In chess, the pawn is the most expendable piece on the board. It can be put out into danger and thrown away on the slightest whim. However, if the pawn withstands the dangers of the board and makes it across, it becomes a queen- the most powerful piece in the game.
Elizabeth Tudor was born into the Royal Family of England, a pawn. Not the hoped for prince her father had moved heaven and earth for, but another daughter. A disappointment to both parents. Nevertheless, King Henry VIII and his new wife Anne Boleyn put a brave face on it. They added an ‘s’ to the birth announcements and threw a lavish christening. An eyewitness described Elizabeth’s presentation,
“When the Childe was come to the church doore, the Byshop of London met it, with divers Byshoppes and Abbots mitred, and beganne the observances of the Sacrament. The God-father was Lorde Thomas Archhyshoppe of Canterburie; the God-mothers were the olde Dutchesse of Norfolke, and the olde Marchionesse of Dorset, Widdowes, and the Childe was named Elizabeth, and after that all things were done at the church doore, the Child was brought to the font, and christned; and that done, Garter chiefe King of Armes cried aloud, “God of his infinit goodnesse send prosperous life and long to the high and mightie Princesse of England Elizabeth”. ”
However, Elizabeth was not the high and mighty Princess of England for long. The relationship between her parents soured, made worse by Anne’s inability to produce a son. Henry’s roving eye turned to another lady in waiting, Jane Seymour. Anne was sent to the tower and beheaded to make way for Jane and her promise of sons.
The sword stroke that severed her mother’s head, also cut off the two and a half year old princess from her royal father. Henry annulled his marriage to Anne Boleyn and declared Elizabeth a bastard, and left the young princess’ household unpaid. Her governess Lady Bryan had to write and beg for funds to run the household. In August of 1536, she wrote to Cromwell
‘she (Elizabeth) has neither gown nor kirtle nor petticoat nor linen for smock’
Despite the lack of funds and royal attention, Elizabeth was said to be an engaging child- vivacious and precocious. She was taught Latin, Greek, Spanish, French, as well as history, philosophy, mathematics. Her tutor, Roger Asham called her his “shining star.”
When she was four, Lady Bryan was replaced by Katherine Ashley, Elizabeth’s beloved Kat, who was like a mother to her. Blanche Parry and Thomas Parry rounded out her immediate household.
But as with most things, Elizabeth’s fortunes rose and fell with the fate of Henry’s wives. Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard interceded for her. Katherine Howard made much of her younger cousin, giving her the place of honor opposite her when first dining at court. However, this was short lived as Katherine was sent to the block for adultery, the same crime as Elizabeth’s mother. It is thought this had a profound effect on the eight year old Elizabeth. Robert Dudley, her childhood companion and close friend, claimed that from this time onward Elizabeth swore she would never marry.
Henry’s last wife, Catherine Parr, reconciled Elizabeth to her volatile father after they were first married and again after some unknown offence which occurred later on. Catherine tried to make a home for the royal children and liked having them near her at court.
After Henry’s death in 1547, Elizabeth went to live with Catherine Parr and this brought her into view of another dangerous man, her stepmother’s husband the Lord Admiral, Thomas Seymour, brother of Edward Seymour, the King’s Uncle and Lord Protector of England.
Catherine Parr had married her former suitor, Thomas Seymour, in unseemly haste and settled down to live a quiet life with the man of her choice. However, the fourteen years old Elizabeth had caught Seymour’s eye, either for her nearness to the throne or herself it is not known. It began innocently enough, with Seymour awakening the Princess each morning. It then progressed. Kat Ashley described him as,
“strike(ing) hir upon the Bak or on the Buttocks famylearly, and so go forth through his lodgings; and sometimes go through to the Maydens, and play with them, and so go forth: And if she were in hyr Bed, he wold put open the Curteyns, and bid hir good morrow, and make as though he wold come at hir: And she wold go further in the Bed, so that he could not come hir.”
Once she had to admonish Seymour for coming to Elizabeth’s chamber in his nightshirt.
At that time, Elizabeth would have been considered a woman at age fourteen, as strange as that sounds to our modern ears. However, what has not changed over the centuries is the taboo regarding relationships between a stepfather and daughter as well as the extreme unequal power relationship. It is these things that make the situation seem untoward.
Catherine at first seemed to endorse this behavior even participating in an incident where Seymour cut up Elizabeth’s mourning gown by holding the terrified girl in place. Then she caught Seymour and Elizabeth in an embrace and she sent Elizabeth away to live elsewhere. Catherine was heavily pregnant with her first child, and perhaps hoped to salvage her marriage. Unfortunately, she died of childbed fever after the birth of her daughter Mary.
Elizabeth was sent away and here a legend has sprung up she went into confinement with Seymour’s child. There is a story of an old midwife brought to a far country house with a secret bedroom. A young fair noble lady was laboring and she was instructed to save the lady no matter what happened to the child. The lady was delivered of a “fair daughter”, which was thrown in the fire. Six days later the midwife died, but not before revealing her patient as Elizabeth.
No one can be sure of this, but what is known the newly single Seymour began marriage inquiries and other intrigues including the attempted kidnapping of King Edward, which was only foiled by the barking of his lapdog. He was beheaded and Elizabeth was closely examined by Sir Robert Tyrwhit.
Even after house arrest and the arrest of her servants Kat Ashley and Thomas Parry, Elizabeth was able to come through relatively unscathed. She began to repair her reputation by cultivating the appearance of a virtuous Protestant maiden. Little did she know, but she had made it halfway across the board.