The Childhood Of A Princess


Elizabeth's condition at the death of her mother.--Her

residence.--Letter of Lady Bryan, Elizabeth's governess.--Conclusion of

letter.--Troubles and trials of infancy.--Birth of Edward.--The king

reconciled to his daughters.--Death of King Henry.--His children.--King

Henry's violence.--The order of succession.--Elizabeth's troubles.--The

two Seymours.--The queen dowager's marriage.--The Seymours
br />
quarrel.--Somerset's power and influence.--Jealousies and

quarrels.--Mary Queen of Scots.--Marriage schemes.--Seymour's

promotion.--Jane Grey.--Family quarrels.--Death of the queen

dowager.--Seymour's schemes.--Seymour's arrest.--His trial and

attainder.--Seymour beheaded.--Elizabeth's trials.--Elizabeth's

firmness.--Lady Tyrwhitt.--Elizabeth's sufferings.--Her fidelity to

her friends.

Elizabeth was about three years old at the death of her mother. She was

a princess, but she was left in a very forlorn and desolate condition.

She was not, however, entirely abandoned. Her claims to inherit the

crown had been set aside, but then she was, as all admitted, the

daughter of the king, and she must, of course, be the object of a

certain degree of consideration and ceremony. It would be entirely

inconsistent with the notions of royal dignity which then prevailed to

have her treated like an ordinary child.

She had a residence assigned her at a place called Hunsdon, and was put

under the charge of a governess whose name was Lady Bryan. There is an

ancient letter from Lady Bryan, still extant, which was written to one

of the king's officers about Elizabeth, explaining her destitute

condition, and asking for a more suitable supply for her wants. It may

entertain the reader to see this relic, which not only illustrates our

little heroine's condition, but also shows how great the changes are

which our language has undergone within the last three hundred years.

The letter, as here given, is abridged a little from the original:

My Lord:

When your Lordship was last here, it pleased you to say that

I should not be mistrustful of the King's Grace, nor of your

Lordship, which word was of great comfort to me, and

emboldeneth me now to speak my poor mind.

Now so it is, my Lord, that my Lady Elizabeth is put from

the degree she was afore, and what degree she is at now[A] I

know not but by hearsay. Therefore I know not how to order

her, nor myself, nor none of hers that I have the rule

of--that is, her women and her grooms. But I beseech you to

be good, my Lord, to her and to all hers, and to let her

have some rayment; for she has neither gown, nor kirtle, nor

no manner of linen, nor foresmocks, nor kerchiefs, nor

sleeves, nor rails, nor bodystitchets, nor mufflers, nor

biggins. All these her Grace's wants I have driven off as

long as I can, by my troth, but I can not any longer.

Beseeching you, my Lord, that you will see that her Grace

may have that is needful for her, and that I may know from

you, in writing, how I shall order myself towards her, and

whatever is the King's Grace's pleasure and yours, in every

thing, that I shall do.

[Footnote A: That is, in what light the king and the

government wish to have her regarded, and how they wish her

to be treated.]

My Lord Mr. Shelton would have my Lady Elizabeth to dine and

sup at the board of estate. Alas, my Lord, it is not meet

for a child of her age to keep such rule yet. I promise you,

my Lord, I dare not take upon me to keep her in health and

she keep that rule; for there she shall see divers meats and

fruits, and wines, which would be hard for me to restrain

her Grace from it. You know, my Lord, there is no place of

correction[B] there, and she is yet too young to correct

greatly. I know well, and she be there, I shall never bring

her up to the King's Grace's honor nor hers, nor to her

health, nor my poor honesty. Wherefore, I beseech you, my

Lord, that my Lady may have a mess of meat to her own

lodging, with a good dish or two that is meet for her Grace

to eat of.

[Footnote B: That is, opportunity for correction.]

My Lady hath likewise great pain with her teeth, and they

come very slowly forth, and this causeth me to suffer her

Grace to have her will more than I would. I trust to God,

and her teeth were well graft, to have her Grace after

another fashion than she is yet, so as I trust the King's

Grace shall have great comfort in her Grace; for she is as

toward a child, and as gentle of conditions, as ever I knew

any in my life. Jesu preserve her Grace.

Good my Lord, have my Lady's Grace, and us that be her poor

servants, in your remembrance.

