Elizabeth and Mary Part 2- Surviving the sister wars
The Tower of London was not a place most people wanted to be, especially those of royal blood. This was doubly true of Elizabeth Tudor as the place was fraught with memories and stories. When she was first put in the tower by Queen Mary’s order, she was lodged in the royal palace in the inner ward of the Tower. Much nicer than a tower or a dungeon, but it had been rebuilt by her father for her mother’s coronation. It was also where her mother, Anne Boleyn, had stayed prior to her trial and execution. Not a good precedent.
The queen’s council began their questioning in earnest the following Friday, and kept her in long interrogation sessions trying to come up with some link between Elizabeth and the Wyatt Rebellion. Thomas Wyatt, the son of her mother’s old suitor, had raised a rebellion ostensibly to stop Queen Mary’s marriage to Philip of Spain, however, the covert reason was to place Elizabeth on the throne with Edward Courtenay, earl of Devonshire, as her consort. Courtenay was one of the last living descendants of the Plantagenets. With one marriage, the conspirators would unite the red and the white rose…again. It worked for Henry VII, it could work again.
The queen’s council was hoping they could squeeze some evidence that Elizabeth agreed and backed the revolt out of Wyatt by fair means or foul. They tantalized him and his wife with offers of pardons if he would implicate Elizabeth, but he stood firm. There had been correspondence with Wyatt, but nothing overtly treasonous. To be rid of Elizabeth, the council needed a smoking gun so to speak.
In the meantime, they tried to make a link between Elizabeth and the revolt by saying she had gone to one of her castles, Donnington, and began preparations for something, but no one is sure what. David Starkey points out that Donnington was easily defensible and had good strategic positioning. The council interrogators latched onto that fact like a terrier on a rat.
Thomas Wyatt was executed for his rebellion on April 11, 1554. His final words exonerated Elizabeth, much to the council’s chagrin. He said, “And whereas it is said and whistled abroad, that I should accuse my lady Elizabeth’s grace and my lord Courtenay; it is not so good people. For I assure you neither they nor any other now in yonder hold or durance was privy of my rising or commotion before I began. As I have declared no less to the queen’s council. And this is most true.’
There was no case against Elizabeth. Council tried again to get her to admit some guilt to save face, but she stood firm with Wyatt’s last words in her back pocket. The had to relent and she was released from the Tower, but not to freedom. She was placed under house arrest in the charge of Sir Henry Bedingfield, whose father ironically had been the keeper of Katherine of Aragon when she was under house arrest. Sir Henry arrived with a fresh guard to take Elizabeth to his home, but no one had bothered to tell the prisoner. She saw the guards and went pale. She asked “whether the Lady Jane’s scaffold were taken away or no” as she was afraid she was headed to the block. Instead she was taken to Woodstock. It was done quietly, but wherever they went there was rejoicing and people straining to get a glimpse of Elizabeth. Even at the gates of Woodstock, there was a small party waiting to cheer the Lady Elizabeth. Sir Henry was less than pleased.
In her new prison of Woodstock, Elizabeth was not to receive a “message, letter or token to or from any manner of person”. Sir Henry must ensure she had no “conference with any suspected person out of his hearing, yet permit such strangers whom ye shall think honest to speak with her in your hearing only.” Her servants were sifted and vetted and any that did not pass the rigorous test of orthodoxy to the Old Faith were let go. Some of her closest ladies, including Elizabeth Sandys, were sent packing. Wherever Elizabeth went, whether walking in the gardens or in the school room, she had a shadow. On the occasion of one walk, Elizabeth watched Sir Henry lock six pairs of gates one after the other and lost her famous temper, screaming at him “Gaoler!” It must have been a tedious existence. “The Miraculous Preservation of the Lady Elizabeth, now Queen of England”, recounts her taking a diamond ring and scratching on a window pane:
Much suspected of me,
Nothing proved can be,
Quoth Elizabeth, prisoner.
Though nothing could be proved, plots were flying around her. Messages passed to her under the nose of Sir Henry, her servants had their fingers in every pie in England. However, nothing could be proved and Elizabeth simply waited them out. Less than a year later, Elizabeth was summoned back to the Queen’s side. By this time Mary had married Philip of Spain and was going into confinement to deliver their child. Philip needed Elizabeth close to hand if something went wrong with the birth. He also didn’t mind that his young sister-in-law was much easier on the eyes than his older wife. With relative freedom and everything to play for, Elizabeth was back in the game. Once again, Elizabeth had taken a hand full of nothing and through skill and bluff made it a winner.