Guest Post – On This Day (Coronation of Elizabeth I)

“She is only a woman, only mistress of half an island,” marvelled Pope Sixtus V, “and yet she makes herself feared by Spain, by France, by the Empire, by all”. 

At one time, there was a Queen-in-Training whose journey to Queenhood was far more treacherous than that of our current crop of princesses. Thanks to our guest author, geogirl, for this post describing the day Elizabeth I began her reign. This is the first of three parts, “On This Day”, “The Events of the Day”, and “Coronation Finery”. Make sure to tune back in for the next two.

Ermine Portrait, Nicholas Hilliard, 1585. (Portion showing coronation ring)

The coronation of Queen Elizabeth I as queen regnant of England and Ireland took place at Westminster Abbey, London, on 15 January 1559, 461 years ago today. Queen Elizabeth I ascended the throne at the age of 25.

Sunday 15 January 1559 was chosen, not because it was an appropriate Christian holy day, but on the advice of her court astrologer, Dr John Dee. He advised it was a date on which the stars and planets would be in favourable positions.

The time between her accession and coronation very short because she was concerned with her legal status.

  • In her lifetime, she had gone from legitimate princess when she was a baby and toddler, to bastard and excluded from the line of succession in 1533.  
  • By 1543/44, her place in the succession had been restored, but not her legitimacy.  It was not a foregone conclusion she would be queen. She was an unmarried woman, her claim to the throne rested on her executed mother and there was likely to be a further period of religious upheaval.
  • Rather than trying to unsnarl the legislation, she and her advisors decided to be bold, expedite the coronation and allow celebrations in the streets of London. It was a critical hurtle for her acceptance.

Elizabeth spent some £16,000 of her own money on the coronation, while the aldermen, livery companies and merchants of the City contributed a very substantial amount.  This when 15£/year was considered high for a “common soldier”.  In 2020 the same soldier might make $20-30,000.  If held today, the coronation might cost about $25M.

Chosing who would conduct the actual coronation service was problematic because, as a result of deaths, illness and “heretical activities” during her sister Mary’s reign, there were few high ranking bishops available.  Finally, the lower-ranking Bishop of Carlisle, Owen Oglethorpe, accepted the role.· 

Part 2 of 3 parts will appear tomorrow.