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History of the Time of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I

To give historical context to the hidden messages in the First Folio, it is essential to have at least a basic working understanding of the historical context of the period time the plays in the First Folio were written. The period of the reigns of Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I has held a special fascination for those interested in English history. Countless books have been written expounding many different interpretations of the events of the times. I am not a historian, so I am not going to even try to delve into the mass of facts and details of the times. In this chapter, I am just going to sketch out a very basic history of times so that the reader has enough understanding of the events and personalities to begin to put the hidden messages revealed in this blog into historical context. I paint the picture with a broad brush; I freely admit that I gleaned most of the material from Wikipedia and other cited sources. I encourage the reader to read scholarly books on the history of the times for more in-depth information. My main purpose here is to identify the key political personages and to give a sense of the personalities and the political intrigues. With regard to the hidden messages of the First Folio, the most important individual is Queen Elizabeth I.


The plays contained in the First Folio were written and published during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the last monarch of the House of Tudor, and James I, the first of the Stuarts to occupy the throne of England. The messages in the First Folio concern the events that transpired during the reigns of these monarchs.


The Tudor dynasty began with Henry Tudor’s ascent to the throne of England as Henry VII. Henry VII had four legitimate children who survived into adulthood: Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales (September 19, 1486–April 2, 1502); Mary Tudor (November 28, 1489–October 18, 1541); Henry VIII, King of England (June 28, 1491–January 28, 1547); and Mary Tudor (March 18, 1496–June 25, 1533).

The events that shaped Queen Elizabeth I’s ascension to the throne began with her father, King Henry VIII. Presumably, everyone at least knows the story of Henry VIII and his six wives. Henry Tudor, the second son of Henry VII, was born on June 28, 1491. As the second son of Henry VII, Henry was not expected to become King; Henry’s older brother Arthur was the first in line to succeed his father. Although Henry received an excellent education, he was “untrained in the exacting art of kingship.” When Henry’s older brother Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, died on April 2, 1502, Henry became the heir apparent. Henry was made Duke of Cornwall in 1502 and the Prince of Wales, and Earl of Chester in 1503. With the death of his brother, Henry VII pursued a marriage between Henry and Catherine of Aragon, Arthur’s widow, to strengthen England’s ties with Spain. Prince Henry and Catherine were betrothed on June 25, 1503. Prince Henry was just a few days short of his twelfth birthday and Catherine was age seventeen. At age fourteen, Henry renounced the betrothal; however, a few days after Henry VII’s death, on April 22, 1509, Henry changed his mind and he announced that he would marry Catherine. On June 11, 1509, Henry married Catherine, and their coronation occurred on June 24, 1509.


Catherine and Henry encountered difficulty having viable children. However, on February 18, 1516, Catherine successfully gave birth to a daughter, Mary. In addition to a wife, Henry also had mistresses, one of whom was Elizabeth Blount. Blount gave birth to Henry’s illegitimate son, Henry FitzRoy, on June 15, 1519, and Henry openly acknowledged him. Although Henry FitzRoy was eventually elevated to Duke of Richmond and Somerset, he died childless on July 23, 1536.


At some point in 1523, Henry began an affair with Mary Boleyn, Catherine’s lady-in-waiting. Henry then turned his roving eyes to Mary’s sister, Anne Boleyn. Anne encouraged Henry’s advances, but refused to become his mistress. This situation contributed, along with Henry's and Catherine’s failure to produce a male heir, to Henry’s decision to divorce Catherine. Although early in his reign Henry VIII was a supporter of the Catholic faith and was allied with the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximillian I, his decision to be rid of Catherine led to his break from papal authority and the English Reformation. In the period beginning in 1532, and extending through 1537, a number of laws were enacted by Parliament to launch the English Reformation.

Leaving the intrigues and legal details of the annulment of Henry and Catherine’s marriage aside, Catherine was banished from the court, and Henry and Anne Boleyn secretly married in 1532. When Anne became pregnant and a second wedding service was held on January 25, 1533. On May 23, 1533, Thomas Cranmer, the newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, a position he obtained with Anne’s help, announced that the marriage of Catherine and Henry null and void -- void from its inception. On May 28, 1533, Cranmer declared the marriage of Henry and Anne to be valid. Catherine was no longer the queen and became, as the widow of Arthur Tudor, the “Dowager Princess of Wales.” On June 1, 1533, Anne was crowned queen consort. Anne gave birth to a daughter Elizabeth on September 7, 1533. In March 1534, Parliament passed the First Succession Act (Succession to the Crown Act 1533 (25 Hen 8 c 22)).[1] This Act declared Princess Mary illegitimate. However, in 1534 Henry’s marriage to Anne began to sour. One major reason for this was Anne’s failure to give birth to a male heir.[2]


