My Account

Local history note on Queen Elizabeth I and Richmond.

Queen Elizabeth I was the daughter of King Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn, who were married on 25 January 1533 and Elizabeth was born at Greenwich on 7 September 1533. Anne was executed on 19 May 1536 and Henry married Jane Seymour, whose son became Edward VI after his father’s death on 28 January 1547. Henry also had another daughter, Mary, born on 18 February 1516, by his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Mary had been brought up as a Roman Catholic whereas Edward and Elizabeth were Protestants.

After her father’s death, Elizabeth lived with her stepmother, Catherine Parr, who had been Henry’s sixth wife, at her house in Chelsea and at Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire. The latter was the home of Thomas Seymour, Duke of Somerset whom Katherine had married in April 1547. After Catherine’s death in childbirth on 7 September 1548, Elizabeth set up her own household at Hatfield. Edward died in July 1553 and was succeeded by Lady Jane Grey, a Protestant, who reigned for only 9 days before being overthrown by his half sister, Mary. Jane was beheaded on 12 February 1554 on Tower Green within the precincts of the Tower of London.

September 1553 could possibly be the date of Elizabeth’s first visit to Richmond when she was granted an audience with Mary who was awaiting her coronation. Mary and the ambassadors in England of Charles V (Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire) had been trying to persuade Elizabeth to renounce her Protestant faith. Elizabeth stated that she had been ignorant, asked for books and a priest to instruct her, said that she would attend services in the Chapel Royal and pleaded for Mary’s understanding. Her act deceived Mary, but very few members of the court.

Matters came to a head in March 1554. Elizabeth was sent to the Tower of London on suspicion of being involved with Sir Thomas Wyatt’s plot to prevent Mary’s marriage to Phillip II of Spain. Released in May, Elizabeth travelled by barge from the Tower and stayed one night at Richmond on her way to "house arrest" at Woodstock. She remained there until April 1555 when she returned to Hatfield and was still there when Mary died on 17 November 1558 and she became queen. Elizabeth’s coronation was arranged for 15 January 1559, a date selected as propitious by the astrologer Dr. John Dee who lived at Mortlake.

Elizabeth had 14 palaces in regular use at her disposal as well as numerous "stately homes" throughout England owned by noblemen and gentry. So started the "Royal Progresses" whereby Elizabeth and her court would move round the country staying in the palaces, Whitehall, St. James’s, Somerset House, Greenwich, Eltham, Richmond, Oatlands, Nonsuch and Hampton Court, as well as the stately homes whose owners had to bear the costs of accommodating the Royal Court. Elizabeth rarely moved move than 150 miles outside London and, wherever possible, used the River Thames for travelling or transporting heavy baggage. The river connected Greenwich, Westminster, Whitehall, Richmond and Hampton Court, whilst Eltham and Nonsuch were only 4 miles away from it. Each palace had its own landing stage. The following gives an idea of the cost of transportation by river:

"To Louis Walter, bargeman, for conveying the Queen’s Grace from Richmond to Greenwich… in her barge with twenty-one rowers, every rower taking eightpence…fourteen shillings. [London Bridge negotiation gave crew 'danger money'] …the reward of a barge beneath the bridge, one shilling and sixpence.  [Return journey was made for the same fare with]…a great boat the same day for conveying the ladies and gentlemen from Greenwich with nine rowers at eightpence a rower."

In January 1579 this item was recorded: "The hier of a horse ii daies to the courte to furnishe my Lorde of Leicester’s players the frost being so grate no bote could goe."

One typical progress, undertaken in August 1559 was as follows: left Greenwich for Eltham and stayed there 3 days; on to Hampton Court, breaking the journey at Richmond, but not staying overnight; remaining at Hampton Court until the end of November; returning to Whitehall. The court and therefore the government would be sitting wherever the queen was residing.

In the late 1580’s, Elizabeth gave up her annual progresses and instead moved around her London palaces, only occasionally making short visits away from these bases. The progresses were resumed in 1591/92, but the court stayed close to London in 1593, moving to Richmond in the autumn of that year for fear of the plague in London. A progress panned for 1594 got no further than Richmond as there was an outbreak of measles and smallpox in Chertsey and Weybridge. Elizabeth made her last progress in 1597.

