Queen Elizabeth - Jacob Abbott

Elizabeth in the Tower

The imprisonment of Queen Elizabeth in the Tower, which was briefly alluded to in the last chapter, deserves a more full narration than was possible to give to it there. She had retired from court some time before the difficulties about the Spanish match arose. It is true that she took sides with Mary in the contest with Northumberland and the friends of Jane Grey, and she shared her royal sister's triumph in the pomp and parade of the coronation; but, after all, she and Mary could not possibly be very good friends. The marriages of their respective mothers could not both have been valid. Henry the Eighth was so impatient that he could not wait for a divorce from Catharine before he married Anne Boleyn. The only way to make the latter marriage legal, therefore, was to consider the former one null and void from the beginning, and if the former one was not thus null and void, the latter must be so. If Henry had waited for a divorce, then both marriages might have been valid, each for the time of its own continuance, and both the princesses might have been lawful heirs; but as it was, neither of them could maintain her own claims to be considered a lawful daughter, without denying, by implication at least, those of the other. They were therefore, as it were, natural enemies. Though they might be outwardly civil to each other, it was not possible that there could be any true harmony or friendship between them.

A circumstance occurred, too, soon after Mary's accession to the throne, which resulted in openly alienating the feelings of the two ladies from each other. There was a certain prisoner in the Tower of London, a gentleman of high rank and great consideration, named Courteney, now about twenty-six years of age, who had been imprisoned in the Tower by King Henry the Eighth when he was only twelve years old, on account of some political offenses of his father! He had thus been a close prisoner for fourteen years at Mary's accession; but Mary released him. It was found, when he returned to society again, that he had employed his solitary hours in cultivating his mind, acquiring knowledge, and availing himself of all the opportunities for improvement which his situation afforded, and that he came forth an intelligent, accomplished, and very agreeable man. The interest which his appearance and manners excited was increased by the sympathy naturally felt for the sufferings that he had endured. In a word, he became a general favorite. The rank of his family was high enough for Mary to think of him for her husband, for this was before the Spanish match was thought of. Mary granted him a title, and large estates, and showed him many other favors, and, as every body supposed, tried very hard to make an impression on his heart. Her efforts were, however, vain. Courteney gave an obvious preference to Elizabeth, who was young then, at least, if not beautiful. This successful rivalry on the part of her sister filled the queen's heart with resentment and envy, and she exhibited her chagrin by so many little marks of neglect and incivility, that Elizabeth's resentment was roused in its turn, and she asked permission to retire from court to her residence in the country. Mary readily gave the permission, and thus it happened that when Wyatt's rebellion first broke out, as described in the last chapter, Elizabeth was living in retirement and seclusion at Ashridge, an estate of hers at some distance west of London. As to Courteney, Mary found some pretext or other for sending him back again to his prison in the Tower.

Mary was immediately afraid that the malcontents would join with Elizabeth and attempt to put forward her name and her claims to the crown, which, if they were to do, it would make their movement very formidable. She was impressed immediately with the idea that it was of great importance to get Elizabeth back again into her power. The most probable way of succeeding in doing this, she thought, was to write her a kind and friendly letter, inviting her to return. She accordingly wrote such a letter. She said in it that certain evil-disposed persons were plotting some disturbances in the kingdom, and that she thought that Elizabeth was not safe where she was. She urged her, therefore, to return, saying that she should be truly welcome, and should be protected against all danger if she would come.

An invitation from a queen is a command, and Elizabeth would have felt bound to obey this summons, but she was sick when it came. At least she was not well, and she was not mach disposed to underrate her sickness for the sake of being able to travel on this occasion. The officers of her household made out a formal certificate to the effect that Elizabeth was not able to undertake such a journey.

In the mean time Wyatt's rebellion broke out; he marched to London, was entrapped there and taken prisoner, as is related at length in the last chapter. In his confessions he implicated the Princess Elizabeth, and also Courteney, and Mary's government then determined that they must secure Elizabeth's person at all events, sick or well. They sent, therefore, three gentlemen as commissioners, with a troop of horse to attend them, to bring her to London. They carried the queen's litter with them, to bring the princess upon it in case she should be found unable to travel in any other way.

