incorporate I couldn’t include them. SInce Dudley died so promptly after the book began, I had to use up my flashback quota on him. I do agree, the episode must have greatly influenced her. I think the loss of her ‘second mother’ must have been crushing, as she loved Catherine and never meant to hurt her in any way. Seymour was a real user—of both of them.

  10. truly loved Elizabeth 1 , you made it feel like I was transported back in time !! I really liked how you started the story midway through her life! have read all your other books and loved them just as much cant wait to read your next project in the future.

  11. I have read all your books – they are truly wonderful – as a fan of English history, the Tudor period has always been a favorite. I have just finished “listening” to Elizabeth I on audio for my drive to and from work (this after having listened to Mary Queen of Scots). Cleopatra has just been purchased and I look forward to listening to it (having read the book previously) – I actually enjoy my commute! Thank you for sharing your passion and talent with the rest of us.

  12. Hi Margaret. I just finished Elizabeth I and I was sorry it had to end. It was so beautifully done, giving the reader the sense of living in that period. Having visited the tomb of Elizabeth in Westminster Abbey recently I was thrilled to learn so much more about her and the historical figures that shaped 16th century England. Now I am eagerly looking forward to reading all of your books and I am delighted to recommend them to my daughter who just graduated from Tufts Univ. in 2009! Thank you for sharing your insights, imagination and love for British history with your readers.

  13. First a correction. the Windsor family name before 1917 was Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, which was the family of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband. It was only used by King Edward VII during his entire reign and King George V from 1910-1917. As far as Elizabeth’s attitude toward her mother, although she did not make an effort to rehabilitate Anne, she made a decided effort to favor and promote her maternal relatives. The children and grandchildren of Mary Boleyn as well as cousins such as Lord Howard of Effingham were given preferments beyond what otherwise might have been expected. Perhaps this was one way she found to honor her mother’s memory without making a political statement.

  14. Thanks for the correction, Beth, re the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha surname. As for Anne Boleyn, perhaps what I should have said (and do show in the book) was that, as you said, she went out of her way to show kindness and preference for her mother’s family, perhaps on the grounds that actions speak for themselves. She also had that ring made (that’s now in the Victoria and Albert Museum) that has both her and her mother’s images on it, and presumably she wore it. But politically perhaps she felt it was too hot a potato, especially since she (Elizabeth) had never been officially declared legitimate (after she had been bastardized) by Parliament, only put back in the succession. Trying to officially rehabilitate Anne Boleyn might have raked all that up again.

  15. Thanks, Pattie. (Did you know I also graduated from Tufts?) Westminster Abbey is fascinating, my only complaint is that it’s so crowded and it’s hard to examine all the wealth of material in there. Many years ago I went there at night in January—it was cold and drippy but atmospheric. I often use that image when I’m writing about Westminster Abbey—it really made an impression on me. I don’t know if they still have those evening hours in the winter.

  16. I have loved all your books, starting with Mary, Queen of Scots. I was not aware you had a new one out until I happened into Borders. There was no question, I bought it.

    It does not surprise me that Elizabeth did not vindicate her mother. To do that, she would have had to admit that her father was wrong. She could not do that without admitting publicly that Kings and Queens make mistakes. That would have undermined her standing with her people (no matter what she would have admitted privately to herself). As a woman, she had a hard enough time without herself casting doubt on her reign. Also, given that she adored her father, it would have been harder still.

    I am wondering if there was a fear of her passing along a deformity (didn’t her mother have six fingers on one hand) contribute to her desire not to be a mother. If she birthed a deformed child, would that have cast doubt on her reign as well? Was she aware of the deformity? How would it have been accepted, or not, whether it may have been accompanied by a mental disorder as well?

  17. These are very good thoughts, Linda. I think you are right on all counts. One of the odd things (well, one of many) about Elizabeth is how she adored her father. I always say that she managed to separate Henry the man and father from Henry the king, and certainly he was her model for what a king/ruler should be. She didn’t want to ever say he was wrong, particularly politically. Unlike her older sister Mary, she was too young when her mother died to be bitter about it. And her own decision as not to vindicate her mother was political as well. No good could come of it. A modern psychologist might say it would give her ‘closure’ and ‘self respect’ but she was a sixteenth century monarch, and a female one at that, and would never put her personal emotions above her political survival. It was a luxury she couldn’t afford.
    The sixth finger theory as to why Elizabeth didn’t have children is an intriguing one and one I’ve never heard. (Anne Boleyn was supposed to have six fingers on one hand.) That was one of the reasons people whispered that she was a witch. So, although Elizabeth apparently didn’t inherit it (she did have long and slender fingers) if she had a child with the condition, who knows what people would have said? Another chance she would not have wanted to take.