Elizabeth tried to stay at least twice a year at Richmond, often in the late autumn and frequently for Christmas as it was reputed to be the warmest of all the palaces as the royal apartments were more compact. Dr. John Dee also advised her against the chill of Whitehall. In her later years, she found Richmond suited her health, the January snow made Whitehall cheerless and Greenwich bleak. So, as commended by Dr Dee, she would move to Richmond "That warm winter box to shelter my old age."

Several major events occurred whilst Elizabeth was staying at Richmond. On 20 September 1562, a secret treaty was signed at Richmond whereby English troops would occupy Le Havre until Calais was returned to England in 1567, the date given in the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis, signed in March 1559 by Spain, France and England. Under the 1562 treaty, a loan of 140,000 crowns was also to be made to the French Huguenot forces, repayable when the English were in possession of Calais. This never happened as, in 1567, Elizabeth was told she had broken the original treaty and Calais remained French.

Elizabeth spent a long period at Richmond during the spring and summer of 1564. In April, peace had been made with France and the Treaty of Troyes signed. In 1565, a mission arrived from the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire to discuss the possibility of a marriage between Elizabeth and Archduke Charles of Austria. The negotiations dragged on for 4 years with Elizabeth never giving a firm yes or no as Charles was a Catholic and he refused to change his religion.

Elizabeth wrote from Richmond to Mary, Queen of Scots in June 1567 expressing her disapproval of Mary’s marriage to the Earl of Bothwell.

The French ambassador suggested, in 1570, Henry of Anjou, a younger brother of Charles IX of France, as a possible husband. Henry’s eldest brother had been Francis II, the first husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. This suggestion also foundered for the same reason, the extent to which he could still practice his Catholic religion. In 1571, the ambassador put forward another candidate, Henri’s younger brother, Francis, Duke of Alencon. Elizabeth by now was 38 and he was only 17. Negotiations again came to an end after the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of the French Huguenots on 24 August 1572 and Francis was temporarily imprisoned for his Huguenot sympathies.

By October 1578, the possibility of a marriage had become closer. Letters sent from the Court at Richmond expressed its disapproval of the match, but by January 1579 a favourite courtier of Francis’s – now the Duke of Anjou after Henri had succeeded to the throne – came to woo Elizabeth by proxy and carry out further negotiations. The courtier, Jean de Simier, visited Elizabeth at Richmond whilst he stayed for 7 days at Syon. In August 1579, Anjou decided to come to England privately to woo Elizabeth himself. He saw the queen at Greenwich where he stayed for 12 days.

Other events soon overtook the discussions, on 26 September 1580 Sir Francis Drake returned to England from his circumnavigation of the world. The Spanish ambassador demanded the return of what Spain considered to be stolen treasure and Drake’s punishment. By late October, the queen was at Richmond and she summoned Drake to bring the treasure to her, but it was held at Syon House, presumably to stave off any speculation, while Drake reported to her at Richmond. Drake had already been rewarded with £10,000 and he was given a further £10,000 for his associates and crew. The remainder of the treasure was transferred to the Jewel House at the Tower of London. The Spanish ambassador continued to demand an audience with the queen. It was decided that the only way to balance Spain’s threat was to seek an alliance with France, through marriage to Anjou. No decision was made about the marriage in 1580, although negotiations were underway again between April to June 1581, but with little headway. So Anjou returned openly to England and on 2 November arrived at Richmond. Initially Anjou was due to stay at Syon, but then Elizabeth arranged lodgings in the town. Two inns, the Red Lion and the Bell, were taken over to accommodate his entourage. Further improvements were made to the palace, new doors were constructed in certain galleries so that access could be made without Anjou having to use the public courtyards. After a week, Anjou asked his brother for money to help pay for the wedding. Elizabeth also told the French ambassador that she would only agree to the marriage if Henri agreed to an alliance whereby France would pay for any war expenses incurred by England in the event of Spain attacking her for supporting the Netherlands. Henri refused, so the marriage was called off. Anjou returned to France in February 1582 with £10,000 and the promise of a further £50,000. He died in 1584.

