The Queen's Majesty's Passage

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The Queen's Majesty's Passage

Excerpt from The Queen's Majesty's Passage

    Originally published in 1558

    Reprinted in The Queen's Majesty's Passage and Related Documents, 2004

Elizabeth I succeeded to the English throne when her half-sister, Queen Mary I (1516–1558) died on November 17, 1558, after a five-year reign. Although it was a smooth succession (the act of the new monarch taking over for the last monarch), an air of uncertainty loomed over England. Elizabeth had been named Mary's heir by their father, Henry VIII (1491–1547), but Henry's questionable marriage to her mother, Anne Boleyn (c. 1504–1536), raised doubts about Elizabeth's claim to the throne. According to the Catholic Church, Henry was still married to his first wife when Elizabeth was born, making her birth illegitimate. Henry VIII had cut England's connections with the Catholic Church in Rome, however, and most Protestants ignored any question of legitimacy. If anything, the English people worried more that the heir to the throne was a woman; few of them thought that women were capable of ruling the land.

"Welcome therefore O Queen … / Welcome to joyous tongues, and hearts that will not shrink, / God thee preserve we pray, and wish thee ever well."

Mary's reign had been a difficult time for Elizabeth. The queen, who had restored England to Roman Catholicism upon taking the throne in 1553, suspected Elizabeth of being a Protestant, a crime punishable by death by burning at the stake. She also thought Elizabeth had participated in a rebellion. As a result Mary imprisoned her sister for two months in the Tower of London, a fortress on the Thames River in London that was used as a royal residence, treasury, and, most famously, as a prison for the upper class. Finding no evidence against her prisoner, the queen reluctantly released Elizabeth, but the young princess spent the rest of Mary's reign fearing for her life and hiding her Protestant beliefs. When the news of Mary's death was brought to Elizabeth, it is English legend that she fell to her knees and quoted a Latin verse from Psalm 118: "This is the Lord's doing: and it is marvelous in our eyes." Elizabeth firmly believed that God had saved her from harm so that she could rule as queen of England. In her royal entry, or passage into the city of London, a part of the coronation ceremony (official crowning as queen), she successfully dispelled the uncertainty of her London subjects by displaying herself as a powerful and magnificent monarch who cared deeply about England and all of its people.

Following a time-honored tradition, Elizabeth's coronation ceremony took place over a four-day period in mid-January 1559. On January 12, Elizabeth traveled by barge from her London palace at Whitehall to the royal apartments at the Tower of London. The next day she performed an elaborate ceremony, making several of her top statesmen Knights of the Bath, a prestigious order of senior military officers and civil servants. On January 14, the eve of the actual coronation ceremony, Elizabeth made her royal entry into London, part of which is described in the excerpt below. The entry not only gave her a chance to present herself to the people of the city, but it also gave the people of London a chance to express to her their hopes for her reign and their good will. This meeting between the people and their sovereign was accomplished through a well-planned, lavish, and theatrical event.

The royal entry

On January 14, Elizabeth left the Tower at 2:00 pm to make the four-mile trip, winding through a variety of London neighborhoods to her destination at Westminster. The new queen and her attendants presented a breathtaking spectacle. She was dressed for the royal entry in a robe made of gold and silver cloth trimmed in ermine (an expensive white fur), and covered in gold lace. On her head she wore for the last time her gold cap with the small crown designed for a princess. She rode in a large, open litter (a vehicle designed to be carried by attendants to transport an important person) covered in white satin and trimmed in gold brocade. She was seated on large satin cushions and covered with a white quilt to keep her warm throughout the winter afternoon. Her litter was surrounded by footmen dressed in red velvet; behind her rode Robert Dudley (Earl of Leicester; 1532–1588), her Master of Horse and constant companion. Following Dudley were the queen's ladies-in-waiting, her Privy Council, the board of advisors that carried out the administrative function of the government in matters of economy, defense, foreign policy, and law and order, and its members served as the queen's chief advisors. Behind them were one thousand horses outfitted with brilliant red harnesses and bearing her bejeweled and exquisitely dressed courtiers.