Catherine of Aragon died on January 7, 1536. Later that month, at a tournament at Greenwich Palace on January 24, 1536, Henry, in full armor, was thrown from his horse and was seriously injured. He was unconscious for several hours, and at first, it was thought he would die. Some have theorized that Henry may have incurred an undetected brain injury that profoundly affected his personality and contributed to his increasingly cruel and paranoid behavior.[3] On January 29, 1536, which also happened to be the day Catherine of Aragon’s funeral, the news of Henry’s accident reached Anne, who was pregnant, and she miscarried. The child she was carrying was boy, about 15 weeks old. The loss of this child, along with other political factors, placed further strains on the marriage. Henry again fell into a now familiar pattern—he took a mistress, Jane Seymour, a lady-in-waiting of the Queen. After various scurrilous allegations were made against her, Anne Boleyn was executed on May 19, 1536, on the grounds of the Tower of London. She was, at least, spared the axe, being executed by beheading in the French style by an expert swordsman.


The day after the Queen’s execution became engaged to Jane Seymour. He married her ten days later. In June 1536, Parliament enacted the Second Succession Act, formally titled, “An Act concerning the Succession of the Crown” (28 Henry VIII c.7), or the Act of Succession 1536. This Act declared that any of Henry’s children by Jane to be next in the line of succession, and declared both Mary and Elizabeth illegitimate, thus excluding both of them from succession. On October 12, 1537, Jane gave birth to a son, Prince Edward, who eventually became Edward VI. However, Jane died a few days later because of complications from childbirth.


After Jane’s death, Henry married Anne of Cleves on January 6, 1540. However, Henry seems to have tired of quickly of Anne. Anne agreed to an annulment because the marriage was not consummated, and the marriage was annulled on July 9, 1540.


In the meantime, Henry seems to have become infatuated with Catherine Howard, a first cousin and former lady-in-waiting of Anne Boleyn. Catherine and Henry were married on July 28, 1540. Unlike Anne Boleyn, however, Queen Catherine’s actual unfaithfulness is well documented. It is known that she had an affair with the courtier Thomas Culpeper and Francis Dereham, her former fiancé, who she employed as her secretary. One can only imagine the rage that Henry flew into upon realizing he had been really and truly cuckolded. Not surprisingly, Henry had everyone executed. Catherine was beheaded on February 13, 1542.


Henry married his last wife, Catherine Parr, in July 1543. To her credit, Catherine was able to bring Henry’s family closer together. In July 1543, Parliament passed the Third Succession Act, formally titled the Succession to the Crown Act (35 Hen. VIII c.1). This Act returned Mary and Elizabeth, although still considered illegitimate, to the line of succession after Edward. In addition, the Act allowed Henry to change the succession by letters patent or by will. Henry VIII died on 28 January 1547, and his will conformed to the provision of the Third Succession Act.

Edward VI and the Regency Council:


Upon the death of Henry VIII, Prince Edward inherited the throne and was crowned on February 20, 1547, at the age of nine, becoming King Edward VI. Being only age nine, however, real power was vested in a 16 executors, named in Henry’s will, who would serve on a Regency Council until Edward reached age eighteen. The will also provided that, if Edward did not produce an heir, the crown would pass to Henry’s daughter Mary. If this event occurred, and if Mary did not produce an heir, the crown would pass to Henry’s daughter Elizabeth. If Elizabeth became Queen, and if Elizabeth did not produce an heir, the crown would pass to descendants of Henry VIII’s deceased younger sister, Queen Mary of France, the Greys. As it turned out, and although decedents of Henry’s sister Margaret (the Stuarts) were excluded from succession in Henry’s will, the crown eventually passed to James VI of Scotland who became James I of England upon Elizabeth’s death.


The Council awarded themselves and others in the court a round of promotions and gifts, based on an “unfulfilled gifts” clause of dubious origin in the will. Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford, Jane Seymour’s elder brother, benefited the most, by making himself Duke of Somerset and by being named Lord Protector of the Realm, even though there was no express provision in the will for the naming of a Protector. In March 1547, he obtained letters patent from King Edward granting him the near equivalent of the monarchical right to appoint members to the Privy Council and to consult them only when he wished. Also, William Cecil, who would later become Baron Burghley and chief advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, began his career in Somerset’s service.