Sir Walter Raleigh stayed at Richmond for at least a month in March 1583. Sir Francis Walsingham, the Secretary of State, wrote, in October 1586, from his house, Barn Elms, to the Scottish ambassador that, although the queen would be pleased to grant him an audience at Richmond, he would be unable to stay the night as there were no convenient lodgings available.

The trial of Mary, Queen of Scots, took place at Fotheringay Castle in October 1586, at the end of which she was sentenced to death for attempting to assassinate Elizabeth. Elizabeth was undecided as to what to do and the sentence could not be carried out without her permission. A delegation from both Houses of Parliament arrived at Richmond in November to press her for a decision and in December, the sentence of execution was publicly announced. But still Elizabeth did not sign the death warrant and a plea for mercy came from courtiers of Henri III of France who saw the queen at Richmond. The warrant was finally signed on 1st February 1587 and Mary was beheaded on 8th February.

The Spanish Armada sailed from Corunna in early July 1588 and by 19 July, the ships were sighted off The Lizard. The court had moved to Richmond 2 weeks earlier and a Council of War was established at the palace to monitor the Armada’s progress up the Channel until the court moved to St. James’s Palace on 30 July. The court returned to Richmond for Christmas.

Elizabeth was at Richmond in December 1595 as she went to dine at Kew with Sir John Pickering, Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal. His house stood near the site of the present Kew Palace in Kew Gardens. Lent was spent at Richmond in 1596 and in 1599, Elizabeth spent 6 weeks over Christmas at Richmond. She was here again in March and September 1600 and on 14 October ‘a great ambassador come from Muscovie’ where he was received at Richmond during Elizabeth’s month-long stay in October/November.

The Earl of Essex had been banished from court and confined in York House in October 1599. He was released from house arrest in May 1600 and by February 1601, he was planning a coup d’etat. Elizabeth, at Richmond, was to be detained here while he seized control of London. News of all this reached the court and he was summoned to appear before the Privy Council. He refused and set out for London, but nobody joined him and he surrendered after a threat was made to blow up his house. He was then arrested, put on trial, sentenced to death and executed on 25 February.

The queen was at Richmond in February 1602, but she moved to Greenwich as she had "An ache in one of her arms, expecting more ease by change of air." By March she had moved back to Richmond where the new French ambassador had an audience with her. He noted that "She walked daily on Richmond Green." The court was there until in April and returned in October. Elizabeth went to Whitehall in November and intended to spend Christmas at Richmond. But she had a cold and did not leave Whitehall till 21 January 1603 "in very fowle and wet weather."

One of the eyewitness accounts of Elizabeth’s last days was given by Giovanni Scaramelli. He was the first Venetian ambassador to be appointed since her accession and arrived in London on 2 February and immediately journeyed to Richmond where he was warmly welcomed by the queen. The end of February saw her with another bad cold and the death of her favourite lady-in-waiting, Catherine, Countess of Nottingham, did nothing to improve her health. She had intended to go to chapel at the beginning of March, but was too frail. Instead cushions were laid in the floor in the Privy Council so she could hear the service. She lay on the floor for 4 days without food or drink until she was persuaded to go to her bed.

By now, Sir Robert Carey had arrived at Richmond from the Scottish borders. He was Elizabeth’s cousin and the brother of the late Countess of Nottingham. He wrote a very graphic and moving account of the last 3 weeks of her life.

Elizabeth died in the early hours of Thursday, 24 March 1603. Carey immediately took a ring and set off for Scotland to give the news to King James VI of Scotland. He arrived in Edinburgh late on Saturday and informed him that he was now King James I of England.

The queen’s last progress was by river from Richmond to Whitehall where she lay in state for a month before being buried on 28 April in Henry VII’s Chapel at Westminster Abbey.

Queen Elizabeth I. Portrait.

Updated: 08 July 2016

Stay up to date! Make sure you subscribe to our email updates.