Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Question from Michelle - More on Elizabeth and her mother

Is there anything known about what Elizabeth said about her mother or her feelings about her? I know she acknoweledged her publicly and had the ring with both of their portraits in it. I'm aware that Anne was executed while Elizabeth was very young and that she lived away from her mother, but I would imagine that she might feel some sort of resentment over not knowing her mother. Did Elizabeth believe her mother was guilty? I'm sure there's not much information on this, but I don't even know where to begin to look.

[note from Lara - this topic has already been talked about a little in the threads below, but I was also curious about the question of whether there is any clue about what Elizabeth might have thought about her mother's guilt or innocence]

Other threads on this topic:


Elizabeth M. said...

Though there is no direct evidence to show if Elizabeth believed her mother guilty or innocent, she did drop hints. She adopted Anne's badge of a white falcon as her own. She possessed a ring which, when opened, revealed not only her own portrait, but one of her mother. She showed special favor to several of her Boleyn relations, notably her cousin, Catherine Carey, who was one of Elizabeth's closest and most loyal ladies-in-waiting, while she also made Catherine's brother, Henry,a peer by creating him Baron Hunsdon. Another cousin, Sir Richard Sackville (the son of her grandfather Thomas Boleyn's sister Margaret)served as a Privy Councilor to Queen Elizabeth and was prominent in her government until he died in 1566.
David Starkey notes in his book "Elizabeth, The Struggle For the Throne" that Elizabeth, while imprisoned in the Tower by her half-sister Queen Mary, was in fear of her life and at one point expressed a wish to be beheaded with a sword, in the manner of her mother. And though she was only heard to mention her mother on one or two occasions, she was recorded as not being adverse to hearing praise of her mother. Also, an image of her mother was present in one of the pageants at her ceremonial entry into London before her coronation.
So, although we do not know how she felt about her mother's innocence or guilt, it is clear that Elizabeth had certainly had respect for her mother's memory.

Anonymous said...

There are other revealing comments which clearly suggest that Elizabeth quite firmly believed in her mother's innocence. As Elizabeth M. (the previous poster) pointed out, there is sufficient circumstantial evidence to suggest that Elizabeth I had a strong and affectionate respect for her mother's memory, which would seem unlikely if she suspected her mother was actually a treacherous nymphomaniac.

More specifically, however, are the often over-looked comments made by Elizabeth, whilst she was still Heiress-Presumptive, to the Venetian ambassador during the mid-1550s. In the course of the conversation, Elizabeth stated quite explicitly that she did not believe her mother would ever have slept with her father until they were married, citing Anne's close working relationship with the eventual Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. If Elizabeth was prepared to declare that she did not believe her mother was morally capable of pre-marital sex, it is almost impossible to suggest that she could then have suspected her of post-marital adultery. The comments to the Venetian were also made during Mary I's reign, when praising Anne Boleyn carried with it some risk, so we must assume Elizabeth's comments were genuine.

I will post more on the secondary and primary sources, where one can find accounts of this meeting when I have the books to hand!

Foose said...

I think Elizabeth realized very early that her mother's life and death had a political dimension that overrode any emotional considerations. She may have believed in her mother's innocence, but even if she didn't she had to assert a belief in Anne's innocence in order to remain a viable candidate for the throne.

She was aware that Anne was highly controversial even after her death and took a low-key but consistent approach to defending not only Anne but, crucially, her own legitimacy. Her statements before she acceded to the throne were few and sparing but pointed -- to te effect that her mother was Henry's legitimate wife and an honorable maiden before she married him, and an honorable matron afterwards. Not to make these statements would be to apparently acquiesce in the conservative position -- that her mother was a traitor and an adulteress, that Elizabeth was probably not only a bastard but also not even the king's bastard, and consequently had no title whatsoever to the throne.

I would think that Elizabeth would have had some anger towards her mother. Anne's behavior -- perceived to have broken up Henry's marriage, brought many respected statesmen to their deaths, destroyed the Catholic church in England, ruined the lives of Catherine of Aragon and Mary -- had made her daughter a despised object for many in England and abroad, and consequently vulnerable to a variety of attacks. As an infant she was denigrated as the "Little Whore" and although Henry tried to arrange betrothals as she grew up, kings and their sons made it clear that Mary was their preferred candidate, as Catherine had been royal and her daughter was regarded as legitimate by most of Europe -- unlike Elizabeth.

Elizabeth always had to overcome the memory of her mother. Although the terms of Henry VIII's will helped (although many conservatives, including her sister Mary, would never accept her legitimacy), she was damaged politically during the Seymour affair, in part because there seems to have been a general opinion of "Like mother, like daughter." Edward set aside both Mary and Elizabeth in his "Devise for the Succession" -- Mary probably because she was a conservative, but Elizabeth (who conformed to his political program) most likely because she was the controversial issue of an infamous woman and the Seymour episode had not helped. He probably did not regard either of them as legitimate, but his regime did treat Mary as his probable successor during his reign.

Even after her accession, her attitude towards Anne can be read as trying to bolster the legitimacy of her claim to the throne without bringing up the past too openly. Support and modest favors for her Boleyn relations could be read as an effort to build a personal family network outside the royal family (because there were few Tudors left, and in any case they couldn't be trusted) but again in a low-key way that would not provoke a backlash.

I don't disagree that she may have believed in her mother's innocence; my point is whether she did or not, she would have had to maintain that innocence for her own protection.