The biggest problem for Edward Seymour was probably the fact that he had a brother, Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley, and Thomas was scheming for power. Although Edward made Thomas Lord High Admiral in an attempt to placate him, Thomas plotted for control of King Edward, and, in the spring of 1547, secretly married Catherine Parr, Henry VIII’s widow. This brought Thomas into Catherine’s household at Chelsea Manor and into close contact with Catherine’s stepdaughter the Lady Elizabeth (age 13) and Lady Jane Grey (age eleven), both of whom were staying with Catherine. At some point, Thomas began to engage in inappropriate, sexually charged behavior with Elizabeth. Katherine Ashley née Champernowne, the governess of Elizabeth, shocked by Thomas’s behavior, reported it. When Catherine was made aware of these reports, she apparently did very little to prevent Thomas from continuing with his activities and even seems to have participated to some extent. However, when Catherine became pregnant in 1548 and discovered Thomas in an embrace with Elizabeth, Elizabeth was sent away to live in the household of Sir Anthony Denny. Sir Anthony was married to Joan Champernowne, a close friend of Catherine Parr and sister to Katherine Ashley. Elizabeth was kept in seclusion at Cheshunt (Sir Anthony’s residence) under the care of Sir Anthony Denny until the autumn of 1548. In September 1548, Catherine gave birth to a daughter, but became ill and died because of complications from childbirth.

Thomas Seymour began to misplay his political hand in 1547, when his brother Edward was away fighting a war with Scotland. Thomas railed against his brother’s rule and, as Lord High Admiral, openly asked for the support of the Royal Navy, and engaged in other intrigues, in a play for power. When, in 1548, the Regency Council became concerned about Thomas’ actions, Edward arranged to have his brother summoned before the Council; however, Thomas failed to appear.


Thomas’s plots reached a bizarre culmination when, on the night of January 16, 1549, for reasons that are not clear, (perhaps to take the young King away in his own custody) Thomas was caught trying to break into the king’s apartments at Hampton Court Palace. Whatever he was up to, he botched it. He entered the privy garden and roused one of the king’s pet spaniels, which started barking. He shot the dog and killed it. He was arrested the next day and sent to the Tower of London. Elizabeth was caught up in the speculation of a possible conspiracy, and on 18 January, the Privy Council took steps to interrogate all of Thomas’s associates, including Elizabeth. Katherine Ashley, Elizabeth’s governess, was also detained and questioned. During these interrogations, the facts of Elizabeth’s flirtations with Thomas came to light. There were rumors that Elizabeth had been pregnant by Thomas. Elizabeth, however, swore she remained a virgin and was able to use her learning, intellect, and guile to thwart her interrogators, although their suspicions of her involvement with Thomas were not completely assuaged. Thomas Seymour was charged with thirty-three counts of treason. He was convicted, and he was executed on March 20, 1549. These events seem to have left a mark on Elizabeth as to the inherent dangers of the succession, court intrigue, and probably of the exposure of sexual dalliances.


In 1549, Edward Seymour's political fortune was in decline from general maladministration and ineptitude in handling series of local rebellions. The Regency Council, tired of his poor administration, had him arrested on October 11, 1549, but not before Edward had seized King Edward and retreated to Windsor Castle in an attempt to save himself. In February 1550, John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, made Duke of Northumberland in 1551, became Lord President of the Council and, effectively, Edward Seymour’s successor. The political fall of Somerset instigated a round of political maneuvering on the Council with Somerset being the pawn in the game. In 1550, Edward Seymour was released from the Tower and returned to a seat on the Council. He was later charged with plotting to overthrow Dudley and was executed in January 1552.


John Dudley became the Grand Master of the Household, giving him control of the organization and management of the Royal Household and the Privy Chamber. After the fall of Somerset, William Cecil adroitly shifted his allegiance to Northumberland, who named Cecil to the position of Secretary of State. As Secretary of State, Cecil carried out Dudley’s wishes with regard to the activities of the Privy Council. Dudley’s goal seems to have been to prepare the king for full exercise of power while ensuring his future position after power was fully vested with the king. Although the king and his advisors were in general agreement on a policy of aggressively advancing the Protestant reforms, the king and Dudley were engaged in a complex and subtle transition of power, with the young king increasingly exerting his authority.


