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Queen Elizabeth I

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Elizabeth I was born on September 7, 1533 at Greenwich Palace near London. Her

father was England's King Henry VIII; her mother was the king's second wife,

Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth had an older half-sister, Mary, who was the daughter of the

king's first wife, Catherine of Aragon.

King Henry had moved heaven and earth to marry Anne Boleyn. He had parted

from the Catholic church, established the Church of England, and annulled his

twenty-four year marriage to Queen Catherine - partly because he loved Anne, and

partly because he wanted the male heir Catherine could not give him. Henry and

Anne were convinced that their first child would be a boy. The new queen even had

a document drawn up ahead of time that announced the birth of a prince. When the

prince turned out to be a princess, her parents were dismayed.

Over the next few years Anne had three miscarriages, and Henry - who had become

disenchanted with her even before Elizabeth's birth - decided to be rid of her. In

1536 he had Anne arrested on false charges of adultery. The Archbishop of

Canterbury bowed to the king's will by declaring that Henry's marriage to Anne

had never been valid. Like her half-sister Mary, two-year-old Elizabeth was now

considered illegitimate. Anne was executed, and two weeks later the king married

Jane Seymour.

In 1537 Queen Jane died after giving birth to a son, Edward. Elizabeth and Mary

participated in his christening ceremony. As Edward grew older, he and Elizabeth

became close; although they lived in separate households, they wrote to each other


When Elizabeth was four, Katherine Champernowne became her governess. The

well-educated Champernowne - known as Kat Ashley after her marriage in 1545 -

began teaching Elizabeth astronomy, geography, history, math, French, Flemish,

Italian, Spanish, and other subjects. Elizabeth was an excellent student. Her tutor

Roger Ascham later wrote, "She talks French and Italian as well as she does

English. When she writes Greek and Latin, nothing is more beautiful than her


In 1540 Elizabeth's father married Anne of Cleves. Repelled by what he perceived as

his bride's ugliness, Henry quickly had the marriage annulled and instead married

Anne Boleyn's first cousin Katherine Howard. Katherine was very young - about

fifteen - and something of a featherbrain, but she was kind to Elizabeth, who was

surely appalled when, in a repetition of the past, the queen was arrested and

charged with adultery. This time the charges were true. Queen Katherine was

beheaded in 1542, when Elizabeth was seven years old.

Katherine Howard's violent death seems to have had a lasting impact on Elizabeth.

At the age of eight she met one of Prince Edward's classmates, Robert Dudley, and

told him of an important decision she had made. "I will never marry," she said. It

was a decision that would shape her life.

Thomas Seymour

In 1543 Elizabeth gained yet another stepmother when Henry married his sixth and

final wife, Katherine Parr. Four years later Henry VIII died, leaving his crown to

Edward. According to Henry's will, if Edward died without heirs he would be

succeeded by Mary. If Mary died without heirs, Elizabeth would become queen.

Soon after Henry's death, Elizabeth received a marriage proposal from handsome

Thomas Seymour, who was England's Lord Admiral and the brother of the late

Queen Jane. Knowing that Seymour was simply seeking the power that marriage to

the king's sister could bring him, Elizabeth turned him down. So Seymour proposed

to the widowed Queen Katherine, who had been in love with him before her

marriage to Henry VIII. Unaware of Seymour's previous proposal to her

stepdaughter, Katherine happily accepted. They were quickly married, and the

following year Elizabeth went to live with them at the royal Old Manor House in


Thomas Seymour still had designs on pretty red-haired Elizabeth. He took to

visiting her bedroom in the morning before she was dressed. During these visits he

sometimes tickled her or slapped her bottom; once he tried to kiss her. Elizabeth

giggled and seemed to enjoy his attention, but Kat Ashley was disturbed by the

Lord Admiral's behavior, and the servants began to gossip. Queen Katherine was

aware of what was going on, but saw it all as innocent romping. Once she even

joined in the "joke," holding Elizabeth in the garden while her husband cut off

Elizabeth's dress.

Hoping to further deceive his wife, Seymour told her that he had seen Elizabeth

with her arms around a man's



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