Elizabeth's regal parade was met by roaring crowds of Londoners of every social class, all dressed in their best clothes. London was a growing city of about 120,000 people at this time; its population would reach 200,000 by the end of Elizabeth's reign. Unlike the heavily Catholic areas to the north, the city was highly Protestant, and the Catholic Mary I had not been popular there. The population greeted their new queen eagerly, hoping for change. The city's aldermen, or members of the city government, had been preparing for the royal entry for two months. Tradition dictated that the city of London present the new queen with a large gift of money, as well as poems, songs, token gifts, and small plays and other entertainment along her route. In earlier times there had also been less cultured performances, such as acrobats cavorting atop church spires, but the sober-minded Protestants preferred more enlightening entertainment. For Elizabeth's entry, the city aldermen had created five pageants, elaborate dramatic presentations depicting important historical and traditional events and conveying a moral message. The first of those five pageants is described in the except from The Queen's Majesty's Passage.

Elizabeth had accompanied her sister, Mary, upon Mary's royal entry into the city of London five years earlier. This event had been marked by the presence of many foreign statesmen in the city, foreshadowing Mary's marriage to the king of Spain and alliance with the Catholic Church in Rome. The Londoners had been displeased with so many foreigners in their midst. In contrast all those attending Elizabeth on her royal entry were English, and the themes the London business people presented to her were all English as well. Both queen and her people enjoyed the pride of nationalism (love of one's country) that would mark Elizabeth's reign.

Though most of the city government and merchants took part in the displays presented to the queen, it is believed that the printer and historian Richard Grafton (c. 1513–1573) was responsible for overseeing the plays that were presented to her and that the schoolteacher Richard Mulcaster (c. 1530–1611) was responsible for writing most of the verses and for writing the pamphlet The Queenes maiesties passage through the citie of London to Westminster the day before her coronacion. Richard Tottel (c. 1525–1594) was the printer who issued the pamphlet, which was published and distributed throughout England a week after the event. This was England's first published account of a royal entry. It is considered a brilliant example of public relations or propaganda work, designed to advance the image of the queen as an ideal and natural monarch. Nevertheless, its description of the events has been confirmed by several other reliable accounts.

Historians have noted that Elizabeth's royal entry was like a theatrical event in which both the queen and her subjects played dramatic roles. The author of The Queen's Majesty's Passage described it in these terms: "If a man should say well, he could not better term the City of London that time, than a stage wherein was showed the wonderful spectacle of a noble-hearted princess toward her most loving people and the people's exceeding comfort beholding so worthy a sovereign and hearing so princelike a voice."

Things to remember while reading The Queen's Majesty's Passage:

