Thursday 3 am .. 24 March 1603 .. death of Queen Elizabeth I ..
Elizabeth at her coronation, 1558
(Previous: Clapham’s Story …)
This story of Elizabeth’s death is the most vivid and by far the most controversial. It was written by one of the queen’s maids of honour, Elizabeth Southwell, who was sixteen or seventeen years old in March 1603.
Southwell’s information is a mixture of first and second hand. There is no doubt she was close to the event, and she probably was privy to intimate details that would have been kept from those outside the queen’s household.
There are strong elements of superstition here, which make for a spooky read. In my view the most controversial part is the denial of Elizabeth’s approbation of her successor, and in fact this account was used in religious polemic to question the authority of James I as king of England.
Elizabeth is shown at her most regal in a response to Robert Cecil (son of her former chief secretary), when he told her she must go to bed: “To which she smiled wonderfully contemning him, saing that the word ‘must’ was not to be used to princes. Therupon said, ‘little man, little man, yf your father had lived ye durst not have said so much: but thou knowest I must die and that maketh thee so presumtious’.”
Southwell’s account was written four years after the event, so that’s a big factor in deciding what weight to give this evidence. The link to the source includes a discussion on the reliability of Southwell, and addresses the criticisms of her account by JE Neale.
Transcript from Elizabeth Southwell’s Manuscript Account of the Death of Queen Elizabeth (English Literary Renaissance, vol. 26 iii, pp. 482–509, Sept. 1996): Continue reading