The First Queen Elizabeth Visits Lichfield!

As our own Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee is upon us lots of people are considering the life and times of the other Queen Elizabeth and, as a specialist historian in the period, I am asked lots of questions about her – some of the answers are extraordinary. Most people don’t know that Elizabeth I not only visited Lichfield but stayed from 27th July to 3rd August 1575. Happily, there is a full list of requirements and expenditure for the Queen and her retinue, which makes fascinating reading.

“Item, to old Bate, for goinge to Mr Sprott     ……….   2 (pence).”

Time does not tell us why old Bate was going to Mr Sprott, maybe with a message, but at least old Bate received two pence for his trouble. Other items are clearer, such as chickens and salt fish and their cost, and bellringers did rather better today than now in terms of wages as they received 1 shilling and four pence – as a group that is! That as an item is set in perspective when one sees six men are paid just a shilling for taking the Queen’s treasure to “Rydgeley” (Rugeley).  “Mr Raffe Boo” also intrigues me as a name and apparently he had a tent which was used for a fee of 10 shillings. Raffe is Ralph but Boo is Boo and that is an odd name by anyone’s standards!

So back to good Queen Bess in Lichfield. We are not clear about where she actually stayed but it is thought likely to be the Bishop’s Palace in the Close, the one before this one which is now the main building of the school. She was on her way to Kenilworth to see Robert Dudley, a place she would visit four times so on her progress around the nation she obviously had a soft spot for the Midlands – or maybe that soft spot was for Robert Dudley! She moved around with up to 400 people in the summer months (forget winter with all that mud) and that way made sure her people saw her and also to ensure that an uppity Earl was not getting ideas above his station. The Tudors only came to the throne in 1485 and so were pretty new as a dynasty. Queen Elizabeth was watchful, very watchful, and had probably the greatest privy council in terms of brilliance that this nation has seen, including Sir William Cecil, his son Robert Cecil, Walsingham and many other great names. She also included Robert Dudley so she could have someone to look at and cheer her up no doubt!

There would be an enormous build up for this event which much jostling from various of the great and good to be close to her Majesty in one form or another such as “at sup.” She was rather a battle-axe I gather, which is hardly surprising in view of that childhood, but it would be quite wrong to assume that she only had time for the rich and powerful. She refused the patent on a weaving machine, despite the lucrative outcome of such a grant as half to her and half to the owner, as she was concerned about the “spinsters,” that army of unmarried women who span for a living, as no doubt she saw herself as among their ranks spinning for the nation.

Queen Elizabeth also caused a fuss in some areas if she saw the poor and needy uncared for and poor properties. The poor laws were clear about caring for the people and were needed after the closure of the monasteries in the Reformation where people had been sheltered and fed and healed. Occasionally they were educated too so lots of schools were founded by Tudor monarchs, although such foundations in history can be traced back a very long way in our history.

The Queen was fantastically well educated herself speaking and writing seven languages by the time she was 13. She was also a musician playing a number of musical instruments and had a terrific sense of the political landscape, both at home and abroad. Tall, slim and red haired, but that rather thin red hair and not the thick celtic curls one sees in some redheads, she had beautiful hands and could ride like a man. She is known to have leapt over hedges at 69 years of age hunting for stag, not many would do that today!

She died at 69 having served the nation for over 45 years. She brought peace and a prosperity. She smiled at our ancestors and ensured clever negotiations for peace and trade. She may have had the body of a “weak and feeble woman” but she also certainly had “the stomach of a king, and a king of England too.” This all sounds very familiar to us doesn’t it – a brilliant woman, a great queen.


Lesley Smith is the curator of Tutbury Castle and lives in Lichfield.

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