The prince who arrived on a ship with scarlet banners and cabins made of aromatic woods is riding through harsh rain in a velvet suit, reported to be black or gold, with his "marble serenity," "serenity as of the tomb." He has no brothers left; they all died of epilepsy in Spain. As the priests approach, welcoming him with Te Deums to Winchester Cathedral, he feels it has already happened, and walks lightly across black gardens, crossing the moat to meet his bride, The Queen, I mean the one suffering from dropsy and abnegation.
Lady Elizabeth entered the chamber by secret staircase. Surely Queen Mary sensed her sister's young pride. The tapestry hid King Philip, who did not wish to be seen. He stared at her silently, and, later, never spoke of her.
The rumor The Queen had died spread long before her final illness, when on her deathbed, she asked for the King to be brought to her. Why did she look at the door so closely? He had already left for Spain.
SO WISE A WOMAN
But there always comes a time when the watching men need reassurance, to be touched by an unlikely speech. "My Lords, The laws of Nature move me to sorrow for my sister; the burden that has fallen upon me maketh me amazed," said their new Queen.
What was it the Italian visitor said on seeing The Queen? Che grandezza, she whispered, leaving no trace of her words, as The Queen sat expressionless on her peacock feathered throne.
And to me it shall be a full satisfaction, both for the Memorial of my Name, and for my Glory also, if, when I shall let my last breath, it be engraven upon my Marble Tomb: Here lieth Elizabeth, which Reigned a Virgin, and died a Virgin.
OF THE TWELVE SUITORS AT COURT
The Danish Ambassador thought that if he wore a velvet heart every day with an arrow through it, that would be one way. The thought came to the queen's old Latin tutor that she was not unlucky Phaedra, but solitary Hippolyta.
MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS IN LOVE
What was it his teenaged queen said to the new King of France? She must have asked him many times, but of these, only one vague thought remained, to defend Scotland for her, and "when Scotland is quieted, it will be England's turn," her simple poise, her delicate neck, her dancing hazel eyes.
DEATH OF A KING
The castle, through which he wandered so uncertainly. The Queen of Scots watched with "delicate, hazel Eyes, like the Eyes of a Viper." Their "strange glitter." Beguiling him was easy, but then she had been schooled at the Court of France. There was a violet bed in his room, not just that, but a velvet chair where she sat for hours, telling him things of no importance. Under his bed, a powder keg. Did she truly say, "This time last year Riccio was slain" as she closed the door? And did he read a Psalm? Yes. He did. "Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me." But he asked for a cup of wine and slept in the dark, in the winter silence. Her mourning was complete with black shrouded rooms, dim light from low candles. In her black silk bed she had breakfast served, a single boiled egg.
YOUR SISTER AND COUSIN PRISONER WRONGFULLY
The Queen of Scots who has been condemned is writing a letter to her cousin Elizabeth. She promises to return a jewel Elizabeth once gave her. Enemies have "a black thirst for her innocent blood." Bells ring in the towns, and bonfires flare in celebration. She asks to send a jewel and farewell letter to her son in Scotland. She asks that her "poor, desolate servants" carry her body to France, to be buried in holy ground.
DEATH OF A QUEEN
The letters, piled so casually on her desk, were what she spent her last night on earth writing. To the King of Spain she sent two diamonds hidden in an apothecary's bottle. She wrote that she died a martyr and her last prayer was that he would conquer England. She wore black satin. Did she kneel at a prie-dieu at dawn? Did she hold an ivory crucifix in one hand? Yes. She did. Everyone stared as her ladies pulled away the black robe to reveal a blood red velvet gown underneath. She calmly recited Latin Psalms of Penitence. After they cut off her head, her lips kept moving for an hour.
AT GRAVELINES, SPANISH NETHERLANDS
The most notorious English pirate behaved nobly: from disgrace he came offering himself to the Lord Admiral. He bore disturbing news: the Spanish Armada was crossing the sea. A Knight of the Golden Fleece guided their Navy, and it approached. We had never seen such glorious ships, such banners, painted with saints. The season was warm and fine. We saw their shipborne nobles wore satin, gold lace and silk stockings.
Fire ships attacked the great fleet. This was perhaps a more humbling defeat than the Armada deserved. Though their banners had crosses, Our Lady and St. Mary Magdalene, indeed they were deserted. A terrific hurricane was upon them as they retreated into the blue ocean swelling against them. As we later learned, "phantom vessels were sighted off the coast of Ireland, of Scotland, of Denmark, roaming aimlessly."
TO MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS IN THE COUNCIL CHAMBER AT WHITEHALL
They had come only to speak against monopolies on sweet wines. But there is a time when a cloistered Queen needs reassurance, to share a chamber with her subjects, so she can be sure they are real. "There is no jewel, be it of never so rich a price, which I set before this jewel: I mean your love."
Her coffin floated on the river, lit at night by torches. The horses pulling the hearse wore black velvet. Westminster Abbey, being carried inside it. The tomb she shares with Mary. Their epitaph: Consorts in realm and tomb, here we sleep, Elizabeth and Mary, sisters.
Hampton Court was covered in rosemary. Violets and primroses pushed up through dark earth. Cradle-rockers waited patiently in the halls. The Queen was in seclusion, sheltered deep inside.
Bishops prayed beyond the walls every day, even on Sunday, when torn roses in clarified honey, and roses boiled in their own dew were served to The Queen. Why did King Philip lead the procession of bishops outside? The Queen did not even watch them from her window.
MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS
We see her in the early morning: from every corner comes candlelight against the dawn fog. She is eating a boiled egg; her cloth-of-gold bedspread is frosted over. On the drapes crimson silk kittens play with holly. For hours she sews quietly through council speeches. She dines with her jester or perfumer. She faints at executions, this queen who is always merciful, who hated cruelty, like a Princess in Grimm's fairy tales.
The Reformer storms into the throne room. This was perhaps an ill-advised meeting, due to the queen's sweet nature. Though she is the singular authority, soon she is weeping. The Reformer is an old man who takes exception to her practice of 'skipping.' The bearded man says, "It is an occupation not very comely for honest women," and blames this for the recent famine.
Virgin Queen is a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I. Focussing on her interior life, it traverses her tragic love affairs and her fraught relationship with Mary, Queen of Scots, the cousin she never met. These pages illustrate her moments of defeat, her defiance, her strategies, her secrets, and her deathbed scene.
“Catherine Corman gives us an admirable companion in prose poems and photographs to one of England’s greatest monarchs.”
—Lord Patten of Barnes, Chancellor of The University of Oxford