The party arrived at Ashridge at ten o'clock at night. They insisted on being admitted at once into the chamber of Elizabeth, and there they made known their errand. Elizabeth was terrified; she begged not to be moved, as she was really too sick to go. They called in some physicians, who certified that she could be moved without danger to her life. The next morning they put her upon the litter, a sort of covered bed, formed like a palanquin, and borne, like a palanquin, by men. It was twenty-nine miles to London, and it took the party four days to reach the city, they moved so slowly. This circumstance is mentioned sometimes as showing how sick Elizabeth must have been. But the fact is, there was no reason whatever for any haste. Elizabeth was now completely in Mary's power, and it could make no possible difference how long she was upon the road.

The litter passed along the roads in great state. It was a princess that they were bearing. As they approached London, a hundred men in handsome uniforms went before, and an equal number followed. A great many people came out from the city to meet the princess, as a token of respect. This displeased Mary, but it could not well be prevented or punished. On their arrival they took Elizabeth to one of the palaces at Westminster, called Whitehall. She was examined by Mary's privy council. Nothing was proved against her, and, as the rebellion seemed now wholly at an end, she was at length released, and thus ended her first durance as a political prisoner.

It happened, however, that other persons implicated in Wyatt's plot, when examined, made charges against Elizabeth in respect to it, and Queen Mary sent another force and arrested her again. She was taken now to a famous royal palace, called Hampton Court, which situated is on the Thames, a few miles above the city. She brought many of the officers of her household and of her personal attendants with her; but one of the queen's ministers, accompanied by two other officers, came soon after and dismissed all her own attendants, and placed persons in the service of the queen in their place. They also set a guard around the palace, and then left the princess, for the night, a close prisoner, and yet without any visible signs of coercion, for all these guards might be guards of honor.

The next day some officers came again, and told her that it had been decided to send her to the Tower, and that a barge was ready at the river to convey her. She was very much agitated and alarmed, and begged to be allowed to send a letter to her sister before they took her away. One of the officers insisted that she should have the privilege, and the other that she should not. The former conquered in the contest, and Elizabeth wrote the letter and sent it. It contained an earnest and solemn disavowal of all participation in the plots which she had been charged with encouraging, and begged Mary to believe that she was innocent, and allow her to be released.

The letter did no good. Elizabeth was taken into the barge and conveyed in a very private manner down the river. Hampton Court is above London, several miles, and the Tower is just below the city. There are several entrances to this vast castle, some of them by stairs from the river. Among these is one by which prisoners accused of great political crimes were usually taken in, and which is called the Traitors' Gate. There was another entrance, also, from the river, by which a more honorable admission to the fortress might be attained. The Tower was not solely a prison. It was often a place of retreat for kings and queens from any sudden danger, and was frequently occupied by them as a somewhat permanent residence. There were a great number of structures within the walls, in some of which royal apartments were fitted up with great splendor. Elizabeth had often been in the Tower as a resident or a visitor, and thus far there was nothing in the circumstances of the case to forbid the supposition that they might be taking her there as a guest or resident now. She was anxious and uneasy, it is true, but she was not certain that she was regarded as a prisoner.

In the mean time, the barge, with the other boats in attendance, passed down the river in the rain, for it was a stormy day, a circumstance which aided the authorities in their effort to convey their captive to her gloomy prison without attracting the attention of the populace. Besides, it was the day of some great religious festival, when the people were generally in the churches. This day had been chosen on that very account. The barge and the boats came down the river, therefore, without attracting much attention; they approached landing-place at last, and stopped at the flight of steps leading up from the water to the Traitors' Gate.

