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Thursday 3 am .. 24 March 1603 .. death of Queen Elizabeth I ..



The writer of this account was a Catholic spy who went by the name of Anthony Rivers. His identity is uncertain, but it’s believed he was William Sterrell, secretary to the Earl of Worcester. As such, he was at the heart of the royal court (de Lisle, p.39).

In August 1602 Rivers recounted a telling incident during Elizabeth’s progress through Oxfordshire – an early intimation of her ill health:

The Queen hunteth every second or third day, for the most part on horseback, and showeth little defect in ability, albeit her face and other parts resembling old age, argue no little decay. A country woman viewing her in the progress, told her neighbour standing near her that the Queen looked very old and ill; one of the guard, overhearing her, said she should be hanged for those words, and frighted the poor woman exceedingly.

A few months later Rivers seems to have relied on detailed medical opinion: the following account appears in an intercepted letter, which was probably intended for Robert Persons – it tells of the queen’s decline a fortnight before her death.

From Anthony Rivers at London, to Giacomo Creleto at Venice – 9 March 1603 (Records of the English Province of the Society of Jesus (1877) vol. I, p.52; also Calendar of State Papers, Domestic – Elizabeth, p.298 no. 50):

About ten days since the Countess of Nottingham died, her husband, the Admiral, keepeth his chamber mourning in sad earnest. About the same time died also the Lady Peyton, wife to the Lieutenant of the Tower. The queen loved the Countess well, and hath much lamented her death, remaining ever since in a deep melancholy that she must die herself, and complaineth much of many infirmities wherewith she seemeth suddenly to be overtaken; as imposthumation in her head, aches in her bones, and continual cold in her legs, besides a notable decay of judgment and memory, insomuch as she cannot abide discourses of government and state, but delighteth to hear old Canterbury tales, to which she is very attentive; at other times impatient and testy, so as none of the Council, but Secretary, dare come in her presence. All are in a dump at Court; some fear present danger, others doubt she will not continue past the month of May, but generally all are of opinion that she cannot overpass another winter.

All second-hand information, but the impression is that the source was one of the queen’s physicians. Bear in mind the letter was written in the knowledge it might be intercepted, and so a high degree of discretion was necessary.


Elizabeth and the ambassadors, 1560

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