  • The queen's title. Note that the authors refer to Elizabeth as the "sovereign Lady Elizabeth, by the grace of God Queen of England, France, and Ireland, Defender of the faith, etc." Though already queen, Elizabeth is still the "Lady Elizabeth" until her coronation the next day; this title shows the in-between nature of the day of royal entry, with Elizabeth passing from princess to queen. She is called queen of France simply because all kings and queens of England had included France among the countries they ruled since 1328, when an English king had claimed the throne of France. The title was misleading since England had lost Calais, the last territory it had ruled in France, during Mary's reign. Though Ireland was governed separately from England, Elizabeth's father, Henry VIII, persuaded the Irish Parliament to name him King of Ireland in 1542; this would remain part of the English monarch's title until 1801. "Defender of the faith" in Elizabeth's title is interesting on this day, since the English public had received no word stating which faith, Catholic or Protestant, she would defend. All of England was waiting to see if Elizabeth would sever England's connection to the Roman Catholic Church and institute the Protestant religion nationwide.
  • The pageant: Elizabeth's grandparents. In the excerpt Elizabeth leaves the Tower of London to ride to her first stop, Fenchurch Street, where a child presents her with a poem welcoming her to the city with the blessings of the people of London. She then rides on to the first of the five pageants, The uniting of the two houses of Lancaster and York, which depicts her royal lineage (family history). Seated on the first tier of the pageant are her grandparents, Henry VII (1407–1509; reigned 1485–1509) and Elizabeth of York (1466–1503). Prior to the rule of Henry VII, England had been caught up in a thirty-year civil war called the War of the Roses, in which two families, the Lancasters and the Yorks, claimed the English throne. During the War of the Roses, the Lancaster family was represented by a red rose and the York family by a white rose. Henry, a Lancaster, won the throne in 1485, but his claim was weak. He strengthened that claim by marrying Elizabeth, the daughter of a deceased York king. Their heir thus had a solid claim to the throne stemming from both families.
  • The pageant: Elizabeth's parents. Roses spring from the wedding ring of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York and lead up to the second tier of the display. There Elizabeth's parents, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, sit as the king and queen of England. Henry wears the crown imperial, a special crown with two closed arches that signifies Henry is the ruler of an independent empire, particularly signaling that England is not part of the alliance with the Catholic Church in Rome. Showing Henry with Anne Boleyn was a dramatic step for the London pageant. Anne Boleyn had remained a controversial figure throughout history and during Mary's reign her name was thoroughly dishonored. Boleyn, though, had been an early Protestant reformer, so the people of London opted to restore her memory as a legitimate queen. This provided Elizabeth with a clear and legitimate royal lineage.
  • The meaning of the pageant. As Elizabeth beholds this pageant from her litter, its meaning is explained to her by a child: Just as her grandmother, Elizabeth of York, had brought unity to England by solidifying the succession to the throne, so Elizabeth I, her namesake, will unify the land and heal the divisions among the English people.

The Queenes maiestes passage through the citie of London to Westminster the day before her coronacion. Anno 1558

Upon Saturday, which was the fourteenth day of January in the year of our Lord God 1558, about two of the clock in the afternoon, the most noble and Christian princess, our most dread sovereign Lady Elizabeth, by the grace of God Queen of England, France, and Ireland, Defender of the faith, etc., marched from the Tower to pass through the city of London toward Westminster, richly furnished and most honorably accompanied as well with gentlemen, barons, and other [of] the nobility of this realm, as also with a notable train of goodly and beautiful ladies richly appointed [dressed]. And [Elizabeth, upon] entering the city was of the people received marvelously entirely, as appeared by the assembly, prayers, wishes, welcomings, cries, tender words and all other signs, which argue a wonderful earnest love of most obedient subjects toward their sovereign. And on the other side, her Grace [Elizabeth], by holding up her hands and merry countenance to such as stood far off, and most tender and gentle language to those that stood nigh [near] to her Grace, did declare herself no less thankfully to receive her people's good will than they lovingly offered it unto her. To all that wished her Grace well, she gave hearty thanks, and to such as bade 'God save her Grace,' she said again 'God save them all,' and thanked them with all her heart. So that on either side there was nothing but gladness, nothing but prayer, nothing but comfort….

Thus therefore the Queen's Majesty passed from the Tower till she came to Fenchurch, the people on each side joyously beholding the view of so gracious a Lady their Queen, and her Grace no less gladly noting and observing the same. Near to Fenchurch was erected a scaffold richly furnished whereon stood a noise of instruments and a child in costly apparel, which was appointed to welcome the Queen's Majesty in the city's behalf. Against which place when her Grace came, of her own will she commanded the chariot [her litter] to be stayed, and that the noise might be appeased till the child had uttered his welcoming oration, which he spoke in English metre [as] here followeth:

     O peerless and sovereign Queen, behold what is thy town
     Hath thee presented with at they first entrance here:
     Behold how rich hope she leadeth thee to thy crown
     Behold with what two gifts she comforteth thy cheer.
     The first is blessing tongues, which many a welcome say
     Which pray thou mayest do well, which praise thee to the sky
     Which wish thee long life, which bless this happy day
     Which to thy kingdom heaps, all that in tongues can lie.
     The second is true hearts, which love thee from their root
     Whose suit is triumph now, and ruleth all the game.
     Which faithfulness have won, and all untruth delved out [uncovered],
     Which skip for joy, whenas they hear they happy name.
     Welcome therefore O Queen, as much as heart can think,
     Welcome again O Queen, as much as tongue can tell:
     Welcome to joyous tongues, and hearts that will not shrink,
     God thee preserve we pray, and wish thee ever well.