In February 1553, the king fell seriously ill with a fever and cough, and within a few months, it became apparent that he would not live. This triggered a succession crisis, and the king wrote a document, titled “My devise for the succession.” However, there was some disagreement as to the legality of the document—the Third Succession Act had only authorized Henry VIII to alter the succession. In this document, the king passed over his half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth. The obvious reason for excluding Mary was the fact that she was a staunch Catholic. The document provided that only male heirs of Frances Grey, Henry VIII’s niece by his sister Mary, or of her daughters, Lady Jane Grey, Lady Catherine Grey, or Lady Mary Grey, in that order, could succeed to the throne. As the king’s illness worsened, it was obvious that he would die, the document was altered to provide that Lady Jane Grey, or one of her sisters, could succeed to the throne. The document was finalized June 17, 1553, with officials signing the document and letters patent issued on June 21, 1553. The king also announced his intention to have the document ratified by Parliament in September. Although the king worked to advance the devise for succession, the document clearly benefited the Duke of Northumberland as Lady Jane Grey had married Lord Guildford Dudley, the second youngest surviving son of the Duke of Northumberland, on May 25, 1553. The king’s condition progressively worsened and he died on July 6, 1553.

Queen Jane and Queen Mary


Jane Grey accepted the crown on July 9, 1553. The Duke of Northumberland gathered his military forces, including forces under the control of his son, Robert Dudley, to support Jane Grey and in opposition to Princess Mary. Mary fled to East Anglia, a center of Catholic support and opposition to Northumberland, where she rallied her supporters and mobilized her military forces to secure the throne. By July 19, 1553, despite the Duke of Northumberland’s efforts, Jane and Guildford Dudley were prisoners in the Tower of London. John Dudley was arrested on July 21, 1553, and was imprisoned in the Tower of London on July 25. Robert Dudley had been committed to the Tower a few days before. Mary entered London on August 3, 1553, accompanied by Princess Elizabeth, and Parliament subsequently declared Mary the rightful Queen. On August 22, 1553, the Duke of Northumberland was executed. Robert Dudley pleaded guilty to treason on January 22, 1554, and was sentenced to death. He was remanded to the Tower where he awaited his execution.


Mary was crowned Queen on October 1, 1553. The first Parliament of Mary’s reign repealed the religious reforms put in place under King Edward VI and declared the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon valid.


Due in part to Mary’s plans to marry Prince Philip of Spain, a rebellion known as Wyatt’s Rebellion broke out in January 1554. Wyatt’s Rebellion lasted into February. One of the goals of the rebel leaders was to replace Queen Mary with Elizabeth. The rebellion sealed the fate of Guildford Dudley and Jane Grey, whose sentence of execution for high treason was carried out on February 12, 1554. Elizabeth was summoned to court and interrogated, but, once again, she managed to thwart her interrogators and proclaimed her innocence. She was imprisoned in the Tower of London on March 18 to await her fate, and so was held there at the same time that Robert Dudley was held there awaiting his execution.[4] Elizabeth escaped execution and was placed under the equivalent of house arrest on May 22, 1554, where she would remain for almost a year.

Mary married Philip of Spain, who had become King of Naples, on July 25, 1554. After Mary experienced a false pregnancy, the couple spent little time together. By the end of 1554, Mary had moved to restore papal authority and Parliament enacted the Revival of the Heresy Acts (1 & 2 Ph. & M. c.6), which lead to the infamous execution, persecution and exile of Protestants during her reign. Mary died childless on November 17, 1558.

Queen Elizabeth I


After the dead of Mary, Elizabeth ascended to the throne. Her coronation was held on January 15, 1559, in Westminster Abbey.


From the beginning Elizabeth’s reign, her right to rule was an issue. The questions arising from the acceptability of Henry VIII’s marriages and issue, and the ambiguities created by numerous acts of succession under Henry VIII and Edward VI had made Elizabeth’s claim to the throne precarious. To Catholics, Henry VIII’s annulment from Catherine of Aragon was invalid and Henry’s subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn was void, making Elizabeth an illegitimate child and disqualified to be Queen. On the other hand, Protestants recognized the legitimacy of Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn; however, the Act of Succession 1536 declared Elizabeth illegitimate, even though she had been returned to the line of succession by the Third Succession Act.

Elizabeth moved quickly to restore Protestant reforms that would not offend Catholics. The Queen became the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and the heresy laws were repealed. The new Parliament enacted the Act of Supremacy (1 Eliz 1 c 1) and The Act of Uniformity 1558 (1 Eliz 1 c 2), which required public officials swear allegiance to the Queen as the Supreme Governor and which required attendance at church and the use of the Book of Common Prayer. Violation of these laws required only relatively mild punishments for the times.


