Day: November 6, 2014
Elizabeth I: An Uncertain Beginning
In THE TUDOR VENDETTA, the third and final book in my Elizabeth I Spymaster Trilogy (Elizabeth’s Spymaster in the UK), I decided to focus on the first uncertain, tumultuous months leading up to Elizabeth I’s coronation. Although this novel is perhaps the most fictionalized of the three in the series, in that the mystery which Elizabeth’s private spy must uncover remains unsubstantiated by historical evidence, the setting I depict is not.
It’s almost impossible for us to believe now that Elizabeth Tudor faced an uncertain future upon her accession. Her forty-five year reign has been so cemented in our imagination as one of unmitigated triumph that we take it as a given. Her ability to steer past the shoals of religious discord and enmity of Catholic powers both abroad and in her realm, as well as her astonishing lack of compromise when it came to marriage, have made her an icon: the Virgin Queen, Gloriana, who once said she already had a husband, for she was “married to England.”
Nevertheless, the twenty-five year old princess who claimed the throne in November 1558 was, while superbly educated and politically savvy, still untried as a ruler. Indeed, she faced a myriad of issues that might have overwhelmed anyone but her. After her sister Mary I’s disastrous five-year reign—a portion of which is depicted in the second novel of the series, The Tudor Conspiracy— England teetered on the brink of ruin. Mary’s fervent persecution of Protestants had turned the country upside down, exiling or destroying many of the affluent merchants who upheld the Reformed Faith and formed the backbone of economic stability. Her ill-fated marriage to Philip of Spain had turned popular opinion against her, a tragic side-effect of her determination to see England restored to Rome, which annihilated the initial wave of support from her subjects that saw her to the throne. In addition, her economic policies had debased the coinage even further—an ongoing issue that had bedeviled her predecessors, and now fomented severe discontent, with the strife over the enclosure or sale of monastic lands begun under Henry VIII, a long-gnawed bone of contention between nobility and commoners.
Elizabeth thus inherited a legacy of intolerance, brutal reprisal, and financial chaos; she also was considered nearing her middle years, as surprising as this might seem to us, because of overall life expectancy in her era, and of her family, in particular. The need to marry and produce an heir was therefore paramount to her advisors, most particularly William Cecil, who had safeguarded her during the years before her accession. Marriage was deemed not only vital to shoring up her reign, but also to protecting her from foreign aggression, now personified by her cousin, Mary of Scots, the dauphine of France by virtue of her marriage to the French king’s heir. Catholics by and large believed Mary of Scots held the superior right to the English throne, based on the contention that Henry VIII’s marriage to Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, had been illegal. Many Catholics deemed Elizabeth a bastard usurper, including the pope himself.
Elizabeth’s famous motto of video et taceo (“I see, and say nothing”) may have arisen as she began to realize just how tenuous her reign could be. She is renowned for not wanting to “make mirrors into men’s souls”. Perhaps this, above all else, was her most defining characteristic. She did not believe that prying into private matters, religious or otherwise, would serve her in the long run—a rare stance for any ruler, much less an untried one, yet one which, as history would show, served her well.
In THE TUDOR VENDETTA, we meet Elizabeth in the first weeks of her much-vaunted reign—here, she is a woman who has survived more in her youth than many experience in a lifetime, having navigated the seesaw of favor and disfavor, the stigma of illegitimacy, the scandals that marred her adolescence, and even a terrifying imprisonment in the Tower. But she is not yet the Elizabeth who will eventually emerge from the forge of trial-and-error; she is not the white-faced, oversize-gowned sovereign of legend.
She is still a new queen, determined but unproven, treading on thin ice. She dreams of being the savior of her nation, but her path to glory will be arduous—and she may lose everything if she fails to protect one potentially fatal secret.
I hope you enjoy exploring this exciting time in one of history’s most dramatic eras. To learn more about THE TUDOR VENDETTA and my other books, please visit me at http://www.cwgortner.com