On the 24th March of 1603, Queen Elizabeth I, the daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, died at Richmond Palace. She ruled England for almost forty five years.
Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the second queen regnant in England, one of England’s most well-known monarchs, and the greatest ruler of the Renaissance era. She was never married and didn’t have children, becoming the last Tudor monarch, who was succeeded by James I of England and VI of Scotland.
The final years of Elizabeth’s life were filled with melancholy as she mourned for her deceased loyal friends and devout supporters, including William Cecil, Baron Burghley, who passed away in 1598. In 1601, Elizabeth ordered the execution of her former favorite – Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, and his death brought more sorrow into her life.
It seems that the queen regretted Essex’s execution, grieving for him and sometimes sitting in dark chambers; maybe she was grieving not only over the death of Essex, but also over her own fading life and the depths of the people whom she loved and who predeceased her.
By the 1601-1602, Elizabeth’s health was deteriorating, and her subjects didn’t anticipate her to live much longer.
On the 30th of November 1601, the queen made her last appearance before the Parliament and spoke her famous speech that was considered the passing of an era. She said:
“There will never queen sit in my seat with more zeal to my country, care to my subjects, and that will soon with willingness venture her life for your good and safety, than myself. For it is not my desire to live nor reign longer than my life and reign shall be for your good. And though you have had and may have many princes more mighty and wise sitting in this seat, yet you never had or shall have any that will be more careful and loving.”
In March 1603, Elizabeth retired to her favorite residence of Richmond Palace, probably wishing to die there. She was almost seventy years old; she was very old by the standards of the time. She was in a state of deep and unwavering melancholy, and her health was failing her.
In the days preceding her death, Queen Elizabeth spent time in her chambers, propped upon luxurious cushions. She declared that she was feeling unwell, but refused to fetch a royal physician. The courtiers were becoming exceedingly worried about their queen.
Robert Cecil, the son of William Cecil and Elizabeth’s principal advisor after his father’s death, paid a visit to the queen. According to contemporaries, he said,“Your Majesty, for the sake of the people, you must go to bed.” Elizabeth didn’t reply due to her unwillingness to talk or due to her exhaustion. Soon John Whitgift, the Archbishop of Canterbury, came to the queen’s chambers and asked her to retire to bed, but she didn’t respond.
It must have been a profoundly heartbreaking picture for those who could see Queen Elizabeth I in her last hours: she was like a fading flower whose stem was not bruised but almost destroyed. Finally, she was persuaded to rest on her cushions on the floor. For two days, she didn’t speak to nobody. Throughout the next few days, Elizabeth continued to rest in silence. Her attendants were terrified and begged her to permit them to move her to her chambers, but she refused.
Obviously, the queen’s days were numbered, and the royal counselors were worried about the successor. When they assembled near her, she made a sign when Robert Cecil mentioned James, the King of Scotland, which was enough to start the necessary paperwork.
At last, Elizabeth fell into a deep sleep, and died in the early hours of the 24 of March 1603. For a short time, the courtiers watched and waited, guessing whether she was still alive. It was Archbishop Whitgift who came to the royal chambers to pray and noticed that the queen’s breathing had stopped. Such were the last hours of the last Tudor monarch, whose death marked the end of the Elizabethan era and the Golden Age.
John Manningham, a lawyer and diarist, wrote about the queen’s death:
“This morning, about three o’clock her Majesty departed from this life, mildly like a lamb, easily like a ripe apple from a tree… Dr Parry told me he was present, and sent his prayers before her soul; and I doubt not but she is amongst the royal saints in heaven in eternal joys.”
Due to the lack of medical knowledge in Tudor England, Queen Elizabeth’s physicians might have had no understanding why she was dying. Historians actively debate over the reasons of Elizabeth’s death.
A popular belief of Elizabeth’s contemporaries was that she became ill and died due to blood poisoning. Elizabeth was fond of make-up, and she used the white lead and vinegar mixture, which might have been toxic and dangerous for life if continually applied to the skin. She could have died of bronchial infection that turned into pneumonia or of the failure of some vital organ.
When Elizabeth’s death was announced, the people of England fell into mourning for their queen. The coffin with queen’s body was delivered from Richmond to Whitehall. On the 28th of April, her coffin was carried to Westminster Abbey; her funeral was grand and magnificent.
She was put to rest in the vault of her grandfather, King Henry VII; later, in 1606, her remains were moved to her present resting place, a tomb in the Lady Chapel of Westminster Abbey, which she shares with Queen Mary I.