Elizabeth ascended to the throne of an England in crisis, weakened and pressed by foreign powers, chiefly Spain and France. Scotland remained a problem in the north and Ireland a problem in the west. As an act of policy and propaganda, Elizabeth declared that she was married to England and so cultivated her persona as the Virgin Queen. Nevertheless, as political marriages were a tool of diplomacy and foreign relations, Elizabeth’s marriage was a burning question and there were attempts at various political matches throughout Elizabeth’s reign. Elizabeth seems to have expertly exploited these attempts to her own and England’s advantage. She did, however, have one favored love above all others—Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester.


Robert Dudley was the fifth son of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, and a childhood friend of Elizabeth. He married Amy Robsart, daughter of Sir John Robsart, a gentleman farmer of Norfolk, on June 4, 1550. Whether this was a love-match is uncertain. Amy, however, was an heiress, and Robert, being a younger son, would not have been first in line to inherit from his father. Any marriage that would bring land and other property would be considered advantageous for him.


Because of the Earl of Northumberland’s attempt to manipulate the succession in favor of himself and Jane Grey, his ineffective military actions against Mary, and his resulting conviction of treason and execution, the Dudleys had been disgraced and stripped of power. Robert Dudley, as a direct participant in his father’s military actions to capture Mary, was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1554, along with his brothers, at the same time as Elizabeth’s imprisonment. Whether Robert and Elizabeth had any contact with one another during the time of their stay at the Tower is not clear. Robert was held in the Beauchamp Tower, while Elizabeth was kept in the Bell Tower. As it did for Elizabeth, Wyatt’s Rebellion at the beginning of Queen Mary’s reign made Robert Dudley’s release from imprisonment problematic. Ultimately, Mary chose not to carry out his execution and he was released on October 18, 1554. He was subsequently pardoned and rehabilitated his reputation by fighting for Philip II at the Battle of St. Quentin in August 1557 and by carrying dispatches from King Philip to London.


In January 1559, Queen Elizabeth made Robert Dudley the Master of the Horse.[5] As the Master of the Horse, he organized the Queen’s progresses, public appearances, and entertainment. These duties required him to be in personal attendance of the Queen for a large part of his time. It quickly became apparent that Robert and Elizabeth were in love, Elizabeth even had a nickname for Robert—“Eyes,” symbolized by the sign of ôô in their letters to each other. The main impediments to their marriage were that Robert was married to Amy Robsart and that Robert was generally unpopular at court, with the obvious exception of Elizabeth. Amy Robsart, however, was ill, probably with breast cancer, and was not expected to live long. With his new life at court, Robert remained apart from Amy. Beginning in December 1559, Amy lived with her household at Cumnor Place, near Abingdon in Berkshire (now Oxfordshire, a county in South East England). Then, on Sunday, September 8, 1560, Amy sent her servants away to a fair at Abingdon, even over the protest of some of them. Later that day, Amy was found dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs.


Immediately, speculation began of the possibility of Amy Robsart’s murder. Robert Dudley, from Windsor Castle, instructed Thomas Blunt, his steward, to make inquiries at Cumnor Place to determine what was known about the events of Amy’s death. When Blount wrote to Dudley, he reported that Amy had been depressed; however, Amy’s maid discounted the possibility that she had committed suicide. Blount reported that the maid believed that Amy’s death was an accident. Whether Dudley’s motives were to arrive at the truth, to clear his name, or to obscure the truth by interfering in the coroner’s inquest is the subject of continuing debate. According to the coroner’s verdict, Amy Robsart death was due to accidental causes—the verdict was that she broke her neck in a fall down a flight of stairs.


Despite the coroner’s verdict that Amy’s death was accidental, Dudley’s reputation was in tatters. The Queen’s reputation at home and abroad was also damaged. These outcomes are by themselves the strongest arguments against Dudley’s involvement in the death of his wife. The fact that Amy had died in the circumstances that occurred was enough by itself to throw suspicion on Dudley. He would clearly have foreseen this. Even though Elizabeth continued to defend Dudley, the circumstances of Amy’s death and the effect of her death on Dudley’s reputation made any chance of Dudley openly marrying Elizabeth vanish. Dudley had rivals among Elizabeth’s advisors, such as William Cecil, Nicholas Throckmorton, and Henry FitzAlan, 19th Earl of Arundel, who exploited the incident to their advantage. In later years, Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, and Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex, used Amy’s death as leverage against Robert Dudley, who had been made Earl of Leicester. The question remains, was Amy murdered? And if so, who had the opportunity and motive to murder her?