Elizabeth declared that she was no traitor and that she would not be landed there. The nobleman who had charge of her told her simply, in reply, that she could not have her choice of a place to land. At the same time, he offered her his cloak to protect her from the rain in passing from the barge to the castle gate. Umbrellas had not been invented in those days. Elizabeth threw the cloak away from her in vexation and anger. She found, however, that it was of no use to resist. She could not choose. She stepped from the barge out upon the stairs in the rain, saying, as she did so, "Here lands as true and faithful a subject as ever landed a prisoner at these stairs. Before thee, O God, I speak it, having now no friends but thee alone."

A large company of the warders and keepers of the castle had been drawn up at the Traitors' Gate to receive her, as was customary on occasions when prisoners of high rank were to enter the tower. As these men were always dressed in uniform of a peculiar antique character, such a parade of them made quite an imposing appearance. Elizabeth asked what it meant. They told her that that was the customary mode of receiving a prisoner. She said that if it was, she hoped that they would dispense with the ceremony in her case, and asked that, for her sake, the men might be dismissed from such attendance in so inclement a season. The men blessed her for her goodness, and kneeled down and prayed that God would preserve her.

She was extremely unwilling to go into the prison. As they approached the part of the edifice where she was to be confined, through the court-yard of the Tower, she stopped and sat down upon a stone, perhaps a step, or the curb stone of a walk. The lieutenant urged her to go in out of the cold and wet. "Better sitting here than in a worse place," she replied, "for God knoweth whither you are bringing me." However, she rose and went on. She entered the prison, was conducted to her room, and the doors were looked and bolted upon her.

Elizabeth was kept closely imprisoned for a month; after that, some little relaxation in the strictness of her seclusion was allowed. Permission was very reluctantly granted to her to walk every day in the royal apartments, which were now unoccupied, so that there was no society to be found there, but it afforded her a sort of pleasure to range through them for recreation and exercise. But this privilege could not be accorded without very strict limitations and conditions. Two officers of the Tower and three women had to attend her; the windows too, were shut, and she was not permitted to go and look out at them. This was rather melancholy recreation, it must be allowed, but was better than being shut up all day in a single apartment, bolted and barred.

Queen Elizabeth I


There was a small garden within the castle not far from the prison, and after some time Elizabeth was permitted to walk there. The gates and doors, however, were kept carefully closed, and all the prisoners, whose rooms looked into it from the surrounding buildings, were closely watched by their respective keepers, while Elizabeth was in the garden, to prevent their having any communication with her by looks or signs. There were a great many persons confined at this time, who had been arrested on charges connected with Wyatt's rebellion, and the authorities seem to have been very specially vigilant to prevent the possibility of Elizabeth's having communication with any of them. There was a little child of five years of age who used to come and visit Elizabeth in her room, and bring her flowers. He was the son of one of the subordinate officers of the Tower. It was, however, at last suspected that he was acting as a messenger between Elizabeth and Courteney. Courteney, it will be recollected, had been sent by Mary back to the Tower again, so that he and Elizabeth were now suffering the same hard fate in neighboring cells. When the boy was suspected of bearing communications between these friends and companions in suffering, he was called before an officer and closely examined. His answers were all open and childlike, and gave no confirmation to the idea which had been entertained. The child, however, was forbidden to go to Elizabeth's apartment any more. He was very much grieved at this, and he watched for the next time that Elizabeth was to walk in the garden, and putting his mouth to a hole in the gate, he called out, "Lady, I can not bring you any more flowers."

After Elizabeth had been thus confined about three months, she was one day terribly alarmed by the sounds of martial parade within the Tower, produced by the entrance of an officer from queen Mary, named Sir Thomas Beddingfield, at the head of three hundred men. Elizabeth supposed that they were come to execute sentence of death upon her. She asked immediately if the platform on which Lady Jane Grey was beheaded had been taken away. They told her that it had been removed. She was then somewhat relieved. They afterward told her that Sir Thomas had come to take her away from the Tower, but that it was not known where she was to go. This alarmed her again, and she sent for the constable of the Tower, whose name was Lord Chandos, and questioned him very closely to learn what they were going to do with her. He said that it had been decided to remove her from the Tower, and send her to a plane called Woodstock, where she was to remain under Sir Thomas Beddingfield's custody, at a royal palace which was situated there. Woodstock is forty or fifty miles to the westward of London, and not far from the city of Oxford.