At which words of the last line the whole people gave a great shout, wishing with one assent as the child had said….

Now when the child had pronounced his oration, and the Queen's highness so thankfully had received it, she marched forward towards Gracious Street, where at the upper end, before the sign of the Eagle [the sign of a neighborhood tavern], the city had erected a gorgeous and sumptuous arch, as here followeth:

A stage was made which extended from the one side of the street to the other, richly vaulted [arched] with battlements containing three portes [doors], and over the middlemost was advanced three several stages in degrees. Upon the lowest stage was made one seat royal [throne], wherein were placed two personages representing King Henry the seventh and Elizabeth his wife, daughter of King Edward the fourth, either of these two princes sitting under one cloth of estate in their seats, not otherwise divided, but that the one of them which was King Henry the seventh, proceeding out of the house of Lancaster, was enclosed in a red rose, and the other which was Queen Elizabeth, being heir to the house of York, enclosed with a white rose, each of them royally crowned and decently appareled as appertaineth to princes, with scepters in their hands, and one vault surmounting their heads, wherein aptly were placed two tables, each containing the title of those two princes. And these personages were so set that the one of them joined hands with the other, with the ring of matrimony perceived on the finger. Out of the which two roses sprang, two branches gathered into one, which were directed upward to the second stage or degree wherein was placed one representing the valiant and noble prince King Henry the eighth, which sprang out of the former stock, crowned with a crown imperial, and by him sat one representing the right worthy Lady Queen Anne, wife to the said King Henry the eighth and mother to our most sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth that now is, both appareled with scepters and diadems [crowns] and other furniture due to the estates of a king and queen, and two tables surmounting their heads wherein were written their names and titles. From their seat also proceeded upwards one branch directed to the third and uppermost stage or degree, wherein likewise was planted a seat royal, in the which was set one representing the Queen's most excellent Majesty Elizabeth now our most dread sovereign Lady, crowned and appareled as the other princes were. Out of the forepart of this pageant was made a standing for a child, which at the Queen's Majesty's coming declared unto her the whole meaning of the said pageant. The two sides of the same were filled with loud noises of music. And all empty places thereof were furnished with sentences concerning unity. And the whole pageant was garnished with red roses and white, and in the forefront of the same pageant in a fair wreath was written the name and title of the same, which was The Uniting of the Two Houses of Lancaster and York.

This pageant was grounded upon the Queen's Majesty's name. For like as the long war between the two houses of York and Lancaster then ended when Elizabeth, the daughter to Edward the fourth, matched in marriage with Henry the seventh heir to the house of Lancaster, so since the Queen's Majesty's name is Elizabeth and for so much as she is the only heir of Henry VIII, which came of both the houses as the knitting up of concord, it was devised that like as Elizabeth was the first occasion of concord, so she, another Elizabeth, might maintain the same among her subjects, so that unity was the end whereat the whole device shot.

What happened next …

Elizabeth viewed four more pageants during her royal entry. In one of the pageants Truth was represented as a woman carrying a Bible translated into the English language. One of the serious divisions between the Protestants and Catholics at that time was the Protestant belief that individuals should study the Bible directly as the word of God; Catholics believed it was the Church's role to interpret the truth for the people. When Elizabeth saw the English language Bible in the pageant, she eagerly reached out for it and kissed it, demonstrating her intentions to lead a Protestant church.

