Christopher Marlowe, Elizabeathen Era, Elizabeth I of England, Francis Drake, James I of England, James VI of Scotland, king James I-VI of England and Scotland, Kingdom of Ireland, Kings and Queens of England, kings and queens of Scotland, Lord Burghley, Richmond Palace, Robert Cecil, William Shakespeare
On this date in History: March 24, 1603, Queen Elizabeth I of England and Ireland died at Richmond Palace aged 69 after a reign of 44 years. She was the last member of the House of Tudor and also its longest reigning member. Her 44-year reign was a prosperous time, the arts flourished and it became known as a Golden Age.
Elizabeth’s reign is known as the Elizabethan era. The period is famous for the flourishing of English drama, led by playwrights such as William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe, and for the seafaring prowess of English adventurers such as Francis Drake. Some historians depict Elizabeth as a short-tempered, sometimes indecisive ruler, who enjoyed more than her share of luck.
Towards the end of her reign, a series of economic and military problems weakened her popularity. Elizabeth is acknowledged as a charismatic performer and a dogged survivor in an era when government was ramshackle and limited, and when monarchs in neighbouring countries faced internal problems that jeopardised their thrones. Such was the case with Elizabeth’s rival, Mary, Queen of Scots, whom she imprisoned in 1568 and had executed in 1587. After the short reigns of Elizabeth’s half-siblings, her 44 years on the throne provided welcome stability for the kingdom and helped forge a sense of national identity.
Elizabeth’s senior adviser, William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, died on August 4, 1598. His political mantle passed to his son, Robert Cecil, who soon became the leader of the government. One task he addressed was to prepare the way for a smooth succession. Since Elizabeth would never name her successor, Cecil was obliged to proceed in secret. He therefore entered into a coded negotiation with James VI of Scotland, who had a strong but unrecognised claim.
Cecil coached the impatient James VI to humour Elizabeth and “secure the heart of the highest, to whose sex and quality nothing is so improper as either needless expostulations or over much curiosity in her own actions”. The advice worked. James’s tone delighted Elizabeth, who responded: “So trust I that you will not doubt but that your last letters are so acceptably taken as my thanks cannot be lacking for the same, but yield them to you in grateful sort”. In historian J. E. Neale’s view, Elizabeth may not have declared her wishes openly to James, but she made them known with “unmistakable if veiled phrases.”
The Queen’s health remained fair until the autumn of 1602, when a series of deaths among her friends plunged her into a severe depression. Elizabeth had moved to Richmond Palace in January 1603 and surrounded herself with friends and ladies in waiting with whom she was familiar. Her health had deteriorated badly and she was very frail, yet at first she refused to retire to bed.
When Robert Cecil told her that she must go to bed, she snapped “Must is not a word to use to princes, little man”. She died on 24 March 1603 at Richmond Palace, between two and three in the morning. A few hours later, Cecil and the council set their plans in motion and proclaimed James VI of Scotland, the new King of England.
While it has become normative to record the death of the Queen as occurring in 1603, following English calendar reform in the 1750s, at the time of the Quuen’s death England observed New Year’s Day on 25 March, commonly known as Lady Day. Thus Elizabeth died on the last day of the year 1602 in the old calendar. The modern convention is to use the old calendar for the date and month while using the new for the year.