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From prisoner to Queen: Entertaining Elizabeth I

Account of works undertaken at Rycote for the visit of Elizabeth I, 1570.

Elizabeth I’s long association with Rycote began in less than august circumstances. Her first journey to Rycote was not that of a visitor but as a prisoner of her half-sister Queen Mary. In happier times, Elizabeth returned as Queen on four occasions. Her final visit in 1592 was celebrated with dutiful speeches and lavish gifts sent from abroad.

On 18 March 1554 Elizabeth had been detained in the Tower of London upon suspicion of involvement in a rebellion led by Sir Thomas Wyatt (Nichols, Jane and Mary, p. 70). Two months later Elizabeth was ordered to be moved to the royal manor of Woodstock, Oxfordshire, in the custody of Sir Henry Bedingfield. En route to Woodstock, Elizabeth was entertained at Rycote on 22 May by John, Baron Williams of Thame, who had also been charged with overseeing Elizabeth’s journey (BL Add. MS 34563, fol. 13). The martyrologist John Foxe later claimed that Sir Henry Bedingfield had been “highly offended” by Lord Williams’s “princely” entertainment of Elizabeth and had insisted that she “was the Queenes Maiesties prisoner, and no otherwise” (Foxe, Actes and Monuments, book 12, p. 2118). Foxe’s claim, however, is not corroborated by Bedingfield’s own reports to Mary and her Privy Council. Whilst Bedingfield does mention that Elizabeth “was mervolouslye well entertayned”, there is no indication that he felt her entertainment was inappropriate (BL Add. MS 34563, fols. 13-14). Foxe also wrote that following Mary's orders for Elizabeth to be removed from Woodstock to her presence at Hampton Court Palace, in April 1555, Elizabeth spent the first night of her journey at Rycote (Foxe, Actes and Monuments, book 12, p. 2120).

On 6 September 1566 Elizabeth returned to Rycote as Queen, following her progress to the University of Oxford, and knighted her host Henry Norris (Nichols, Elizabeth, vol. 1, p. 250). Norris had inherited Rycote through marriage to Lord Williams’s daughter Margery. Elizabeth made further progresses to Rycote in August 1568 and August 1570.

A proposed visit in September 1582 was cancelled due to bad weather. The Queen’s favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, was dispatched to inform the Norrises. Writing to Sir Christopher Hatton, on 11 September, Leicester complained that “it was ten of the clock at night ere I came here, and a more foul and ragged way I never travelled in my life. The best was, at my arrival I met with a piece of cold entertainment at the Lady’s hands of the house here...for she was well informed that I and you were the chief hinderers of her Majesty’s coming hither” (Nicolas, Hatton, pp. 269-70). Despite his cold reception in 1582, Leicester appears to have been a regular visitor to Rycote (Jenkins, Elizabeth & Leicester, p.145). In August 1588 Leicester travelled to Warwickshire and then to Oxfordshire to recuperate following the defeat of the Spanish Armada. On 29 August 1588 he wrote to Elizabeth from Rycote in what proved to be his final letter to her. He died on 4 September at Cornbury House, Oxfordshire (Jenkins, Elizabeth & Leicester, pp. 360-1). Elizabeth kept the letter at her bedside until her death in 1603, writing on it "his last lettar" (TNA SP 12/215, fols. 114-15).

Elizabeth’s final visit, and perhaps the most famous, came in 1592. The Queen was welcomed on 28 September by Henry, 1st Baron Norris of Rycote, with a speech promoting his own loyal service and that of his soldier sons (Nichols, Elizabeth, vol. 3, p. 168). The following day Elizabeth was entertained with “sweet Musicke” in the garden where she received letters and gifts from each of Norris’s four surviving sons (Barnes, Speeches Deliuered to Her Maiestie, c. ii). An "Irish lacque" delivered a gold dart set with diamonds and inscribed, in Irish, "I fly only for my sovereign" (Barnes, Speeches Deliuered to Her Maiestie, c. ii). The gift was probably sent by Sir Thomas Norris who was serving as Elizabeth's Vice-President of Munster. Sir Edward Norris, serving as governor of Ostend, sent a gold key set with diamonds and inscribed "I only open to you." The accompanying letter described the key as the "key of Ostende, & Ostend the key of Flaunders" (Barnes, Speeches Deliuered to Her Maiestie, c. ii). Finally, a French page arrived with gifts of a gold sword set with diamonds and inscribed, in French, "drawn only in your defence" and a truncheon set with diamonds with the motto, in Spanish, "I do not command but under you" (Barnes, Speeches Deliuered to Her Maiestie, c. ii). The two gifts probably came from Sir John Norris and Sir Henry Norris in Brittany. Sir John was the commander of Elizabeth's army in Brittany aiding Henry IV of France and his brother Sir Henry was serving under his command. On the day of her departure, a further letter arrived from Jersey bearing a gift of a gold daisy set with rubies from Norris's daughter Catherine, the wife of the governor of Jersey, Sir Anthony Poulett. (Nichols, Elizabeth, vol. 3, p. 172).

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All excellent stuff

Paul Castle 25/10/2013

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From prisoner to Queen: Entertaining Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I’s long association with Rycote began when she arrived as a prisoner.
More on Elizabeth I's relationship with Rycote >

Voices from Rycote: Speeches delivered to Elizabeth I during her entertainment in 1592