Robert Dudley continued to serve the Queen. In September 1564, he was created Earl of Leicester. He acted as the Queen’s unofficial consort at various events. He eventually became Lord Steward, served in the unsuccessful military operations in the Netherlands as Governor-General of the United Provinces, and in July 1588 during the Spanish Armada served as commander of the English land forces as “Lieutenant and Captain-General of the Queen’s Armies and Companies.” After a prolonged illness, Leicester died on September 4, 1588, probably from stomach cancer or malaria, on his way to take the baths at Buxton in Derbyshire.


In his personal life, Leicester had an affair with Lady Douglas Sheffield, which produced a son, who was also named Robert Dudley. There were also rumors of an affair with Lettice Knollys, wife of Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex. After the death of the Earl of Essex, Leicester secretly married Lady Essex on September 21, 1578. When Queen Elizabeth learned of the marriage, she flew into a rage. She remained bitter about the marriage throughout her life. In 1581, Lettice gave birth to a son, again named Robert Dudley, and styled Lord Denbigh, providing Leicester with a legitimate heir. Unfortunately, Lord Denbigh died three years later.


The major issues and events of Elizabeth’s reign were the possibility of her marriage, as an act of foreign policy, to a foreign ruler, the problem of Scotland, and the threat of the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots to Elizabeth’s reign, the Spanish threat culminating in the Spanish Armada, and England’s ineffective support of the Protestant Henry IV of France.


As an illustration of the importance of cryptology in the seventeenth century, the circumstances surrounding the downfall of Mary Queen of Scots are noteworthy. Her downfall was hastened by Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, from his exposure of enciphered correspondence exchanged in the “Babington Plot.” The Babington Plot was a plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth and to replace her with Queen Mary Stuart. The plot was exposed when Walsingham allowed a line of communication to Mary to be established that he could carefully monitor. Walsingham arranged to let enciphered messages be passed to and from Mary, while she was imprisoned, which he would decipher prior to delivery to Mary, or to persons with whom Mary corresponded. In other words, Walsingham established himself as the invisible “man in the middle” monitoring all enciphered messages to and from Mary, with the goal of ensnaring her in a plot against Queen Elizabeth. In this operation, Walsingham also employed spies, including to Robert Poley, to monitor the conspirators.[6] Eventually, Mary exchanged encrypted correspondence with Anthony Babington, a Catholic sympathizer, in which both Babington and Mary incriminated themselves in a plot to assassinate Elizabeth. The exposure of the plot led to the execution of Mary, Babington, and other coconspirators.


Beginning in 1588, the character of Elizabeth’s reign changed. Power shifted from the Queen to a new generation in a more powerful Privy Council. Taxes increased from the cost of war, prices rose as the country was hit by poor harvests and inflation of the currency. Repression of Catholics intensified and the government’s internal network of informers was strengthened, along with pro-government propaganda. Not surprisingly, the Queen’s popularity declined during this period. Ironically, this period of the Queen’s reign also corresponded with perhaps the greatest flowering of English literature. In particular, it was the period in which Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare produced their works.


Elizabeth began to favor Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, the late Earl of Leicester’s stepson. Essex was given military posts in which he performed poorly with little consequence. Essex eventually deserted his post as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, for which he was placed under house arrest in June 1600. Essex began writing to the Queen and in August 1600 was released from house arrest, but was banished from the court. In November 1600, the Queen cancelled his monopoly in sweet wines, resulting in his financial ruin. Essex then attempted a rebellion in London in February 1601, purportedly with the goal of seizing the Queen in order to force her to change the government and to dismiss Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, son of Lord Burghley.


Those opposed to the Queen’s government frequented Essex House where a plot began to form. On February 3, 1601, some of the chief protagonists for the rebellion met at Drury House, the residence of Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton. Essex did not attend this meeting to avoid drawing suspicion. On February 6, 1601, supporters of Essex requested the players at the Globe Theater perform Shakespeare’s Richard II with the deposition scene included. The Privy Council learned that Essex was up to something and summoned him to appear on February 7. He refused. With the element of surprise lost, if it had ever been present, Essex had to move quickly. The next day, the Lord Keeper Thomas Egerton and three others came to Essex House, probably in an effort to take Essex into custody peacefully. Essex took them hostage and moved with about two hundred men on London. Displaying his usual military prowess, Essex’s effort failed miserably and he was forced to retreat to Essex House. Egerton and the other three hostages were gone and Essex was quickly besieged by the Queen’s forces under Lord Admiral Charles Howard, the Earl of Nottingham. Essex and his followers spent the evening burning incriminating documents before their surrender later that night.


