The Birth of Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I young 227x300 The Birth of Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I aged around 13 by William Scrots

Today in 1533 the future Queen Elizabeth I was born at Greenwich Palace, she was the daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. The birth was quick and the baby was healthy, it was said she had her father’s complexion and her mother’s dark black eyes.

Preparations for Elizabeth’s arrival had begun in early August. Greenwich was the palace of choice for the birth, it had been a favourite of Henry’s mother, Elizabeth of York, and was the place of his own birth 42 years earlier. As was customary for the time a chamber was prepared at Greenwich for Anne’s confinement. Historian David Starkey describes how the walls and ceilings of the chamber were hung and tented with precious tapestries called arras which were woven with gold or silver thread and there were rich carpets laid on the floor. Anne’s bed was also richly hung with tapestries that matched the rest of the room. At the last minute gold and silver plate was brought into the chamber, there were cups and bowls to stand on the cupboard and crucifixes, candlesticks and images for the alter. Starkey describes the chamber as being like a “cross between a chapel and a luxuriously padded cell”

Greenwich Palace Tudor 300x229 The Birth of Elizabeth I

Greenwich Palace

Anne entered her confinement on the 26th August. There had been a lot of anxiety leading up to this date as it appears Anne had some difficulties in the later stages of her pregnancy. Eric Ives explains how Henry was said to have “been at his wits end, even hoping for a miscarriage if it would save Anne’s life”. Anne eventually gave birth to Elizabeth less than 2 weeks into her confinement. The birth was straightforward and Henry was hugely relieved that his wife and child were safe. Henry and Anne named their baby Elizabeth, after both their mothers.


Although the baby was healthy there was a little disappointment that Elizabeth wasn’t the son and heir that had been much hoped for and expected. Henry’s best astrologers and doctors had all predicted a boy and Anne was so convinced of a son that she wrote a letter in advance thanking god for sending her “good speed, in the deliverance and bringing forth of a prince”.

The arrival of a daughter meant an ‘s’ had to added to the word ‘prince’ on the birth announcement letter, the celebratory joust that Henry had been planning was cancelled and the public celebrations were scaled down. However, as Ives points out, it’s important not to read too much into this as it was quite normal for princesses to be welcomed into the world with more low key celebrations, it had, for example, been this way with Mary. As a royal child Elizabeth’s birth was still well celebrated, a herald immediately proclaimed that she was Henry’s legitimate child, a Princess and thus heiress apparent to the throne, choristers of the chapel royal sang the Te Deum and a magnificent christening was planned.

Despite the initial disappointment over Elizabeth’s gender it was by no means the devastating blow for Henry that some people have been led to believe. Both he and Anne put a brave face on things, Anne had conceived quickly this time around so they believed more children, and that longed for son, would follow soon. There was also no lack of, what Starkey calls, “natural affection” for Elizabeth from her parents, Anne in particular adored her daughter. She took great delight in providing Elizabeth with the prettiest things, such as “caps, which were made to measure, in purple and white satin” and “gold and silver trimmings for her little bed”. In the of spring 1534, after Elizabeth had been moved into her own household at Hatfield house, Anne made the journey all the way from London to see her. We also know Anne and Henry went to see Elizabeth when she was staying at Eltham, which had been Henry’s main boyhood residence. One of their courtiers said her parents had found Elizabeth to be “a goodly child as hath been seen, and her Grace is much in the King’s favour”.

Neither Henry or Anne would ever have imagined as they looked on at their daughter that she would one day grow up to be one of England’s greatest ever monarchs. Elizabeth’s reign is often thought of as a Golden Age and she will forever be known to us as the Virgin Queen, Good Queen Bess and Gloriana!

Sources: Elizabeth – David Starkey, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn – Eric Ives

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