Princesses, Bastards, Sisters

Mary & Elizabeth from The Family of Henry VIII at Hampton Court

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.”

Mary by Master John 1544
Elizabeth by William Scrots ca. 1546

After Henry’s death Elizabeth went to live with Dowager Queen Katherine 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 Katherine’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 Katherine 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 Katherine Parr died in childbirth, Elizabeth was moved to the estate of Chestnut. After Katherine’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. A coldness developed between the sisters and Mary kept quiet on her own thoughts in the matter.

Thomas Seymour was executed for treason; one of the charges being his plan to marry Elizabeth. When informed of his death Elizabeth said, “On this day died a man of much wit and very little judgement.”

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. After Henry’s death she and Mary were two of the wealthiest landowners in England and she spent most of her time at Hatfield House.

During Edward’s reign Elizabeth did not play a part in politics. When she did attend court she was treated with respect and Edward enjoyed her company. She tried to see Edward in February of 1553 but the king was ill and plans were already underway to remove her and Mary from the succession.                                                 

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Elizabeth: Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey. Elizabeth’s life from birth to her accession.