Francis Bacon, Queen’s Counsel, and a former a friend of Essex, until Bacon broke ties with him, participated in the investigation of Essex. Attorney General Sir Edward Coke, a bitter enemy of Bacon, led the prosecution team at Essex’s treason trial, with Bacon assisting. After a trial that lasted only a day, Essex was found guilty of treason. He was beheaded on the grounds of the Tower on February 25, 1601. Bacon was charged with writing the official government account of the trial, A DECLARATION of the Practices and Treasons attempted and committed by Robert late Earle of Essex and his Complices, against her Majestie and her Kingdoms, which was published after extensive edits by the Queen and her ministers. In 1604, during the reign of King James I, Bacon published his Apologie, In certaine Imputations concerning the late Earl of Essex, a defense of his actions in the Essex trial.


With the Queen’s life drawing to a close, Robert Cecil, Secretary of State, entered into secret encrypted correspondence with King James VI of Scotland to negotiate for James’s succession of Elizabeth. Cecil carefully instructed James on what to write to Elizabeth to win her approval. Queen Elizabeth died on March 24, 1603, at Richmond Palace. Found among her treasured possessions was the last letter that Robert Dudley wrote to her on his way to the baths at Buxton in Derbyshire, just before his death. Robert Cecil wasted no time in having a proclamation issued of James’s accession to the throne.

James I

King James VI of Scotland ascended to the throne of England on March 24, 1603, upon the death of Elizabeth, becoming James I, King of England and Ireland, thereby uniting the Scottish and English crowns. James’s coronation was held on July 25, 1603. The period of James’s reign is known as the Jacobean Period.


Within the first year of the king’s reign, two plots were discovered—the “Bye Plot” and the “Main Plot.” The Bye Plot was the less serious of the two, consisting of a plot by Catholic and Puritan elements seeking to capture the king on his progress from Scotland to his coronation. In general, the goals of the plot were to force a change in policy in favor of more religious toleration and to remove some of government ministers unsympathetic to reform. The Main Plot was more ambitious, seeking the removal of the king and his replacement with his cousin Arabella Stuart. The plotters of the Bye Plot harbored mutual suspicions and operational security was quickly breached; word of the plot rapidly reached Robert Cecil. Exposure of the Bye Plot led to the exposure of the Main Plot.


Sir Walter Raleigh was ensnared in the Main Plot. He was tried for treason and convicted, but was spared execution, spending the next thirteen years in the Tower. He spent much of the time writing and completed the first volume of The Historie of the World (published 1628) during this period. He was released in 1616 to conduct an expedition to Venezuela. His actions during this expedition led to the reimposition of his death sentence and he was executed October 29, 1618.

Two years later, November 4–5, 1605, the “Gunpowder Plot” was revealed when Guy Fawkes was discovered in the cellars of Parliament with thirty-six barrels of gunpowder. This plot was the plan of a group of Catholics led by Robert Catesby. The goal of this plot was to assassinate King James by exploding the gunpowder beneath the House of Lords while the king was present. The goal of the plot was to install James’s nine-year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth, as the Catholic head of state. After the Gunpowder Plot, he instituted severe measures against Catholics who refused to conform.


After the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, there was a brief period of good relations between the king and Parliament. However, this was the exception rather than the rule. King James’s relationship with Parliament was difficult. He inherited a £400,000 government debt from Elizabeth. The government sanctioned monopolies, and the war with Ireland engendered financial and political instability. By the end of 1610, any good feelings between the king and the House of Commons resulting from the exposure of the Gunpowder Plot had vanished. The king, with his principal advisor, Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, and Lord Treasurer, were at loggerheads with the House of Commons over the king’s demand for “support” (i.e., annual income) of £200,000, and a further £600,000 for “supply,” for funding the government and armed forces. The resulting extended and difficult negotiations, known as “the Great Contract” were led by Salisbury. The negotiations centered on the king’s annual income, with the Commons attempting to gain concessions from the king concerning certain grievances, especially elimination of wardship and a concession to curtail duties on trade, known as “impositions” which had expanded to £70,000 annually. Salisbury conceded the issue of wardship, but also raised the request for annual income by £40,000. Eventually, in July 1610 the two sides agreed on the original figure of £200,000. With regard to “supply,” the Commons approved only a single subsidy that was worth about £100,000, far less than the £600,000 originally requested. After the summer recess, the king took the position that the Great Contract required that both the request for “support” and “supply” had to be met and he insisted on a further £500,000 for “supply.” He also insisted that if impositions were eliminated, that the value of impositions had to be replaced by an alternate source of funding. The response from the Commons was shock and disapproval. Negotiations over the Great Contract came to a halt. On December 6, James ended the session of Parliament. On December 31, he issued a proclamation dissolving Parliament. So ended the “Blessed Parliament” of 1604–1610. [7]