This letter evinces that strange mixture of state and splendor with

discomfort and destitution, which prevailed very extensively in royal

households in those early times. A part of the privation which Elizabeth

seems, from this letter, to have endured, was doubtless owing to the

rough manners of the day; but there is no doubt that she was also, at

least for a time, in a neglected and forsaken condition. The new queen,

Jane Seymour, who succeeded Elizabeth's mother, had a son a year or two

after her marriage. He was named Edward. Thus Henry had three children,

Mary, Elizabeth, and Edward, each one the child of a different wife; and

the last of them, the son, appears to have monopolized, for a time, the

king's affection and care.

Still, the hostility which the king had felt for these queens in

succession was owing, as has been already said, to his desire to remove

them out of his way, that he might be at liberty to marry again; and so,

after the mothers were, one after another, removed, the hostility

itself, so far as the children were concerned, gradually subsided, and

the king began to look both upon Mary and Elizabeth with favor again. He

even formed plans for marrying Elizabeth to persons of distinction in

foreign countries, and he entered into some negotiations for this

purpose. He had a decree passed, too, at last, reversing the sentence by

which the two princesses were cut off from an inheritance of the crown.

Thus they were restored, during their father's life, to their proper

rank as royal princesses.

At last the king died in 1547, leaving only these three children, each

one the child of a different wife. Mary was a maiden lady, of about

thirty-one years of age. She was a stern, austere, hard-hearted woman,

whom nobody loved. She was the daughter of King Henry's first wife,

Catharine of Aragon, and, like her mother, was a decided Catholic.

Next came Elizabeth, who was about fourteen years of age. She was the

daughter of the king's second wife, Queen Anne Boleyn. She had been

educated a Protestant. She was not pretty, but was a very lively and

sprightly child, altogether different in her cast of character and in

her manners from her sister Mary.

Then, lastly, there was Edward, the son of Jane Seymour, the third

queen. He was about nine years of age at his father's death. He was a

boy of good character, mild and gentle in his disposition, fond of study

and reflection, and a general favorite with all who knew him.

It was considered in those days that a king might, in some sense,

dispose of his crown by will, just as, at the present time, a man may

bequeath his house or his farm. Of course, there were some limits to

this power, and the concurrence of Parliament seems to have been

required to the complete validity of such a settlement. King Henry the

Eighth, however, had little difficulty in carrying any law through

Parliament which he desired to have enacted. It is said that, on one

occasion, when there was some delay about passing a bill of his, he sent

for one of the most influential of the members of the House of Commons

to come into his presence. The member came and kneeled before him. "Ho,

man!" said the king, "and will they not suffer my bill to pass?" He then

came up and put his hand upon the kneeling legislator's head, and added,

"Get my bill passed to-morrow, or else by to-morrow this head of yours

shall be off." The next day the bill was passed accordingly.

King Henry, before he died, arranged the order of succession to the

throne as follows: Edward was to succeed him; but, as he was a minor,

being then only nine years of age, a great council of state, consisting

of sixteen persons of the highest rank, was appointed to govern the

kingdom in his name until he should be eighteen years of age, when he

was to become king in reality as well as in name. In case he should die

without heirs, then Mary, his oldest sister, was to succeed him; and if

she died without heirs, then Elizabeth was to succeed her. This

arrangement went into full effect. The council governed the kingdom in

Edward's name until he was sixteen years of age, when he died. Then

Mary followed, and reigned as queen five years longer, and died without

children, and during all this time Elizabeth held the rank of a

princess, exposed to a thousand difficulties and dangers from the plots,

intrigues and conspiracies of those about her, in which, on account of

her peculiar position and prospects, she was necessarily involved.

One of the worst of these cases occurred soon after her father's death.

There were two brothers of Jane Seymour, who were high in King Henry's

favor at the time of his decease. The oldest is known in history by his

title of the Earl of Hertford at first, and afterward by that of Duke of

Somerset. The youngest was called Sir Thomas Seymour. They were both

made members of the government which was to administer the affairs of

state during young Edward's minority. They were not, however, satisfied

with any moderate degree of power. Being brothers of Jane Seymour, who

was Edward's mother, they were his uncles, of course, and the oldest one

soon succeeded in causing himself to be appointed protector. By this

office he was, in fact, king, all except in name.

