Great explorers discovered new lands such as Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir John Hawkins, Sir Humphrey Gilbert and Sir Richard Greenville. It was the Golden Age of England. Queen Elizabeth had lived a long life but her health was declining.
Events leading to the Death of Queen Elizabeth I
The major event leading up to the death of Queen Elizabeth I was undoubtedly the death of Robert Devereux (1566-1601), Earl of Essex who was executed on Tower Green on 25th February 1601. She missed Essex and the was slowly losing the interest, and the firm grip, she had always had on the running of the country. She was alone. The men she had loved and who had shared her life had nearly all gone. She depended on Robert Cecil, whose father William, had served her so well in her Golden Years. Elizabeth was slow in naming her successor but it was evident that she meant for James VI of Scotland, son of Mary queen of Scots, to succeed her. The Courtiers were waiting for her death.
The Death of Queen Elizabeth I approaches
In March 1603 Queen Elizabeth was clearly unwell and seemed depressed. She retired to one of her favourite homes - Richmond Palace. Stubborn as ever she refused to allow her doctors to examine her. She also refused to rest in bed - she stood for hours on end, occasionally just sitting in a chair. Her condition became worse and her ladies-in-waiting spread cushions across the floor. Queen Elizabeth eventually lay down on the cushions. She lay on the floor for nearly four days - mostly in complete silence. She eventually grew so weak that when her servants insisted on making her more comfortable in her bed she was unable to argue with them. The end was clearly near for the great old Queen. Her Councillors gathered around her. Soft music was played to soothe her. She had still not named James as her successor but she made a sign to Robert Cecil and it was interpreted that this was her wish.
Queen Elizabeth I dies
It was obvious that the Queen was about to die and old Archbishop Whitgift was called to her bedside to offer prayers. She was tended by her ladies-in-waiting and fell into a deep sleep. She never woke up. When her death finally came on 24 March 1603 it was described as 'mildly like a lamb, easily like a ripe apple from the tree'. The throne of England passed to the Protestant King James VI of Scotland who became King James I of England. The day of her death was a Thursday, the same as for her father and half-sister.
The Proclamation of the Death of Queen Elizabeth I
A proclamation of the Queen's death was written and preparations for the funeral began. The proclamation of Elizabeth's death and the succession of King James was written to impart the news to the people. Robert Cecil read the proclamation himself first at Whitehall and then at St Pauls. It was greeted with stunned disbelief. Most of the population of England had known no other monarch than Elizabeth.
Queen Elizabeth I - The Cause of Death
The cause of the death of Queen Elizabeth was not confirmed as there was no post mortem. She was generally believed to have died of blood poisoning possibly caused by the application of the white make-up called ceruse - a mixture of white lead and vinegar, which was poisonous. Other possibilities are cancer or quite simply old age. The body of Queen Elizabeth I was embalmed and laid in state in a lead coffin at Whitehall. The coffin was then taken to Westminster where it stayed until the funeral
The Funeral of Queen Elizabeth I - 28 April 1603
The new King James was welcomed by the people of England. He was a Protestant, married and already had an heir. His popularity did not last and perhaps a sign of things to come was indicated by the funeral arrangements which he approved. The people showed the dead Queen the greatest respect and the funeral procession consisted of over 1000 mourners. This number was swelled by the many Londoners who watched the procession. The coffin was draped in purple velvet, befitting a Queen of England. The coffin was drawn by four horses which were draped in a black livery. The coffin was covered by a large canopy which was held by six Knights of the Realm. On top of the coffin lay an effigy of Queen Elizabeth, dressed in the finest of clothes. The effigy was so life-like it made the people of London gasp. The chief mourners were all dressed in black - the materials varied according to their rank. The long procession of mourners wound its way to Westminster Abbey. The great Queen Elizabeth I was to be laid to rest next to her half-sister. The sister who had always disliked Elizabeth and who had imprisoned her in the Tower of London - the Catholic Bloody Mary. The tomb inscription reads in translation:
"Consorts both in throne and grave, here we rest two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary,
in hope of our resurrection."
So the Great Queen Elizabeth I of England was finally laid to rest - one can imagine what she would have said if she had known that she would share her resting place with Mary I for all eternity!