  18. Anne Boleyn did not have a sixth finger on one hand . First of all,Henry wouldn’t have married or even falled in love with a woman with a sixth finger,which was considered as a sign of Witchcraft .
    The Sixth finger myth came after Anne’s Death,during Elizabeth’s time,with Nicholas Sanders,a Catholic who wanted to discredit Anne Boleyn . However,the examination of Anne’s Skeleton (The Church of St Peter Ad Vincula was being restored) during the Victorian era said that there was some kind of imperfection on one of her fingers,giving her a kind of little extra-nail . The myth that Anne gave birth to a deformed foetus is also a latter invention .

  19. Interesting comment, Yann. I would be interested in your source of what they actually found when they did the restoration of St. Peter ad Vincula. I know they found many things they weren’t expecting (including that some graves weren’t where they were supposed to be.) I’ve never read the report itself and am curious. There were indeed many false ‘facts’ put out about Anne by her enemies to discredit her, just like the tabloid stuff today for public figures.

  20. Thanks Margaret 🙂
    In fact,i read that on a great website which is devoted to Anne Boleyn . Here is the article about Anne Boleyn’s remains with the contemporary descriptions of what was found :
    There is also another article that talks about whether or not the alleged Skeleton of Anne was actually hers : http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/anne-boleyn%e2%80%99s-body-found/6444/
    I hope it will feed your curiosity 🙂

  21. Many thanks. This is fascinating. When I was there last year I tried to find out where Christopher Blount’s body would have been. (Lettice Knollys’ husband, executed for the Essex rebellion.) He was beheaded on Tower Hill but his body was buried–probably—outside the church. He wasn’t important enough to rate burial inside, although the body was still the state’s. Apparently there are lots of unidentified bodies and bones of the lesser people lying around the grounds. I wish I could find out more particulars. I took an illegal photo of the interior of the church. Why it isn’t allowed is beyond me. How can I write about it if I don’t have an image to refer back to when I’m writing?

  22. I have always enjoyed the Tudor period of English history, especially with Elizabeth the 1st. I’ve had a few debates with friends and other history buffs regarding Elizabeth not having any children. I think she knew she couldn’t have children and avoided marriage because there would be no heir. She, above all, was most interested in England and her people and given her history with her father and the rift his wish for a male heir caused England, I think Elizabeth knew that a husband without the ability to produce an heir would be fatal to her rule. I’ve read something about this with a conversation she had with someone (unfortunatly I’ve forgottet who, perhaps her confessor) where she hinted she was not able to have a child. How do you view this issue?

  23. We will of course never know. There were so many reasons, psychological and political and perhaps physical as well, that would influence whether she wanted to have, or couldn’t have, children. Probably as much as her father’s example, what happened to her sister Mary was a dire warning of the dangers of marrying for love and hoping for an heir. The man might callously use her to get the throne, she doesn’t have an heir, and he inherits—or just as bad, she does have an heir but that child is the inheritor of both his kingdom and hers, and hers gets annexed to that larger one. It was a lose/lose situation, at least from her viewpoint.

    I’ve read historians who say that although Elizabeth was fond of her godchildren, there’s no record of her ever saying anything about longing for a child or wishing she’d had one.

  24. Margaret,
    I am currently reading Elizabeth and enjoying it as I have all of your books except Mary Queen of Scotts. But then I don’t have any respect for Mary and I think it is more for that reason then a reflection on your work.
    I do wonder why you chose to begin the story of Elizabeth so late into her life.
    I loved Cleopatra and have gifted the book to several friends. Please continue to write.

  25. Thanks, Jan, for your comments. I hope you’ll continue to like the book as you go along. And re Mary Queen of Scots, it’s hard to like a book if you don’t respect/like the characters. I’ve never understood biographers who spend years in the ‘company’ of people they hate! As to why I started the book so late in her life, I was curious about that part of it. The opening of her life has been so examined and analyzed but it seemed to me that the ending needed a closer look. Also, speaking practically, if I had tried to do her entire life the book would have been absurdly (and unpublish-ly) long. Cleopatra was enough of a challenge in that way and I was delighted it came in (just barely) in under 1000 pages but Elizabeth outlived her by thirty years so there’s even more material! I’m glad you like Cleopatra so much.

  26. James l who she left the crown too was her cousin, so your last statement is false. James l was the great-grandson of Margaret, Henry Vlll’s sister, so he was her 3rd cousin. Which is why he had a claim to the throne to begin with, along with her other cousin Arabella Stuart.

Comments are closed.