Thursday 3 am .. 24 March 1603 .. death of Queen Elizabeth I ..
This story of Elizabeth’s death comes from John Clapham, formerly clerk to Lord Burghley, the queen’s principal secretary for most of her reign. Burghley died in 1598, so by this time Clapham had probably lost his intimacy with the royal court.
He does admit his information is second hand, and from internal references it seems he was writing in November 1603, about six months after the event.
Clapham’s comment on reports of the queen’s death-bed approbation of her successor – “Sure I am they did no hurt” – shows a safe pair of hands. But he does relate some vivid details, especially the queen’s fairy-tale reckoning with mortality: “she had a great apprehension of her own age and declination by seeing her face (then lean and full of wrinkles) truly represented to her in a glass, which she a good while very earnestly beheld: perceiving thereby how often she had been abused by flatterers (whom she held in too great estimation) that had informed her the contrary”.
The version below is from a secondary source, ie. it’s an old copy of the original manuscript in the Sloane collection.
From Original letters illustrative of English history, 2nd ser. vol. III (London, 1827), pp.193 ff.:
After [the Earl of Essex] his death … the Queen imagined that the people’s affection towards her waxed more cold than had been accustomed, and from that time forward entering into a more serious consideration of her years and natural infirmities, she fell at length into a sickness, proceeding first from some distemper of body, which concurring with the indisposition of her mind brought her to her end. It is credibly reported that not long before her death she had a great apprehension of her own age and declination by seeing her face (then lean and full of wrinkles) truly represented to her in a glass, which she a good while very earnestly beheld: perceiving thereby how often she had been abused by flatterers (whom she held in too great estimation) that had informed her the contrary …
But now to return, where I left, namely with the death of the Queen, for that divers rumours have been spread concerning the manner of it, I think it not amiss to note some particular circumstances which I received by information of such persons as had good means to understand the truth of things, and no reason at all to misreport them.
About three weeks before her death (her sleep decaying) she began to fall into a melancholy passion; and being persuaded to use the help of physic, she utterly refused it; either for that she thought her body being not thereto accustomed it would not do her good, or else that (having satiety of the world) she desired rather to die than live. For she would divers times say in the time of her sickness, “I am not sick; I feel no pain; and yet I pine away.” She was wholly addicted to silence and solitariness, which gave occasion of suspicion that she was afflicted in mind: but being moved by some of her Council to impart such griefs as they doubted might trouble her, she answered that she, “knew nothing in the world worthy to trouble her”: and it is a constant opinion of such as were most inward with her, that she was then free from any such impression, as it is not altogether unlikely, considering that melancholy diseases (as physicians tell us) proceed not always from the indisposition of the mind, but sometimes from the distemperature of humor in the body, causing a kind of numbness and stupidity of the senses. The Bishops (who then attended at the Court) seeing that she would not hearken to advice for the recovery of her bodily health, desired her to provide for her spiritual safety, and to recommend her soul to God, whereto she mildly answered, “That I have done long ago.” She sate up six days together without any sleep, and yet was she not bereaved of understanding, but had the use thereof (even after her speech failed) as appeared by divers motions of her eyes and hands lifted up, when she was required by the Bishops to give testimony of the hope and comfort she had in God. It is reported, that when she was demanded whom she would have to sit in her seat after her death, she made answer, “No base person, but a King.” Afterwards (when she could not speak) being moved a second time to express her meaning touching that matter, and that (if she would have the King of Scots to succeed her) she should hold up her hand in token of assent, she forthwith lifted up her hand to her head and turned it round in the form of a circle, discovering thereby (as it was said) what she had long before concealed. These reports, whether they were true indeed or given out of purpose by such as would have them so to be believed, it is hard to say. Sure I am they did no hurt.
Next … Southwell’s Story