During her entry Elizabeth was presented with a large, customary gift of gold from the people of the city of London. The queen responded to the gift and the city's welcome, according to the pamphlet: "I thank the lord mayor, his brethren, and you all. And whereas your request is that I should continue your good lady and Queen, be ye ensured that I will be as good unto you as ever Queen was to her people. No will in me can lack, neither do I trust shall there lack any power. And persuade yourselves that for the safety and quietness of you all, I will not spare, if need be, to spend my blood." Her words were met with an outpouring of joy from the spectators.

An instant and long-lasting bond was created between Elizabeth and the people of London that day. Elizabeth had both the style and the charisma (strong charm) to captivate her subjects. Obtaining the love of her people was very important to Elizabeth, and she excelled at it. Historian Sir John Hayward (c. 1564–1627) would later describe the queen in action amongst her subjects:

If ever any person had either the gift or the style to win the hearts of the people, it was this Queen. All her faculties were in motion, and every motion seemed a well-guided action; her eye was set upon one, her ear listened to another, her judgment ran upon a third, to a fourth she addressed her speech; her spirit seemed to be everywhere. Some she pitied, some she commended, some she thanked, at others she pleasantly and wittily jested, condemning no person, neglecting no office, and distributing her smiles, looks, and graces so artfully that thereupon the people again redoubled the testimony of their joys [expressed even more enthusiasm], and afterwards, raising everything to the highest strain, filled the ears of all men with immoderate extolling [praising] of their prince.

Did you know …

  • January 15, 1559, the day of Elizabeth's coronation, was chosen by a brilliant mathematician and astrologer, John Dee (1527–1609). Astrology is the study of the position of stars and planets in the belief that they influence human affairs and events on Earth. Elizabeth was intrigued by astrology, and she was so impressed with Dee that she asked him to give her lessons in astrology. She consulted with him on many important matters during her reign.
  • November 17, the day Mary I died and Elizabeth I inherited the throne, became a national day of thanksgiving in England. It was celebrated by festivals, tournaments, and feasting well into the eighteenth century. The holiday was a time for people to celebrate their pride in the rise of England as a world power and cultural center; Elizabeth I, often called Gloriana, was the symbol of this pride.

Consider the following …

  • Not all kings and queens of England bothered to make themselves personally available to their subjects as Elizabeth did. Why do you think Elizabeth found it so important to reach out to the English public as she prepared to take the throne?
  • Though the royal treasury was short of funds when she became queen, Elizabeth spent a fortune to make sure her procession through London was a magnificent, luxurious spectacle. Why was such extravagance so important at this time?

For More Information


Picard, Liza. Elizabeth's London: Everyday Life in Elizabethan London. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2003.

The Queen's Majesty's Passage and Related Documents. Edited, Modernized, and with an Introduction by Germaine Wakentin. Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2004.

Schama, Simon. A History of Britain: At the Edge of the World? 3500 bce–1603 ce New York: Hyperion, 2000.

Starkey, David. Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne. New York: HarperCollins, 2001.

Weir, Alison. The Life of Elizabeth I. New York: Ballantine Books, 1998.


Secara, Maggie. "Life in Elizabethan England: A Compendium of Common Knowledge, 1558–1603; Elizabethan Commonplaces for Writers, Actors, and Re-enactors." 8th ed. (accessed on July 24, 2006).

Thomas, Heather. "Queen Elizabeth I." Rulers of England. (accessed on July 24, 2006).

Dread: Respected.

Marvelously entirely: Enthusiastically.

Countenance: Expression.

Scaffold: Raised platform.

Noise: Small band.

Against which place: When she came alongside the scaffold.

Appeased: Stopped.

Metre: Meter; pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables.

Battlements: Walled-in areas atop a wall for defense or decoration.

Three several stages in degrees: Three separate stages rising upward in a series.

Cloth of estate: Royal canopy.

Appertaineth: Is appropriate.

Furniture: Equipment or clothing.

Standing: Platform.

Whereat the whole device shot: Which was the intention of the pageant.

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The Queen's Majesty's Passage

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