Elizabeth was very much alarmed at this intelligence. Her mind was filled with vague and uncertain fears and forebodings, which were none the less oppressive for being uncertain and vague. She had, however, no immediate cause for apprehension. Mary found that there was no decisive evidence against her, and did not dare to keep her a prisoner in the Tower too long. There was a large and influential part of the kingdom who were Protestants. They were jealous of the progress Mary was making toward bringing the Catholic religion in again. They abhorred the Spanish match. They naturally looked to Elizabeth as their leader and head, and Mary thought that by too great or too long-continued harshness in her treatment of Elizabeth, she would only exasperate them, and perhaps provoke a new outbreak against her authority. She determined, therefore, to remove the princess from the Tower to some less odious place of confinement.

She was taken first to Queen Mary's court, which was then held at Richmond, just above London; but she was surrounded here by soldiers and guards, and confined almost as strictly as before. She was destined, however, here to another surprise. It was a proposition of marriage. Mary had been arranging a plan for making her the wife of a certain personage styled the Duke of Savoy. His dominions were on the confines of Switzerland and France, and, Mary thought that if her rival were once married and removed there, all the troubles which she, Mary, had experienced on her account would be ended forever. She thought, too, that her sister would be glad to accept this offer, which opened such an immediate escape from the embarrassments and sufferings of her situation in England. But Elizabeth was prompt; decided, and firm in the rejection of this plan. England was her home, and to be Queen of England the end and aim of all her wishes plans. She had rather continue a captive for the present in her native land, than to live in splendor as the consort of a sovereign duke beyond the Rhone.

Mary then ordered Sir Thomas Beddingfield to take her to Woodstock. She traveled on horseback, and was several days on the journey. Her passage through the country attracted great attention. The people assembled by the wayside, expressing their kind wishes, and offering her gifts. The bells were rung in the villages through which she passed. She arrived finally at Woodstock, and was shut up in the palace there.

This was in July, and she remained in Woodstock more than a year, not, however, always very closely confined. At Christmas she was taken to court, and allowed to share in the festivities and rejoicings. On this occasion—it was the first Christmas after the marriage of Mary and Philip—the great hall of the palace was illuminated with a thousand lamps. The princess sat at table next to the king and queen. She was on other occasions, too, taken away for a time, and then returned again to her seclusion at Woodstock. These changes, perhaps, only served to make her feel more than ever the hardships of her lot. They say that one day, as she sat at her window, she heard a milk-maid singing in the fields, in a blithe and merry strain, and said, with a sigh, that she wished she was a milk-maid too.

Kings Philip, after his marriage, gradually interested himself in her behalf, and exerted his Influence to have her released; and Mary's ministers had frequent interviews with her, and endeavored to induce her to make some confession of guilt, and to petition Mary for release as matter of mercy. They could not, they said, release her while she persisted in her innocence, without admitting that they and Mary had been in the wrong, and had imprisoned her unjustly. But the princess was immovable. She declared that she was perfectly innocent, and that she would never, therefore, say that she was guilty. She would rather remain in prison for the truth, than be at liberty and have it believed that she had been guilty of disloyalty and treason.

At length, one evening in May, Elizabeth received a summons to go to the palace and visit Mary in her chamber. She was conducted there by torch-light. She had a long interview with the queen, the conversation being partly in English and partly in Spanish. It was not very satisfactory on either side. Elizabeth persisted in asserting her innocence, but in other respects she spoke in a kind and conciliatory manner to the queen. The interview ended in a sort of reconciliation. Mary put a valuable ring upon Elizabeth's finger in token of the renewal of friendship, and soon afterward the long period of restraint and confinement was ended, and the princess returned to her own estate at Hatfield in Hertfordshire, where she lived some time in seclusion, devoting herself, in a great measure, to the study of Latin and Greek, under the instructions of Roger Ascham.