Tuesday, 7 September 2010
September 7th, 1533: The Birth of Elizabeth I
The baby princess’s gender, as everybody knows, was a terrible disappointment to both of her parents and a subject of ill-contained glee to their many opponents. However, it was not quite the death-knell in Henry and Anne’s marriage that later tradition was to suggest, nor is there any evidence to suggest it affected their treatment of her. Henry was always a capricious parent, alternating between indifference and indulgence, whilst Anne was a devoted mother and, as Elizabeth's biographer, Dr. David Starkey, has written - "her mother plainly adored her."
Had Elizabeth been a boy, of course, her mother's new found title would have been unassailable. Even opponents of her marriage, like Sir Thomas More, had been prepared to “wait and see,” on the issue of her children. If Anne had produced the longed-for son and heir, then all the criticisms of her would have evaporated and her predecessor regarded as a cantankerous irrelevance. As More had said, if the new Queen did produce a prince, then it would be to the “rest, peace, wealth and profit” of the entire country. No matter how much anyone liked Katherine of Aragon, they would have liked a Prince of Wales and a stable succession a lot more.
Throughout 1533, the progress of Anne Boleyn had been seemingly unstoppable. At long last, everything seemed to be going her way. She and the King had finally been married in November of the previous year, going through the proscribed second Nuptial Mass in January, by which time Anne must have already been pregnant with Elizabeth – although, she cannot have known it yet. At her lavish Coronation in the early summer, foreign observers noted that “the English sought, unceasingly, to honour their new princess… everyone strove to be as attentive and solicitous as possible to serve their new mistress.” It seemed so unlikely that the culmination of a year of triumph would have been the anti-climax of the birth of a daughter, rather than a son.
Aside from being the heiress to the controversy of Henry VIII’s second marriage, Elizabeth also inherited a decidedly mixed bag of genetics. Had everything gone well, as it did for her Scottish cousin Mary, Elizabeth might very well have turned out to be one of the great beauties of royal history. In their prime, both of her parents had been considered highly attractive; although regarded as too thin and too dark by the English, Anne Boleyn had been compared to Venus by the French. Generally speaking, the Boleyns, the Tilneys, the Butlers and the Howards were considered good-looking families, particularly Anne Boleyn’s mother, who had been the subject of poems to her beauty. On King Henry’s side, Elizabeth’s grandmother, the late Queen Elizabeth of York, and her mother, Queen Elizabeth Woodville, had been ranked as some of the most exquisite beauties of their generation, with coveted ivory skin and long, golden hair. Elizabeth’s recently deceased aunt, Mary, the Dowager Queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk, was very beautiful, with lovely ginger hair and alabaster skin, although none of her daughters seemed to have been so lucky. Going back to her great-great grandmothers, Jacquetta of Luxembourg and Queen Catherine de Valois, Elizabeth could count yet more beauties in her ancestry, along with some very handsome men – George, Lord Rochford (her uncle), Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire (grandfather) and King Edward IV (great-grandfather.)
Yet it was not all six foot-tall Adonises and porcelain-pale beauties in Elizabeth Tudor’s family tree. The features of her great-grandmother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, could generously be described as “distinguished,” while the heavy, long faces of her grandfather, King Henry VII, and her aunt, Margaret, Queen Mother of Scotland, showed that their was an aesthetic downside to belonging to England’s most prestigious dynasty. Elizabeth was lucky, in that she inherited two of her mother’s best features – her dark eyes and her waif-like physique – and, from her father, she inherited the flawless ivory skin of the Yorks and the Woodvilles and the Tudors’ distinctive ginger hair. However, she also inherited her father’s rather small mouth and, most damagingly, the long, aquiline nose of the Beauforts. Basically, there was enough of Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth of York, Elizabeth Howard and Elizabeth Woodville in Elizabeth Tudor to make her attractive, but too much of Margaret Beaufort and Henry VII to make her beautiful.
Ordinarily, given how close she had been born to one of the great festivals of the Virgin, it would have been expected for the baby princess to receive the baptismal name of Mary. However, the King already had a daughter with that name, from his first marriage. With that union’s annulment, Mary Tudor had lost the title of “princess,” to her great distress, and there were rumours in the Spanish Embassy that the new Queen planned to christen her daughter Mary, anyway, in the hope that the new Princess Mary would utterly eclipse the old one in the public’s mind. As with so many of the Spanish-started rumours about Anne Boleyn, this story was groundless, for there doesn’t seem to have been any hesitation on either the King or the Queen’s part in naming their new daughter, Elizabeth. It was the most logical name to go for. Both the King and the Queen had mothers with that name – Henry’s long-dead royal mother, Elizabeth of York, who had passed away in childbirth thirty years earlier and the Queen’s still-living mother, the Countess of Ormonde and Wiltshire. And so it was probably as a mutual maternal tribute that Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn selected the name for the baby that was destined to be their only child together and thus christened the girl who would arguably become the single most famous woman in her country’s history.