With the death of Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, on May 24, 1612, power shifted to a new faction. Robert Carr, then Viscount of Rochester, a favorite of the king, assumed many of Salisbury’s former duties, with the king attempting to act as chief minister of state. Carr came to be the king’s favorite by coming to king’s notice when Carr injured himself by breaking a leg at a tournament. Carr was apparently had very few other talents and was not fully up to the task of replacing Robert Cecil. Carr depended on a well-educated, close friend, Sir Thomas Overbury, to help carry out his official duties. Through Carr, Overbury had indirect access to the king. In the power vacuum that ensued from this arrangement, a group composed of Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton, Thomas Howard, Earl of Suffolk, Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Nottingham, Sir William Knollys, 1st Earl of Banbury, and Sir Thomas Lake exerted a powerful influence over the control of the government.


Robert Carr began an affair with Frances Howard, Lady Essex, wife of Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex, and aligned himself with the Howards. Lady Essex sought an annulment of her marriage with Essex on the grounds of Essex’s alleged impotence. Overbury was strongly opposed to the annulment and the marriage of Carr and Frances Howard. To silence Overbury, the Howards managed to have him imprisoned in the Tower on April 22, 1613, on the orders of the king. Overbury died in there on September 14, 1613. The marriage of Frances Howard and Essex was annulled on September 23, 1613. On November 3, 1613, Carr was made Earl of Somerset, and on December 26, 1613, Carr and Frances Howard were married. The marriage was the social event of the season. Francis Bacon participated in the celebration of the marriage by producing The Maske of Flowers.


After the wedding, rumors that Overbury had been murdered began to circulate. Unfortunately for Carr, in 1615 he had a falling out with the king and was replaced as the king’s favorite by George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham. Things went from bad to worse when in September 1615 the Lord Lieutenant of the Tower sent a letter to the king that a warder had poisoned Overbury. The king tried to ignore the scandal, but he was forced into sanctioning an investigation. The bitter enemies, Sir Edward Coke, Lord Chief Justice of the king’s Bench, and Sir Francis Bacon, Attorney General, were again paired up to prosecute the Carr and Frances Howard.


Frances Howard admitted her guilt. She had arranged to have a new Lord Lieutenant of the Tower, Sir Gervase Helwys, appointed, and had a gaoler, Richard Weston, who was familiar with drugs and poisons, assigned bring food to Overbury. Weston, along with a widow of a doctor, Mrs. Anne Turner, and an apothecary named Franklin killed Overbury by poisoning his food. Carr, however, maintained his innocence. The king encouraged Carr to plead guilty in exchange for a pardon. Carr and Frances were found guilty and sentenced to death, but their sentences were commuted to imprisonment by the king. Both were eventually pardoned. Helwys, Weston, Turner, and Franklin were executed. The scandal permanently tarnished the king’s reputation.


James, after using various financial expedients to obtain funds in the period after he dissolved Parliament in 1610, felt it necessary to reconvene Parliament in 1614 to again request funds. Again, the king and the Commons came to loggerheads and nothing was accomplished. James dissolved “the Addled Parliament” in June 1614 and ruled without one until 1621. Four of the most outspoken members of the Commons were sent to the Tower. James also proclaimed himself “King of Great Britain” after the House of Commons refused to grant him the title on legal grounds.


Government financial problems and the king’s profligate spending was a continuing source of political and financial friction the Jacobean Period. The greatest achievement of the king’s reign seems to have been that ruled during a period of peace, a period during which English literature and drama continued to flourish. The king died on March 27, 1625.


[1] The act is dated to 1534, as it was passed in that calendar year. However, the legal calendar in use at that time dated the beginning of the year as March 25, and so the Act was considered as being enacted in 1533. [2] There is disagreement as to the number of failed pregnancies Anne experienced. [3] The Independent. The jousting accident that turned Henry VIII into a tyrant. April 18, 2009 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/the-jousting-accident-that-turned-henry-viii-into-a-tyrant-1670421.html [4] Robert avoided execution, see below. [5] DUDLEY, Sir Robert (1532/33-88). Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982. Available from Boydell and Brewer.; see also, The History of Parliament. http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1509-1558/member/dudley-sir-robert-153233-88 [6] Robert Poley will surface again later in the death of Christopher Marlowe, below. [7] See The Parliament of 1604-1610. Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010. Available from Cambridge University Press; see also http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1604-1629/survey/parliament-1604-1610

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