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Reign On!

Four centuries after her death, Good Queen Bess still draws crowds. A regal rash of exhibitions and books examines her life anew.

Small wonder that at age 6 Elizabeth was said to have the gravity of a 40-year-old. Dignified and studious, she was educated as befitted a Renaissance princess, versed in history, geography, astronomy, mathematics and music. Throughout her life, she translated Greek and Latin for recreation and, as queen, wrote poetry and composed prayers that were printed and sold for popular consumption. The Folger exhibition includes a bound edition of one of her earliest literary efforts, a long religious poem that she translated from the French. The work was a gift to her father’s sixth wife, Catherine Parr, whom he married after sending wife number five, Catherine Howard, to the block for adultery. In the preface, Elizabeth explains that she worked at “joining the sentences together as well as the capacity of my simple wit and small learning could extend themselves.” She was 11 at the time.

 

Henry died three years later in 1547, and Elizabeth’s younger half brother, Jane Seymour’s son, was crowned Edward VI. Elizabeth was soon in danger. Barely two months after Henry’s death, the widowed Catherine unwisely married Thomas Seymour, an ambitious uncle of the boy-king.

 

 

 

 

 

When Catherine died in childbirth a year later, Seymour schemed to marry the 15-year-old Elizabeth (who had been living in his household), gain control over Edward and seize power for himself. He was arrested and beheaded for treason in 1549. Elizabeth was suspected of being in on the plot. Seymour had enjoyed hugging the young princess and liked to turn up in her bedroom in the early morning. She was even rumored to be carrying his child. But under interrogation Elizabeth denied misbehavior of any kind. “I do see it in her face that she is guilty,” the crown’s investigator fumed. “She hath a very good wit, and nothing is gotten of her but by great policy.”

 

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