The younger brother, who was an agreeable and accomplished man, paid his

addresses to the queen dowager, that is, to the widow whom King Henry

left, for the last of his wives was living at the time of his death. She

consented to marry him, and the marriage took place almost immediately

after the king's death--so soon in fact, that it was considered

extremely hasty and unbecoming. This queen dowager had two houses left

to her, one at Chelsea, and the other at Hanworth, towns some little

distance up the river from London. Here she resided with her new

husband, sometimes at one of the houses, and sometimes at the other. The

king had also directed, in his will, that the Princess Elizabeth should

be under her care, so that Elizabeth, immediately after her father's

death, lived at one or the other of these two houses under the care of

Seymour, who, from having been her uncle, became now, in some sense, her

father. He was a sort of uncle, for he was the brother of one of her

father's wives. He was a sort of father, for he was the husband of

another of them. Yet, really, by blood, there was no relation between


The two brothers, Somerset and Seymour, quarreled. Each was very

ambitious, and very jealous of the other. Somerset, in addition to being

appointed protector by the council, got a grant of power from the young

king called a patent. This commission was executed with great formality,

and was sealed with the great seal of state, and it made Somerset, in

some measure independent of the other nobles whom King Henry had

associated with him in the government. By this patent he was placed in

supreme command of all the forces by land and sea. He had a seat on the

right hand of the throne, under the great canopy of state, and whenever

he went abroad on public occasions, he assumed all the pomp and parade

which would have been expected in a real king. Young Edward was wholly

under his influence, and did always whatever Somerset recommended him to

do. Seymour was very jealous of all this greatness, and was contriving

every means in his power to circumvent and supersede his brother.

The wives, too, of these great statesmen quarreled. The Duchess of

Somerset thought she was entitled to the precedence, because she was the

wife of the protector, who, being a kind of regent, she thought he was

entitled to have his wife considered as a sort of queen. The wife of

Seymour, on the other hand, contended that she was entitled to the

precedence as a real queen, having been herself the actual consort of a

reigning monarch. The two ladies disputed perpetually on this point,

which, of course, could never be settled. They enlisted, however, on

their respective sides various partisans, producing a great deal of

jealousy and ill will, and increasing the animosity of their husbands.

All this time the celebrated Mary Queen of Scots was an infant in Janet

Sinclair's arms, at the castle of Stirling, in Scotland. King Henry,

during his life, had made a treaty with the government of Scotland, by

which it was agreed that Mary should be married to his son Edward as

soon as the two children should have grown to maturity; but afterward,

the government of Scotland having fallen from Protestant into Catholic

hands, they determined that this match must be given up. The English

authorities were very much incensed. They wished to have the marriage

take effect, as it would end in uniting the Scotch and English kingdoms;

and the protector, when a time arrived which he thought was favorable

for his purpose, raised an army and marched northward to make war upon

Scotland, and compel the Scots to fulfill the contract of marriage.

While his brother was gone to the northward, Seymour remained at home,

and endeavored, by every means within his reach, to strengthen his own

influence and increase his power. He contrived to obtain from the

council of government the office of lord high admiral, which gave him

the command of the fleet, and made him, next to his brother, the most

powerful and important personage in the realm. He had, besides, as has

already been stated, the custody and care of Elizabeth, who lived in his

house; though, as he was a profligate and unprincipled man, this

position for the princess, now fast growing up to womanhood, was

considered by many persons as of doubtful propriety. Still, she was at

present only fourteen years old. There was another young lady likewise

in his family, a niece of King Henry, and, of course, a second cousin of

Elizabeth. Her name was Jane Grey. It was a very unhappy family. The

manners and habits of all the members of it, excepting Jane Grey, seem

to have been very rude and irregular. The admiral quarreled with his

wife, and was jealous of the very servants who waited upon her. The

queen observed something in the manners of her husband toward the young

princess which made her angry both with him and her. Elizabeth resented

this, and a violent quarrel ensued, which ended in their separation.

Elizabeth went away, and resided afterward at a place called Hatfield.

Very soon after this, the queen dowager died suddenly. People accused

Seymour, her husband, of having poisoned her, in order to make way for

the Princess Elizabeth to be his wife. He denied this, but he

immediately began to lay his plans for securing the hand of Elizabeth.

There was a probability that she might, at some future time, succeed to

the crown, and then, if he were her husband, he thought he should be the

real sovereign, reigning in her name.

