Elizabeth I lost her mother, Anne Boleyn, to the executioner’s block before her third birthday. Despite this, the brief memory of her mother and loyalty to her maternal family remained powerful forces within Elizabeth.
When married to Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, Anne (pictured) had become the victim of a cruel plot to oust her as queen. Her enemies found easy success because Henry had tired of her sharp tongue and she had not provided him a male heir. Furthermore he had fallen for one of her maids; Jane Seymour, who would become his third wife following Anne’s death.
Anne was executed on 19 May 1536 on charges relating to treason, adultery and incest. Little Elizabeth was immediately declared illegitimate and out of royal favour.
By the time Elizabeth was allowed back to court, it was Christmas 1536. She found herself amidst courtiers who dare not mention her mother, or in fact, the very name of Boleyn.
The Young Elizabeth
As she grew up, the young Elizabeth (pictured below) received an education concurrent with her mother’s wishes. Among others, she received tuition from Protestant scholar Roger Ascham. She quickly established herself a child prodigy, demonstrating beautiful hand-writing skills and fluency in several languages. In 1545 (the year she turned twelve) she translated from French, The Mirror of the Sinful Soul by her mother’s friend, Margaret of Navarre. She made it a gift to Katherine Parr, her father’s sixth wife. For her father, she expertly translated Katherine Parr’s own work, Prayers and Meditations, into Latin, French and Italian.
After threading her way through a path of dangerous plots, Elizabeth was crowned queen of England on 17 November 1558. She adopted a badge and motto, used by Anne, for herself, Semper Eadem, meaning ‘Always the same’. Many of those she elevated were connected to her mother. One of her earliest appointments was Matthew Parker, appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. Parker had worked with Anne on a shared passion – they both advocated the education of the poor through grammar schools. He had accepted the role Anne offered, as her Chaplin and he became Dean of Stoke-by-Clare in Suffolk. He founded one of the first grammar schools.
Elizabeth and the Boleyns
Elizabeth’s enduring loyalty to the Boleyn side of her family was highly evident. She elevated George Boleyn to the position of Dean of Lichfied. (His father, also called George, was Anne’s brother, and had been executed two days before Anne on charges of incest with the queen and plotting with her to kill the king). Elizabeth also favoured the children of Anne’s sister Mary Carey, nee Boleyn. She felt so close to them that she viewed Henry and Catherine Carey as her half siblings.
Catherine Carey was a dear friend to Elizabeth and secured royal approval for her marriage to Sir Francis Knollys, Privy Councillor and Vice-Chamberlain of the royal household. Their daughter, Lettice, became Countess of Essex and Leicester. Elizabeth raised Henry Carey to become the first Baron Hunsdon, Knight of the Garter, and he led her private bodyguard. He became lieutenant-general of the royal army and also Lord Chamberlain. In order to maintain the dignified role as Baron, Henry was awarded lands in Kent, Essex and Hertfordshire giving him an income of £4,000 per annum.
Henry Norris had been executed along with Anne’s brother George. He too was accused of adultery with the queen. He always denied the charge. His son, also called Henry, was unable to inherit his father’s titles. The reign of Elizabeth saw young Henry raised to Lord Rycote as she removed all barriers to his inheritance. She is said to be grateful at his father’s noble death in attempting to maintain her mother’s innocence as well as appreciative of previous hospitality shown to her by the younger Henry Norris.
In 1572, at Elizabeth’s request, Matthew Parker successfully traced the original papal dispensation that had legally sanctioned her parents’ marriage. This allowed parliament to officially reinstate Anne posthumously as queen. Elizabeth’s own recognition as legitimate heir was also a consequence of this. She also had a ruby enamel ring made that, when opened, revealed tiny images of herself and her mother.
Elizabeth would continue much of the work begun by Anne. She restored the Protestant faith to England after her paternal half-sister, Mary I, had fervently, almost completely, driven it from the country motivated by her Catholic zeal. She also made great strides in improving access to scholarship for the poor. Both mother and daughter always held the belief that learning should remain a lifelong commitment. Anne, who died so young under false accusation, truly lived on through Elizabeth. Her daughter clearly never forgot those loyal to her lost mother.