Elizabeth had in her household two persons, a certain Mrs. Ashley, who

was then her governess, and a man named Parry, who was a sort of

treasurer. He was called the cofferer. The admiral gained these

persons over to his interests, and, through them, attempted to open

communications with Elizabeth, and persuade her to enter into his

designs. Of course, the whole affair was managed with great secrecy.

They were all liable to a charge of treason against the government of

Edward by such plots, as his ministers and counselors might maintain

that their design was to overthrow Edward's government and make

Elizabeth queen. They, therefore, were all banded together to keep

their councils secret, and Elizabeth was drawn, in some degree, into the

scheme, though precisely how far was never fully known. It was supposed

that she began to love Seymour, although he was very much older than

herself, and to be willing to become his wife. It is not surprising

that, neglected and forsaken as she had been, she should have been

inclined to regard with favor an agreeable and influential man, who

expressed a strong affection for her, and a warm interest in her


However this may be, Elizabeth was one day struck with consternation at

hearing that Seymour was arrested by order of his brother, who had

returned from Scotland and had received information of his designs, and

that he had been committed to the Tower. He had a hurried and irregular

trial, or what, in those days, was called a trial. The council went

themselves to the Tower, and had him brought before them and examined.

He demanded to have the charges made out in form, and the witnesses

confronted with him, but the council were satisfied of his guilt without

these formalities. The Parliament immediately afterward passed a bill of

attainder against him, by which he was sentenced to death. His brother,

the protector, signed the warrant for his execution, and he was

beheaded on Tower Hill.

The protector sent two messengers in the course of this affair to

Elizabeth, to see what they could ascertain from her about it. Sir

Robert Tyrwhitt was the name of the principal one of these messengers.

When the cofferer learned that they were at the gate, he went in great

terror into his chamber, and said that he was undone. At the same time,

he pulled off a chain from his neck, and the rings from his fingers, and

threw them away from him with gesticulations of despair. The messengers

then came to Elizabeth, and told her, falsely as it seems, with a view

to frighten her into confessions, that Mrs. Ashley and the cofferer were

both secured and sent to the Tower. She seemed very much alarmed; she

wept bitterly, and it was a long time before she regained her composure.

She wanted to know whether they had confessed any thing. The protector's

messengers would not tell her this, but they urged her to confess

herself all that had occurred; for, whatever it was, they said that the

evil and shame would all be ascribed to the other persons concerned, and

not to her, on account of her youth and inexperience. But Elizabeth

would confess nothing. The messengers went away, convinced, as they

said, that she was guilty; they could see that in her countenance; and

that her silence was owing to her firm determination not to betray her

lover. They sent word to the protector that they did not believe that

any body would succeed in drawing the least information from her, unless

it was the protector, or young King Edward himself.

These mysterious circumstances produced a somewhat unfavorable

impression in regard to Elizabeth, and there were some instances, it was

said, of light and trifling behavior between Elizabeth and Seymour,

while she was in his house during the life-time of his wife. They took

place in the presence of Seymour's wife, and seem of no consequence,

except to show that dukes and princesses got into frolics sometimes in

those days as well as other mortals. People censured Mrs. Ashley for not

enjoining a greater dignity and propriety of demeanor in her young

charge, and the government removed her from her place.

Lady Tyrwhitt, who was the wife of the messenger referred to above that

was sent to examine Elizabeth, was appointed to succeed Mrs. Ashley.

Elizabeth was very much displeased at this change. She told Lady

Tyrwhitt that Mrs. Ashley was her mistress, and that she had not done

any thing to make it necessary for the council to put more mistresses

over her. Sir Robert wrote to the protector that she took the affair so

heavily that she "wept all night, and lowered all the next day." He said

that her attachment to Mrs. Ashley was very strong; and that, if any

thing were said against the lord admiral, she could not bear to hear it,

but took up his defense in the most prompt and eager manner.

How far it is true that Elizabeth loved the unfortunate Seymour can now

never be known. There is no doubt, however, but that this whole affair

was a very severe trial and affliction to her. It came upon her when she

was but fourteen or fifteen years of age, and when she was in a

position, as well of an age, which renders the heart acutely sensitive

both to the effect of kindness and of injuries. Seymour, by his death,

was lost to her forever, and Elizabeth lived in great retirement and

seclusion during the remainder of her brother's reign. She did not,

however, forget Mrs. Ashley and Parry. On her accession to the throne,

many years afterward, she gave them offices very valuable, considering

their station in life, and was a true friend to them both to the end of

their days.